One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from my mother’s brother was the progression by which to establish a deep appreciation for the classic rock, or AOR, idiom. For most folks, the term “classic rock” more than likely stops at the standards such as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Bowie, The Who, Pink Floyd, Billy Joel, Deep Purple, The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull, Bad Company, Clapton. Maybe the more adventurous might throw in The Kinks and The Faces or maybe even the old Jeff Beck Group.
My Uncle George exposed me to all this stuff practically out of the cradle, first by playing me riffs of “Over the Hills and Far Away” and “Ironman” on his acoustic guitar when I would invade his room as a tot in our old family house in Levittown, NY. Then it came to playing me the actual records, classics like Houses of the Holy, Let It Bleed, The Stranger, Ziggy Stardust, Machine Head, Fresh Cream, Lola Vs. The Powerman and Moneygoround. Whenever they would come on the television he would put on The Kids Are Alright or Let It Be for us to watch.
Next, it was taking me to actual record stores and head shops in our neighborhood where he used to get all of this stuff (in addition to copping free LPs as a perk of his job managing the local Record World at the Mid-Island Plaza). After that, it was throwing in used records he had doubles of into my Christmas or Birthday cache, stuff like Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush’s first album or Alice Cooper’s Killer or Johnny Winter’s Still Alive and Well.
But then there’s the AP style education in AOR my uncle held off schooling me on until I was in college, the records that are only known by the hardest of the hardcore classic rock heads and musicians well versed in such works but perennially fail to replicate their sounds (cough, Wolfmother!, cough cough, Bad Wizard!). I’m talking about West, Bruce and Laing’s Why Don’tcha, the Beck, Bogert and Appice album, John Phillips’ John, The Wolfking of LA, Ronnie Wood’s I Got My Own Album To Do, Roy Buchanan’s eponymous debut, any of Rory Gallagher’s albums from the 70s (but especially Live in Europe and Irish Tour).
And at the top of Uncle George’s deep AOR list was Bridge of Sighs, the second solo album from Procol Harum guitarist Robin Trower. Released in 1974, the album was a monster hit, reaching number 7 on the Billboard Top Ten. According to critics of the time, Trower’s massive control of his Fender Stratocaster reminded many fans of the work of Jimi Hendrix, whose untimely and unnecessary death still shook the foundation of the music world nearly five years after the fact. The comparison was more than accurate, even though the lily-white, astutely English, flamboyantly dressed, page-boy-coiffed Trower was the total opposite of Jimi’s strong black psychedelic gypsy.
Sighs, which remains to this day Trower’s singular masterpiece, is a phenomenal amalgamation of the soulful heavy blues of Cream. This is thanks in full to the eerily similar Jack Bruce-ian howl of bassist/vocalist James Dewar, and a wicked brew of rippling sheets of wailing fuzz, subtle wah-wah funk and caterwauling blues cries. The album truly did evoke the might of Hendrix’s power at the height of his Band of Gypsys era but at the same time was a style that was entirely indicative of Robin Trower.
Originally issued as an eight-track LP, the solo-heavy Sighs was more like a scream following Trower’s complaints that the music he recorded with Procol Harum left him no room to rip. Each song features its own outstanding, lengthy guitar solo, which was the prime reason why this album is still cherished by legions of aspiring guitarists making the ranks today. The best solos appear on the sultry slow blues of the album’s title cut and the tempo-shifting seven-minute-plus arena monster “Too Rolling Stoned”. Other tracks here display Trower’s prowess at constructing a seriously mean riff, and the ones he doles out on “Day of the Eagle” and “Little Bit of Sympathy” are right up there with the meatiest, beatiest Page and Blackmore hooks currently monopolizing your “Two-fer” Tuesdays.
Of course, no true guitar god can ever truly put in a true day’s work without a rhythm section of equal dexterity. And the excellent teamwork of bassist Dewar and completely underrated rock drummer Reggie Isidore, who so ferociously combined the fury of Tony Williams and the steady hand of Buddy Miles to provide the throbbing core of this most essential LP (and would fortunately be replaced shortly after the release of this album).
