October 13, 2023

Many long-time fans of veteran guitarist Robin Trower are still in mourning for his late, great vocalist and bassist Jimmy Dewar, one of the most under-rated singers in rock history. Dewar left the fold after 1983’s Back It Up album, when Trower’s career was undergoing a period of upheaval, and he was superseded by a string of vocalists. After a lengthy illness, Dewar passed away in 2002, and in recent years Trower has been virtually a one-man band, releasing albums under his own label, designing his own characteristic cover art, writing and singing all the songs, and playing all the guitar and bass parts himself, with just drummer Chris Taggart to keep him company. This worked pretty well; Trower’s bluesy guitar style has always been laid-back, and his laconic, smoky vocal style was a good fit.

Photo by Rob Blackham

In 2022 though, when the 77-year-old Trower released No More Worlds To Conquer, he drafted in Richard Watts on vocals – a seamless transition, as he treated the songs very much as Trower would have done. For this year’s Joyful Sky though, he has made a massive jump sideways; for the first time he features a female vocalist, the New York blues-rock powerhouse Sari Schorr, a move which I have to say gets a vigorous nod of approval from me. Schorr has a fantastic voice, powerful, gruff-edged but still melodic.

Schorr and Trower are both managed by Manhaton Records, and when Trower was asked to write something for Sari, he asked to hear her sing I Will Always Be Your Shelter, the closing track from his most recent album. What he heard blew him so far away, they arranged to record a whole album; he rearranged the song specifically for Sari and the stripped-down version they recorded now closes the new album. As for writing new material, he binned his usual practice of starting with the guitar line and forcing the vocals to fit, and instead wrote songs specifically to fit Sari’s voice, style and range – thus, the new album is officially credited to Robin Trower featuring Sari Schorr.

The set kicks off with the slow, slow blues of Burn, which combines a calming lyric with the kind of smouldering anger that required calming in the first place, all teamed with Trower’s trademarked thick, effected and overdriven sound. There can’t be many soloists with such an immediately recognisable style; two notes in and it’s clearly the same Trower who recorded Twice Removed From Yesterday and Bridge Of Sighs all those decades ago. The pace gradually ramps up as a chunky, deep bass drives the slightly faster I’ll Be Moving On, with its Maggie Bell-style power vocals, and the slightly-faster-than-that The Distance. The guitar work really does hark back to Trower’s heyday in this number, and it’s easy to imagine Dewar belting this one out.

Trower stays in a minor key most of the time, but there are occasional bursts of blue sky, notably with the funky pop-soul of Change It, and the upbeat protest song Flatter To Deceive, with its clapped-hands snare sound. The centrepiece of this set though, has to be the seven-minute The Circle Is Complete. The first half is a nice, mid-tempo rock number, but at three and a half minutes it morphs into a slow blues instrumental, with Trower wringing every drop of pathos out of his Stratocaster until it eventually fades out. Trower says he already had the instrumental section, but when he realised it was in the same key as the song, he bolted the two together into a multi-mood epic.

The whole album is slightly shy of 40 minutes, or standard LP length if you prefer. To be honest, I would like to have heard them rock out a bit more – there’s no doubt that Trower specialises in moody, slow blues, and he is a master at it, but it’s not hard to find driving rockers in his back catalogue, and Sari’s voice can more than handle a Day Of the Eagle, a Jack And Jill, or a My Love (Burning Love). She stretches out in places to be sure, notably on I’ll Be Moving On, featured at the foot of this page, and the bluesy Need For You, and it almost feels as if they’re having to mix her down sometimes, to stop her overwhelming the instrumentation. If you have a voice like that at your disposal, you might as well let it off the leash. But that’s not a criticism, it’s more of a statement that this partnership has the potential to blow us all away. Get to it guys.

Joyful Sky by Robin Trower featuring Sari Schorr is released on 27 October 2023 via Provogue / Mascot