Robin Trower, "For Earth Below,"
Chrysalis CHR 1073
Lenny Bruce found them too confining, and once he stopped doing them he attained legend status. Sammy Davis still does them, but he has other talents that overshadow that ability. Anyone you meet probably has one they're good at.
I'm talking about impressions. Cagney, Bogart, LBJ and Brando. Bette Midler doing all three Andrews Sisters at once. Peter Boyle doing Brando in "Steelyard Blues." They're fun, but only in small doses. Robin Trower has staked his entire solo career on one that may be a dead end street. He is determined to be Hendrix, and in the process has lost Trower completely.
One has only to listen to Procol Harum's first four albums to comprehend what a loss that is. Procol Harum based itself on the formula made popular by Dylan on Highway 61 Revisited: Al Kooper/Matthew Fisher on organ, Paul Griffin/Gary Brooker on piano, and Mike Bloomfield/Robin Trower on guitar. An awe-inspiring tripartite form that provided maximum musical range, filled in all the naked spots and still left room for virtuosos to breathe. The Band still has it. It's a good musical fabric, and Procol Harum's accomplishments were woven into the warp and woof of it. It's come unraveled. Matthew Fisher left first, taking away the organ's power, but bringing Robin more into the forefront. A Salty Dog is still one of the great pop albums of the sixties, and shows great precision and balance, as well as energy. Fisher by himself is too lyrical, a touch too Bee Gees-ish; Procol Harum without him became less fluid, more top-heavy, but more funky as well thanks to-Trower.
Then, on Broken Barricades, came Robin Trower's first Hendrix impression, entitled "Song for a Dreamer." lt was definitely Hendrixian, but it was a godawful bore. After Barricades, Trower broke free, leaving Procol Harum to flounder under Brooker's unopposed control.
Most musicians go solo to gain freedom of expression, but Trower has chosen to enslave himself to Jimi's ghost. The Trower group is the old Experience set-up: guitar, bass and drums. And Robin has the Hendrix style down to a fine science. And it's a bore, too. He latches on to a Hendrixian riff, chokes up, overdubs a free-form solo, and the result is "Gonna Be More Suspicious" or "Confessin' Midnight". Wet noodles on a hot griddle.
This is a tremendous disappointment to me. 1 know that Frank Marino of Mahogany Rush can't do anything else but Hendrix imitations, and if that's his bag - fine. But Trower is a versatile guitarist of the first water, who can blues it any way you choose it, go limp and smooth, and sting like a cobra. His three solo albums have shown all the promise of an exhumed corpse.
There is good in imitation, but most performers know when to grow out of it. Trower has grown into it, and I don't think he can get out.
-Paul J. Grant