This very worthwhile 2007 reissue of Bridge of Sighs doubles the length of the original LP with two outstanding John Peel sessions from May of 1974 and January of 1975. These contain scorching live versions of several tracks from the album as well as some impressive performances of cuts that would appear on Sighs’ more-formulaic follow-up For Earth Below, most notably “Confessin’ Midnight” and the burning “Gonna Be More Suspicious”.
They don’t make guitar rock like they used to, although groups like the Mooney Suzuki and The Sword do their absolute damndest pose to convince the youngsters otherwise. My personal suggestion is to listen to my uncle and his generation about this kind of stuff. Sure, they might not know a damn about politics or the environment or urban sprawl or globalization or corporate imperialism or whatever other hell that last tail of the Baby Boom generation hath brought upon this earth. But one thing is for damn sure; they can spot a tasty lick from a mile away.
My father is the one responsible for getting me into music and he did so by showing me some of the best from his era, that era being the 1970’s. He showed me albums like Led Zeppelin IV, Boston, Sticky Fingers (Rolling Stones), and this album, Bridge of Sighs by British blues guitarist, Robin Trower. This used to be one of my favorites as a kid and I hadn’t listened to it again until recently. Listening to it again, now with more of an open mind to different kinds of music, I feel like I can say that I can fully appreciate this wonderful record. It’s a very fun listen with enough flashy licks to satisfy the guitar player.
I knew as a kid that this was certainly a great offering upon hearing the title track, “Bridge of Sighs”. Through listening to this song, I felt that I knew what a guitar should sound like. Robin Trower’s guitar roars (literally) through the surreal soundscapes set by the ambient textures. Vocalist and Bassist James Dewar does great in both of his respective departments; his singing perfectly complements the hypnotizing guitar line and his skills as a bassist shouldn’t be overlooked as he is definitely technically proficient and does well alongside drummer Reg Isidore. That being said, Reg definitely ain’t a slouch on the kit. Yeah, this song is slow, but going slow on the kit isn’t quite as easy as most would think. Most musicians’ ideal tempo is around 112 beats per minute and this song is around 45-50 and he does it quite nonchalantly to say the least. You’re probably thinking now, “Man, if this song is so slow then how in the world could I possibly listen to it without nodding off or something?” That my friend brings us back to those ambient textures I love to rave about. Without any ambiance or reverb behind the song it would surely be a dozer but these “sonic decorations”, if you will, keep the listener on edge.
“Bridge of Sighs” was written about a bridge in Venice, Italy of the same name where criminals waited to cross to their imprisonment; getting their last glimpse of the outside world. Truly heavy stuff if you ask me. This album certainly provides for the “Goldilocks principle”, as the songs are never too indulgent and fall just correctly within the realm of good songwriting. In a matter of speaking, Robin Trower and co. certainly knew how to stir the porridge on this release.
As far as riffs go, “Bridge of Sighs” is packed with them. Trower plays with a jazzy flare and is never too flashy as all the licks are there simply to provide for the music instead of showing off his chops (cough Yngwie Malmsteen cough). Both “Day of the Eagle” and “Too Rolling Stoned” feature a very catchy funk laced riff and how could anybody forget the aforementioned title track’s main riff? “The Fool in Me” features a funky stomping rhythm section which is a perfect partner to Trower’s riff-age. The solo in this song is probably my favorite off the album behind “Bridge of Sighs” on the “just right” scale. Trower enters with a chaotically strummed set of 9th chords and then proceeds to tear the face off the listener with his guitar expertise. Even on the more jamming tracks, “Bridge of Sighs” doesn’t falter or fail in anyway.
However, this album really shines when the group goes softer. “About to Begin” is a perfect change of pace from the rocking tracks. The track features a waltz-y rhythm from the drum set, mellow tones from Trower and some emotionally charged vocals from James Dewar. Dewar’s voice though sometimes having an imposing masculinity on other tracks really calms down on this one. If placed anywhere else in the tracklist, this song wouldn’t have the effect it has. “In This Place” also provides more room for Dewar to shine as well as effectively changing the pace from the title track before it.
