Robin Trower – Bridge Of Sighs

It’s 1974 and blues-rock is badly in need of a new guitar hero. Hendrix and Duane Allman are dead, Clapton and Peter Green are missing in action and Jimmy Page was last heard essaying reggae and doo-wop pastiches on Led Zep’s Houses Of The Holy. Cometh the hour, cometh Robin Trower.

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Frustrated by not being allowed to let rip in his years with Procul Harum, Trower had given notice of intent with his 1973 solo debut Twice Removed From Yesterday, which included an incendiary cover of BB King’s “Rock Me Baby” and rather suggested he’d been in the wrong group all along. Backed by Jimmy Dewar on bass and blue-eyed soul vocals and Reg Isidore on powerhouse drums, he followed with 1974’s epochal Bridge Of Sighs, which was to elevate him to the ranks of the most revered axemen of the age.

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Touring America that summer, Trower found himself bottom of the bill opening for Ten Years After and King Crimson. By the time the tour was over he was outselling both headliners as Bridge Of Sighs reached No 7 in the US charts and went on to multi-platinum status.

Oddly, the album failed to chart in the UK, but Guitar Player magazine named Bridge Of Sighs its Album Of The Year and Robert Fripp, having just broken up King Crimson, asked Trower to give him lessons as “one of the few English guitarists that have mastered bends and wobbles, able to stand alongside American guitarists and play with an equal authority to someone grounded in a fundamentally American tradition.”

If Trower’s complaint had been that Procul Harum’s baroque arrangements left him little space to express himself, he set about making up for it on Bridge Of Sighs, every one of the eight tracks essentially a vehicle for his rampant soloing, from subtle and sultry to shrieking and shredding.

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The album roars out of the blocks with a savage Hendrix-like riff on “Day Of The Eagle” which halfway through gives way to a slow bluesy solo reminiscent of Rainbow Bridge’s Pali Gap”. The title track – named not after the Venetian  landmark but a horse whose name Trower had spotted in the racing pages – is more Black Sabbath than Hendrix with a hypnotic riff over which Dewar intones, “Cold wind blows/The Gods look down in anger/On this poor child”, before Trower adds a suitably doomy solo.

Dewar hits the mark again with his Paul Rodgers impersonation on “In This Place”, a rock ballad with plenty of fat sustain from Trower’s Fender Stratocaster before the pace picks up again with “The Fool And Me”, a glorious blues-rock jam with a “Machine Gun”-style funk riff and which concludes with a frantic solo on which his whammy bar works overtime.

Album highlight “Too Rolling Stoned” opens Side Two, seven and a half minutes of Hendrix-inspired deep blues bombing. There’s a jazzy flare to “About To Begin” with a tastefully melodic solo of the kind the mature Jeff Beck might have envied. In contrast, “Lady Love” is the album’s most straightforwardly gnarly rocker and wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Bad Company LP before the album concludes fittingly with more blistering, distorted blues-rock guitar mayhem on “Little Bit Of Sympathy”.

The song ideas are strong and Dewar’s vocals are impressively sturdy but ultimately it is Trower’s virtuosic touch, the nuanced tone of his Strat and the intrinsic skill of the “bends and wobbles” that Fripp so admired on which the success of Bridge Of Sighs rests.

That said, even the most impressive technique can only take you so far. Matthew Fisher, another Procul Harum escapee, was in the producer’s chair but Trower generously attributes much of the potency of the album’s sonic attack to Geoff Emerick, The Beatles’ legendary sound engineer, who “came up with a way of recording the guitar I don’t think had been done before with one mic in close, one mic in the middle distance and one mic set 15 feet away to get the sound of the room.”

Whatever the techy specifications, blues-rock guitar playing had seldom sounded so burnished and so incisive. Half a century on, Bridge Of Sighs remains Trower’s high point and a pinnacle in guitar pyrotechnics that still dazzles to this day.

Extras 8/10: An unedited and previously unheard stereo mix, outtakes/alternative versions of all eight original album tracks, a live set recorded for radio during the 1974 US tour plus a Blu-ray disc with Dolby ATMOS and 5.1 mixes.

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