Robin Trower’s more recent albums have been largely blues led affairs, all sung by him, and that’s suited what have tended to be personal matters. The exception the United State Of Mind project where reggae singer Maxi Priest’s soulful vocals added a new dimension to things.
When Manhaton Records’ Alan Robinson asked him if he’d be interested in writing a song for Stateside singer Sari Schorr, Trower replied that he’d love to hear her sing ‘I Will Always Be Your Shelter’. It’s a really special song to me,” he remarked. I had to completely rearrange it for her. But I knew she’d be wonderful on that song and it all grew from there.” Well, things working out so well between them, the pair began to trade demos back and forth online, the result being a whole album, with ‘I Will Always Be Your Shelter’ appearing as the final track.
“I’ve worked with some great vocalists over the years, but Sari is dynamite, just an absolute knockout,” reflected Trower. “This album really pushed me, made me write in different keys and arrange songs for her voice. I went more down the R&B route this time, because I knew she’d be great with that flavour. But the blues still underpins everything I do – and there’s definitely elements from my ’70s stuff in this new album.”
That meatier vibrato of his late 70s work is certainly present, with a return to that torch-lit soul rocking that brought him US stadium fame. But, added to that, is a vital contemporary approach too. Schorr’s voice has given Trower something to sculpture empowering songs around. “I had so much faith in his vision. You just grab on and hold tight,” she herself as said, and if that frailty is true then she’s risen to the occasion; already in impressive singer here she emotes, often imbuing the songs with a sense of deep truth.
There’s nothing here with the speedy tempo of, say, ‘Day Of The Eagle’, but the variations in tempo are distinctive, with only bass and drums to support the sound they make. There are torch songs, mid-tempo grooves, much colouring between the lines, great stirrings of emotion for lonely night listening, and tempered but impassioned performances. ‘Burn’ sets the course. A slow blues that refuses to be rushed, Trower’s notes both burrowing into the song and eliciting angry pain as Schorr’s deep soulful vocals try to calm and caress a lover. Despite its title, this is way cool, and waiting to be picked up as theme song to one of the many female-led assassins-come-spy thrillers Netflix is getting fond of offering viewers.
‘I’ll Be Moving On’ comes next and implies the soft talking hasn’t worked, Schorr leaving home with few regrets over a shuffling blues, a slight dab of organ in the mix, while maintaining that smoky late-night vibe. Mid-tempo groove-rocker ‘The Distance’ sees Trower activate his wah-wah pedal through a song that looks back on life somewhat melancholically, but rebounds with a more hopeful chorus. Schorr sings more solemnly over the deep-driven sounds of ‘Peace of Mind’ that’s all but grunge in name, with Trower delivering a stunning solo during its last minute. By contrast, ‘Change It’ is classy soul of the kind of the highest kind.
If ‘Burn’ read thriller as it’s subtext, title track ‘Joyful Sky’ is a purer Bond theme than that franchise deserves. Schorr pours out a thick-coated cognac in her vocal delivery, while Trower stirs it firmly but gently with his guitar. The dirty funk come reggae of ‘Need For You’ with its deep dub bass, guitars that come in waves, pitch out keenly and dance cheekily with male gusto while the lady’s vocals give as good as they get.
‘The Circle Is Complete’ is vintage Trower, sultry driving rock with fiery soul, Schorr’s voice adding a different dimension, and pleasingly so. At over seven minutes long guitar fans are in for a treat, just before half way there’s a bout of six string frenzy only for it to slow down to emotive sustained fretwork, steeped in the blues, but going much further. ‘Flatter To Deceive’ picks up the tempo again, Schorr narrating a knowing tale over a sexy musical groove.
Joyful Sky bids us goodbye with the song that began this collaboration, ‘I Will Always Be Your Shelter’ wherein Schorr brings a weary God-fearing country come southern rock ballad approach to what be a mournful blues number but promises hope in its very title, and so an apt way to end it all.
This is one of those superior collaborations where each brings something of themselves to the table and the result is more than either. That said, it’s not an album for every occasion. There are going to be choice moments when you want to play this, but when you do you’ll be playing every track and enjoying each of its various moods and musical merits.
- Reviewed by Paul H Birch.
- Joyful Sky is released via Provogue/Mascot Label Group and is available now (from here).
- Robin Trower Official Website
- I’ll Be Moving On
- The Distance
- Piece Of Mind
- Change It
- Joyful Sky
- Need For You
- The Circle Is Complete
- Flatter To Deceive
- I Will Always Be Your Shelter