Robin Trower – The Playful Heart

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Robin Trower has a legion of faithful fans who have followed him from his 70’s heyday as a guitar great.  Trower is not one of the fast-fingered prodigies that seem to garner “guitar god” status amongst the current generation.  His craft is taking a Fender Stratocaster, cranking it up, and bending the strings expertly for an intended expression… all the while rocking fairly hard.

I hadn’t listened to Trower until a couple of years ago when I saw him in concert, purchasing his CD, What Lies Beneath, at that time.  Was it a great CD?  No. But, it became the soundtrack for a day spent driving around Death Valley and is now indelibly associated with that experience.  The power of music to stir memories of an event or a period in one’s life can be a wonderful thing.  That album began with a jazzier, more exploratory mood that carried through the work, though there were definitely some rockers.

The Playful Heart, by contrast, opens with the titular track which harkens back to a fine 70’s era, riff driven rocker.  I wasn’t impressed with lead singer Davey Pattison’s vocals in concert, but they sound very good here.  On drums, Pete Thompson adds character to this song as well as many of the others, which is a welcome dimension as the band otherwise is a placeholder for the guitarist. 

After the third song and into the fourth, it dawns on you how good, how surprisingly good, this CD is.   Trower definitely is in a creative mood.

Vocals, though, are only okay.  Pattison all but alternates lead vocal duties with Trower from song to song.  Some may find this off-putting, but in terms of musical tone, after a few listens, Trower’s voice is at one with the music, to the point that it’s hard to imagine Pattison taking those over despite being a better singer.  In either case, their range is limited enough so that the sing in almost a conversational loudness, which is then raised in the mix.  The lyrics abound in imagery, but while their imagery suggests something meaningful or symbolic,  they’re fairly vaporous.

Like it’s predecessor, it’s the guitar work that is the strength of this album.  Moods and styles are varied, with “The Turning” sounding cautionary, “Don’t Look Back” more fiery, and the wah-wah heavy “Dressed in Gold” leaning towards funky.  In its jazzier tracks (“Camille” and “We Shall Call it Love”), Trower almost seems to be searching for a tonal expression that says something he can’t quite frame correctly, but it’s nothing quite as desperate, lacking, or sophomoric as a “search for the lost chord.”  But whether this is true or if he’s just having fun, I’ll buy what he’s selling.   Thirty five years or so past the peak of his celebrity, Trower isn’t settling for retreads, and he can flat out play.

This CD is certain to please his fans, but without a vocalist with a decent range, it’s not likely to find a new audience.

Recommended Tracks: “The Playful Heart,” “The Turning,” “Don’t Look Back,” “Find Me.”

4 of 5 STARS

5 comments :

  1. That was fast. And right you are. Don't know what I was thinking!

    (corrected above)

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  2. The band members are all remarkable musicians in their own right. And faithfully fulfill Robs vision of what the songs should be. That's their job!

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  3. Have been a fan of the Robin Trower Band for years. This CD is a great addition to the library of work this artist has put out over the last 40 years. It is always difficult to explain the music of robs because there has been so much of it, all a bit different, but consistant in quality.
    One of the finest guitarists out there and at age 65 + continues to actually get better with age. If you get the chance to see this band live go see them, you will be amazed!

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