Friday, June 30, 2017

Robin Trower - Time And Emotion

Now, I'm not going to tell you that I know Robin Trower's oeuvre inside out.  But he's been in the margins of my musical experience since I was in my early teens, back in the mid-Seventies, and saw some live footage of him on the Old Grey Whistle Test.  Which tells you something about how old I am – and that clearly Trower is no spring chicken nowadays.  I’ve also got a copy of Bridge Of Sighs, I’m pleased to say.  And at some point I also picked up a copy of his last album, Where Are You Going To, some of which I must admit I found rather soporific.
Robin Trower - an old fox not a spring chicken
So what I have I gleaned from my limited exposure to Trower over the decades?  Well, that OGWT appearance suggested a penchant for weird face-pulling while soloing, which me and my juvenile mates found pretty comical.  Also, Trower's critics tend to view him as a Hendrix copyist, while his supporters regard him as a master of tone.  And last but not least, Trower's heyday benefited from the distinctive and soulful vocals of Jimmy Dewar.
That last point is important.  Because great vocals add a whole other dimension to great guitar work.  And knowing that Robin Trower had taken on vocal responsibilities himself on Time And Emotion, I approached it with some trepidation.  Could he really deliver?  Well, no and yes.  Okay, so he's no Jimmy Dewar.  But if my expectations were low, then Trower has managed to exceed them.  He may lack range and power, and his diction may be be a bit curious at times, but apart from all that – actually, he groans away satisfactorily throughout, in a sub-Knopflerish kinda way.
So having got all that out of the way, is Time And Emotion any good?  Well yeah, as it happens.  Right from the off, with the mid-paced shuffle of 'The Land Of Plenty', Trower sets a benchmark for well constructed songs and the mastery of guitar tones for which he's celebrated, often layering guitar sounds to create interesting textures, as on the slower, more reflective 'What Was I Really Worth To You'.
'Bitten By The Snake' is one of the most immediate tracks on show, with spiky guitar lines set off against an addictively toe-tapping rhythm from drummer Chris Taggart, and a good solo to boot.  'You're The One', meanwhile, is essentially a fairly slight song, but all the component parts fit together beautifully.  It has a winning melody over a lazy beat, and the guitar, bass and drum sounds are all perfectly placed in the mix, while Trower serves up an effects heavy, quavering guitar tone for his solo.
If you like a dash of funk then the loose-limbed 'Try Love' should fit the bill, with its engaging bass groove (Trower also plays bass, along with Livingstone Browne), while in a similar vein 'If You Believe In Me' is upbeat, with a strutting rhythm and bass.  It also features a sparkling little guitar refrain and a nicely fuzzy guitar solo, before veering off into a complementary slower section to close.
Trower can keep it simple too however, as he demonstrates on 'Make Up Your Mind', an old-fashioned blues slowie on which he deploys a more straight ahead guitar sound that makes for a pleasant change.
I sense that Trower has also put some effort into the lyrics throughout, although as his vocal delivery lacks the zest evident on, say the Starlite Campbell Band's album Blueberry Pie, they don't have the impact that they could.

Robin Trower may be an old fox, but young gunslingers like Dan Patlansky could still learn a thing or two from what he's produced on Time And Emotion, as he lives up to his tone master reputation on a set of solid songs.

Time And Emotion is released by Manhaton Records on 4 August.
Robin Trower plays London's Islington Assembly Hall on 29 November.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Airbourne - Liquid Rooms, Edinburgh, 9 June 2017

Many moons ago, when I were a lad, I saw AC/DC playing at Sheffield Polytechnic, with Bon Scott.  Standing next to me in the audience that night was some guy togged out in the full Angus costume, schoolboy shorts and cap, the lot.  As their set got going he made repeated calls for “MORE VOL-YOOM”.  A few weeks later at a Scorpions gig at Sheffield City Hall, I saw the same guy crawling along the front of the stage in front of the PA stacks, while the support band was playing.
That lad would have been in his element watching Airbourne.  In the enclosed confines of
Joel O'Keeffe has "a bit of a CHINWAG" with the audience
the Liquid Rooms, with Marshall stacks filling the stage, they make a racket akin to being in the middle of the D-Day landings.  The rhythm section delivers a physical punch to the gut that makes you feel the need for a bulletproof vest.  And in the midst of all that, Airbourne are huge, huge fun.
It’s very easy to describe Airbourne as AC/DC juniors.  The younger Aussies have the same way with a steamhammer guitar riff, a thunderous rhythm section, and screeching vocals.  But they also inject a Motorhead-like frenzy into the mix, and a post-grunge sensibility that makes them more contemporary than their inspirations.
At the epicentre of this storm is lead guitarist and vocalist Joel O’Keeffe.  If Bon Scott came across like a casually lascivious, leering black sheep of an uncle, then O’Keeffe seems like a wild-eyed, manic cousin cut from the same cloth.  Wiry and bare-chested, his between songs patter features regular squawked encouragement to “get pissed on a Friday night, EDINBURGH”.  And this audience, no shower of curious casuals, is well up for both that challenge and Airbourne’s set.  To say the joint starts jumping is putting it mildly - down the front there is clearly what I believe the young people call a mosh pit going on.
There’s some simple but effective choreographed guitar bashing, and Justin Street on bass and David Roads on rhythm guitar make frequent sprinted excursions from one side of the stage to the other, while Street demonstrates degree-standard headbanging to further enliven proceedings.
Now, you might be asking about the music.  Well hell, what do you think?  Songs like ‘Girls In Black’, ‘No Way But The Hard Way’ and ‘Runnin’ Wild’ feature riffs as tight as a cork in a champagne bottle, while O’Keeffe effortlessly cranks out screaming solos in between working the crowd.  It's rock’n’roll compressed to its core, a hurtling rollercoaster fuelled by adrenaline and beer.
But this is really all about the live experience, and the connection between the band and the crowd.  O’Keeffe does the Angus tour around the crowd solo thing, on a roadie’s shoulders.  He chucks cans of frothing beer to audience members, and – his party piece – smacks them off his head till they explode.  He encourages chants of “here we, here we, here we fucking go” – though they don’t need much encouragement, having got there first anyway.  Even his drummer brother Ryan gets in on the showmanship, kicking off the encores by hand-cranking an air raid siren.

Airbourne have been off my radar for a few years, since I saw them play the late, lamented Caley Picture House in Edinburgh back in 2010.  But clearly they continue to be an electrifying live force, with a committed fan base.  And they don’t half stand up for the liberating power of rock’n’roll.