Robin Trower - What Lies Beneath

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Have you ever heard a song where you immediately recall a specific memory?  These associations are never intentional, but they imprinted somehow.  For me, a few examples include the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Amazing Grace album, which brings back clear memories during elementary school, sitting on our brown living room couch facing the stereo console on the opposite wall, tapping away pretending to be a drummer.  

Less pleasing were the road trips to or from home during college, burdened by high rotation Hall and Oates' songs (ugh! I paid for half the gas, but had no rights to control the radio.)  Dexy's Midnight Runners I can hear blasting out of a window in my college dorm as I carry my laundry bag to another building.  Then there was Genesis' "The Musical Box" which I listened to on a Sony Walkman, while walking on a cool foggy night, ultimately climbing one of the towers on the football practice field to enjoy the breeze and music.  I guess it made sense then.

There are many other songs that reflect memories public, private, important, and meaningless (Paul Abdul's "Straight Up" on the radio while driving up I-65 to Huntsville,AL?  Go figure). And sometimes, it's less specific, bringing a mood or a recollection of a general time in my life.

What Lies Beneath by Robin Trower will indelibly be remembered in context of my drive to, through, and from Death Valley.  I had not prepared Robin Trower - What Lies Beneath for my audio entertainment for my day trip, and this timely acquisition (purchased and autographed after the concert two nights prior) filled the void.  I didn't play it constantly, but this may have been the first time I've listened to any album 7 or 8 times in a row.  In short, there was nothing else to listen to "out there," and the album did a fine job of masking the sound of the unconfident sounding engine in my rented Dodge Avenger.  It's my first experience with what, in essence, was a forced association.  But not a bad one!

His new CD is much like his concert – expert in what he does (guitar rock with a focus on tone), but the songs themselves don’t linger in memory. It's a solid listen for either focusing on the guitar work or just absorbing the mood, but there's no songs which demand a specific listening.  While there is a fairly diverse offering of rock styles, he also adds jazzy elements in rhythm guitar, strings on two songs, and, at times, atmospheric tones rather than gut wrenching solos.

Unusually, he also does the singing, which is certainly adequate, but in combination with the lack of memorable tunefulness, makes this album further unlikely to attract new fans. The lyrics are decent, such as the awareness of getting older in “Find a Place.” It’s unfortunate he doesn’t pair himself with someone proven to write hooks and with a singing voice… In other words, just as he came to some notoriety with Procol Harum, he’s probably more listenable as a featured guitarist for a group that can stand on its own.

So perhaps it's easier to say what this isn't, but it remains a very pleasant and, at times, rewarding CD, as his guitar playing remains quite focused and expressive.  It also served very well as background music while my eyes and mind wandered and wondered on other things.

Recommended songs: “I Wish You Were Mine” (instrumental), “What Lies Beneath,” “Skin and Bone,” and “Find a Place.”

Rating: 3 of 5 Stars.

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