There have been a lot of cover albums put out by the old guard lately. Some are grand, like McCartney’s Kisses on the Bottom and Jeff Lynne’s Long Wave, even the wonderfully under-produced A Letter Home by Neil Young. Others are somewhat disappointing, like Clapton’s Old Sock and, even, Leon Russell’s Life Journey. It’s a gamble for any artist to rehash old tunes, no matter how influential they were. I was perfectly prepared to be disappointed by Robin Trower’s new album, Roots and Branches—mostly because I was excited to see he had a new album out and then disappointed to hear it was mostly covers.
What’s in a Title?
Trower has been doing excellent work with Jack Bruce this last while, including Seven Moons Live (2009), an amazing live album featuring tunes from Seven Moons (2008), and—more recently—2014’s Silver Rails. So the notion of new tunes by Trower was enticing and then—as you know—disappointing. More covers. “Hound Dog”? “That’s Alright Mama”? “The Thrill is Gone”? Who needs to hear these tunes again? Well, I needed to hear them anew obviously because these versions by Trower are bloody brilliant.
And then there is the significance of the “Branches” part of the title, new tunes by Trower. Roots and Branches is a good balance between covers and new material and an excellent contribution to the blues-rock catalogue.
New Versions on Guitar
Man, Trower can play guitar. The tone on his versions of “Save Your Love” and “I Believe to My Soul” remind us just how gifted a guitarist Trower is. His voice is natural, suiting the tunes wonderfully. These certainly do not sound like rehashed tunes in any sense. They are re-examined and realized in a new fashion, an amazing accomplishment for songs as ubiquitous as “Hound Dog” and “That’s Alright Mama.” Trower makes them sound new, worth listening to again.
There is no weak tune on Roots and Branches. All eleven songs, as familiar as many of them are to most of us, work together and make a coherent album, not a bad accomplishment for a smattering of Trower originals interspersed with tunes synonymous with Elvis, B. B. King, Ray Charles, and Booker T. Jones.
“When I Heard Your Name,” “Shape of Things to Come,” “Save Your Love,” “Sheltered Moon,” and “See My Life,” all Robin Trower originals, fit in among the covered classics, with “Save Your Love” having the sound of a guitar classic itself.