Veteran guitarist Robin Trower has long favoured the power trio format. His classic material from the Bridge Of Sighs era in the mid-70s featured a drummer, either Reg Isidore or Jerry Lordan, and the brilliant Jimmy Dewar on bass and vocals. Sometimes, when recording, he had a separate bassist; after Dewar’s departure he used a range of musicians, but lately he has settled back into his preferred pattern when playing live, with longtime collaborator Chris Taggart on drums and the excellent Richard Watts taking the bass and vocals spot. More often than not, when recording studio material, Trower overdubs the bass and vocals himself, leaving Taggart as the only other band member.
For this year’s album Joyful Sky though, he made the inspired choice of inviting New York powerhouse Sari Schorr to do the vocals, the first time he has recorded a solo album with a female singer – in fact, Trower was so impressed with her abilities, he deconstructed his usual writing process and crafted the new songs specifically around her range and style. Sari is great, but at the time of going to press, there were no plans to do a combined tour, so Trower’s live work still features Taggart and Watts.
One thing Trower and Schorr did manage to get together on though, was a live-streamed video concert on 3 September from Harlington Arts Centre in Surrey. It was a ticketed event, and the 45-minute recording has since been made available as a paid stream, including 20 minutes of interview footage and a download of one of the songs. It was a mouthwatering prospect, advertising as it did, ‘exclusive new versions of his classics including Day of the Eagle and Bridge of Sighs.’ This could have been great, as Joyful Sky is a fairly introspective set of songs, and it would have been great to hear Sari stretch out on some of these rocking classics – in the event though, she is mostly featured on songs from the album, with Watts taking over the vocals for the early material.
The 12-song set opens with The Circle, a mid-tempo rocker, and immediately the tone and mix are impressive. It’s genuinely studio-quality sound, with both Trower’s distinctive guitar style and Sari’s deep and husky vocals cutting through superbly. A little amp hum accompanies the intro to Peace Of Mind, which is followed by the slow, bluesy rock of I’ll Be Moving On, one of the most memorable songs from the album.
No More Worlds To Conquer is the title track from Trower’s previous album, and this number is fronted by Richard Watts, whose excellent, sandpaper voice is not a million miles from Sari’s. It comes across like one of the ‘70s classics, and is also the download track that comes with the live stream. Sari returns for the funky, soul-rock of Change It, which really showcases her deep, expressive voice, which hangs on a final note as the last chord fades out. Trower makes great use of some deep wah pedal in this one too.
Need For You is another funky number, more specifically in the bass line, with some satisfyingly off-kilter rhythmic jumps and skips. The amp hum starts building a bit here, and is even more noticeable in the excellent Burn, a slow, menacing minor key blues and another highlight from the album. Sari disappears again for a couple of numbers, the aforementioned Day Of The Eagle, an absolute belter from 1974, which morphs straight into Bridge Of Sighs. Watts sings both of these, but Trower’s soulful, emotionally-charged guitar solo on the slow playout of Bridge Of Sighs is about as perfect as anything he’s ever played. The serendipitous flare of a reflected spotlight from his creamy Stratocaster provides a great visual detail as he hits the last chord.
The Distance is a decent rocker, one of the most up-tempo numbers from the album, but the title track, Joyful Sky, is a melodic, minor-key rock ballad and probably the highlight of the set as far as Sari’s vocals are concerned – it also features another sweet guitar solo. They bring the set to a conclusion with an actual rocking number, Rise Up Like The Sun from 1994’s Twentieth Century Blues, sung as a duet with Sari taking the melody and Watts singing the harmonies.
It must be understood that a studio-live set is not the same as a live-live set; obviously there is no audience noise or interaction, but you get to see the band playing as a unit, and the sound is crystal clear. It’s a great set of songs, performed to perfection, and it really is a treat to see and hear Sari and Robin performing them together. Yes, I would still love to hear Sari belting out Day Of The Eagle, but that’s a demanding guitar riff, as it can only really be played in D flat, and it’s possible that Sari can’t sing it in that key. Never mind, let’s have The Fool And Me, or Jack And Jill; there are plenty to choose from – Sari’s pipes can take it, and my ears would welcome it!