Sunday, November 3, 2013
Robin Trower - State To State Live Across America 1974-1980 - A Great Look Back In Time
I have a soft spot in my heart for all things Robin Trower - he and his crack band were the first act I ever witnessed on a large stage back in the mid '70s, and this compilation of live songs taken from five previously unreleased shows takes me right back to that moment in a great way. While Chrysalis Records isn't the sort of company that puts a whole lot into their reissues, they are saved in this instance by good source material that requires little improvement.
The late James Dewar is out front on vocals and bass, and his performances are excellent across the set as his soulful pipes are honey thick and warm as a fire on a winter night. The Scotsman never got his due while he was alive, but his voice is on par with the best blues rock belters of the era, and his bass playing is imaginative, precise, and in the pocket, allowing Trower to weave his Stratocaster magic above and around it all.
The big change across the discs is that of the drummer, with Bill Lordan replacing Reg Isidore after the first set recorded in Philadephia. Isidore was a much smoother and sophisticated stickman with a much lighter touch, and Lordan is a more solid, in the pocket kind of pounder. Both are excellent and it will fall upon the listener to choose their preference, but it does serve to provide a great example of lineup changes and how they effect a band.
Then there's Robin Trower - a tremendously underrated guitarist for most of his career, mostly given to the fact that he was a player and not an overt rock star. There were no great controversies, makeup, or high heeled sneakers for the man, and while there was a shortage of drama for journalists of the day to write about, his playing and writing were never found wanting - passion and fire informs his musicianship, and there is little repetition in his writing, soloing, or riffing, which is an amazing feat for any six stringer in a power trio. His use of effects is heavy, but appropriate - he never goes too far and his proclivity for thick swirling tones most generally fits the songs like a glove. If anything, the lugubrious nature of some of the band's more sad and soulful material may have been a bit much for American audiences, but I can think of no band that did it better.
I love that when Trower unfolds the gorgeous intro to Daydream on both the Philadephia set and the Illinois version, you can hear the snare on the drummer's kits rattling in sympathetic vibration - these sets are raw and unvarnished, and I think that may be the best treatment and testament to this band. You want to hear them as nakedly as possible, and their stark nature is in fact, their beauty.
Funny enough, there are two songs that feature Rustee Allen on bass - the ex-Sly Stone bassist was an excellent musician, but in this context, it didn't really work and there's an audible disconnect when Dewar is not supported by his own bass. What is an amazingly well oiled machine on every other track sounds oddly disjointed, and more like a casual jam than a set by one of histories best trios. It may have been an honorable attempt, but it didn't play out, and while it's only two cuts, I wonder why they weren't scrapped. Chrysalis should have subbed in two other cuts, or just left these off. Interesting for historical purposes at best.
Still, this collection is a treat for any fan of Robin Trower, and a great look back in time. It serves as an excellent reminder that there is gold to be mined from the band's entire catalog, and not just the first few records. Whether you're a Trower completist, or just a curious seeker, this is an excellent set, and money well spent.