September 8, 2023

…the already excellent closing beauty of Ballerina takes the album out on a closing solo of grace and poise. If I wanted to show someone why Robin Trower was a great player, I might well give them this album.

The first Robin Trower album, 1973’s Twice Removed From Yesterday, is one which often seems to get overlooked. With the follow-up, Bridge Of Sighs, being so widely regarded as his finest hour, it sometimes almost seems as if his solo career started with that one, and the following similarly three-worded albums For Earth Below, Long Misty Days and In City Dreams go along with it thematically and seem to push the debut album’s nose out of the conversation a little. And I’ll hold my own hand up here since, despite enjoying a lot of Trower’s 1970s solo work (and being a big fan of his work with Procol Harum before that), I had in fact never heard this one. And I have to say that it was certainly my loss, as this is a fine record, with a sonic punch and vitality that makes it fairly leap from the speakers.

In fact, in some ways I would go as far as to argue that this may even be a better album that Bridge Of Sighs, even though that might get me reported to the Trower Police for gross insubordination. You see, while that album undeniably has some classic material like Day Of The Eagle and the title track, to my ears it has always tailed off rather towards the end (and I’ve never really cared for the much-vaunted Too Rolling Stoned as it happens), so if I had to pick the stronger album overall, I believe I would have to plump for this debut release.

To get the ‘H’ Word out of the way early, yes, the influence of Hendrix fairly drips from every pore of this album – to deny it would be facile in the extreme and the grossest misrepresentation. It might be more overt than the subsequent albums even. But does that harm it? Not a bit of it. The influence of a master is never something to criticise, and such is Trower’s prowess that he manages to rise above the debt he owes to the great man and creates his own magic from the melding of inspirations. Whereas Frank Marino and Uli Roth would both mine the hard rock and psychedelic sides of Hendrix’s output, Trower takes the sometimes less celebrated bluesier side of his playing and makes it entirely his own. It’s a guitar album, first and foremost, and therefore understandable it came out under the Trower name, but special tribute has to be paid to bassist/vocalist James Dewar, whose voice is absolutely remarkable here. Dripping with blues and soul, he’s like an alternative Paul Rodgers, and not in a bad way – in hindsight, having his name only credited as one of the musicians on a Trower album (many Trower albums, in fact) seems harsh on his magnificent contribution, especially given that he was co-songwriter with Trower. Granted, it does say ‘Robin Trower is’ before crediting the three musicians, but I don’t think many people would seriously think of ‘Robin Trower’ as being the name of the band! Still, Dewar gained great respect over his time with Trower’s band, so at least he wasn’t without recognition.

The songwriting on this album is in many cases excellent, but in the final analysis, it’s only a part of what this record is about. Tracks like the opening I Can’t Wait Much Longer, the title track and the understated brilliance of the closing Ballerina are great songs in anyone’s book, but even when the songs themselves are a little slighter (such as the rather overstretched haze of Daydream or the romp through the old chestnut Rock Me Baby), there is always the Trower guitar on hand to render the track essential. Daydream is the finest example of this, as just when the attention threatens to wander with the almost soporific tone of the song, Trower unleashes a lengthy solo so outstanding that the rest of the song is rendered irrelevant in its wake. Hannah is another track lifted to another level by the guitar work, while the already excellent closing beauty of Ballerina takes the album out on a closing solo of grace and poise. If I wanted to show someone why Robin Trower was a great player, I might well give them this album.

The vinyl version of this is a lovely release: a sumptuous gatefold double album with the original album on the first disc and, in a refreshing move, the CD bonus tracks on the second. Among these you get the B-Side Take A Fast Train (the flip of the single release of the album track Man Of The World), which is dynamic and very nice to have rounded up. Three alternative or rough mixes don’t add too much, but the four-song John Peel session from March 1973 sees Trower on fine form. With such a splendid gatefold spread accompanying the vinyl version of this, it’s a clear winner if you happen to be a vinyl lover. Failing that, it’s also on CD with its own gatefold sleeve and sounding just as good. Nice.