- Melody / Hooks
- Guitar Genius
The Playful Heart
The first thing about “The Playful Heart” is that it begins in a restrained mood with classic 1970’s rock echoes & flavours of early Trower, Jack Bruce, Cream and Free, but after a couple of minutes Trower takes the lead and unlike many guitarists, takes it pretty easy. It’s still blinding. Trower’s decades of experience sound out each time he picks the strings and his solos are all magnificently constructed. His guitar sound entirely natural, unmuddied, and unhurried; his tone powerful, warm and detailed – rare qualities indeed.
It’s not often you might hear a wah-wah these days without imagining the colour soaked psychedlic relics of the past but Trower, keeps it clean, and incandescently melodic. Robin suggested he wanted to create a more live feel with this recording, and that may be so, and they have, but the band are faultless – there isn’t a trace of selfish indulgence. And that is exactly where this record becomes modern and vital. It’s very difficult to imagine how an essence of such vintage could be transported into now, but ……..
The truth is while some guitarist might be guilty of slavish photocopying, Trower has an oeuvre. His own. You can level the Hendrix accusations all you like, but, apart from being the highest compliment, that’s just lazy, simple minded journalistic froth.
Where Playful Heart really excels is in subtle detail and musical nuances. “Dont look back” – is built upon an unusual progression, there’s a remarkable sense of restraint – no signs of overproduction, Trower’s guitar sounds good, and, whilst flashes of Trower’s firebrand sonics gleam and shine, by the time he really gets cooking, it feels like a shame this song is done – no bad thing – at all. “The Turning” returns us to more usual Trower stylings, with an introspective atmosphere, near the classic terrain of “…Rolling Stoned” – the band play around with the structure and your anticipation; the guitar is awesome and tasteful. Trower’s tone is nothing less than perfect, the last, languid part of the song really rewards. Somehow, somewhere, anthems, gently flourish…
“Dressed in Gold” features more very fine guitar playing at a pace that lets it really breathe; after throwing a twisted slice of Hendrix’ Watchtower motifs straight into the mix – maybe he’s just being ironic, the band kill the song off with an unusual ending.
“Find Me” too is another example of Robin’s pursuit of taste. There’s plenty of air in all these classic Trower phrases, rakes, flurries and huge vibrato; the classic hum and throb of Trowers amps – it’s all here – blended into an ethereal, haunting blues incantation. “Song for those who Fell” and “The Turning” will remind Trower fans of his archetypal “Day of the Eagle” groove and riffs BUT with some unexpected twists and turns, whilst “Camille” delivers an almost jazz feel into the running. The ballad “Maybe I can be a Friend” aches with plaintive regret and plangent guitar.
Bridge of Sighs
The album finishes as it began, with more fantastic guitar, the mix is great – the guitar well balanced. What might surprise Trower fans is the wistful undercurrent, “The Playful Heart” is steady yet complex, dynamic, sentimental, introspective and a little melancholy but really solid. The uninitiated might argue that Robin Trower remains a dinosaur, and can’t shake free from the colours of his heyday, the early ’70’s Trower rock blueprint…
And….stylistically that might be a fair (over)generalisation, but a lazy, single-sided assessment, because the band are at the zenith of their game here – this might be Trowers most accomplished work – detailed, thoughtful and subtle yet strangely seductive, strangely powerful. Of course there are vague similarities with the classic records such as “Bridge of Sighs”, but “Playful Heart” is sophisticated: more articulate, more accomplished, lyrically and musically. Trowers guitar playing is quite clearly in a league of it’s own – his tasteful combination of phrasing, timing, melody, attack and dynamics is exceptional, his guitar tone is nothing short of incredible.
More Great Guitar Tone
“The Playful Heart” isn’t a one-listen disposable, throwaway, piece of one-size-fits-all-rock junk. If anything this record, for the guitarist, is a lesson in great guitar tone because Trower lets his guitar do the talking without recourse to gimmicks, trends, fashion, bullshit, noise – it’s pure and energetic.
Trower is not messing about with modish dubstep remix idiotics, and while he is definitely not redefining genres – there is an emotional depth and quality to this record that vintage Trower afficionados will really appreciate.
If you enjoy listening to a guitarist who doesn’t take each chance in the spotlight as an opportunity for over-wrought indulgence and shameless egotising then Trower’s guitar playing is superb. His tone is masterful. I think we’re going to have to isten to it again and again, because there is definitely more to this record than meets the eye, and the sonics are beautiful. “The Playful Heart” deserves a 4/5 – for the guitar tone alone…all good, not bad, and definitely not ugly.
Here is Robin talking about “The Playful Heart”
Robin Trower uses Fulltone guitar pedals.