In conclusion, with “Bridge of Sighs”, Robin Trower succeeds, but he didn’t do it alone. Without James Dewar or Reg Isidore this would have been a different release. On most songs, Trower is the highlight though on some tracks like “The Fool in Me”, the rhythm section really shines. Overall, this is a wonderful release. If you’re a fan of cool guitar riffs or just a fan of classic rock in general, this is definitely a release for you.
A recipe for rock immortality, Too Rolling Stoned is not even the lead track off of Robin Trower’s 1974 epic Bridge of Sighs from Chrysalis. In fact, it lies right in the middle, a musical lion lying in wait while the album’s “rock and roll meets the mystic” atmosphere percolates around it. Over 30 years later, Bridge of Sighs remains legendary, powerful, and the masterwork of Trower’s psychedelic blues career.
It’s an essential piece of rock and roll history for music fans, especially those of the 1970s FM radio era. You couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing Robin Trower [b. 1945-] for the better part of the decade for good reason.
Bridge of Sighs was his second album after leaving Procul Harum and it’s the album where his sensibilities and influences came together. It’s perhaps one of the best template albums for how the power trio (guitar/bass/drums) can interact and build atmosphere together. It’s guitar based, with a heavy filter of British blues and psychedelic ruminations on the nature of life, love, and man.
It even contains “more cowbell” (see Lady Love). The lyrics can be a tad hippy dippy and date the album some, but it is the power and passion behind the performance that brings the album to classic status (five stars) and its deserved place in the rock pantheon of the last 50 years.
Though Trower’s guitar atmospherics are the linchpin that holds the music together and drives the album towards 37 minutes and 19 seconds of rock immortality, behind that is a very human influence; that of James Dewar (1942-2002) on bass and vocals, with Reg Isidore on drums. These two guys form a tight, strong, yet supple background and foundation for Trower. They rock, they swing, and they levitate the music in places. As a power trio, they epitomize the definition. Without Dewar’s vocal abilities, it is a safe assumption that the album would not have been as successful in my view.
Dewar has a soulful voice with a touch of world weariness to it; it is the kind of voice that takes the lyrical bromides beyond the cliche territory and into areas of universal truth where they resonate with the audience. Both he and Isidore do much more than just support Trower within the confines of the power trio language. They make the tracks sparkle with nuanced exchanges and hum with powerful support.
They make it possible for Trower’s guitar to float above and, yet, also inhabit the songs from within. His guitar is everywhere, all at once, and yet it lends an ethereal eloquence to Dewar’s vocal phrasing.
Bridge of Sighs remains very much in the moment over 30 years later. These tracks have a timelessness about them that keeps them universally relevant today. It is a must have for any serious rock fan’s collection.
This is still widely regarded as Trower’s masterpiece. Actually, I fail to see why – I mean, I, too, believe that it’s among his best albums, but it’s somehow put on a very high pedestal, far higher than anything that surrounds it, and this is strange, because the songs sound exactly like they sounded a year earlier on Twice Removed and exactly like they would sound a year later on For Earth Below. Same band lineup, same guitar sound, same raw R&B edge, same stately majesty. Oh, yeah, there’s one exception: the tunes are generally far more solid and well-written than on the 1973 and 1975 albums. But since when do diehard fans take into account the actual melodies when it’s the guitar tone and the finger-flashing they’re mostly worrying about? No, I truly don’t understand why Bridge Of Sighs is given such unjustifiable honours.
So let’s give it some justifiable honours instead. Eight songs on here, all written according to the formula worked out the previous year. Gargantuan majestic epics alternating with funky rip-roaring rockers alternating with dreamy atmospheric ballads, all of them based on the damn same guitar tone. But from the very first number, ‘Day Of The Eagle’, something goes into a more right and true direction than previously. ‘Day Of The Eagle’ is a steady and well-calculated rave-up, with a complex multi-chord riff and a pretty catchy vocal melody; it also changes tempo near the end of the song in order to give Robin the opportunity to play some slow sly ‘restrained’ licks as a graceful outro to the song. It’s the same style as Twice Removed, and yet, not the same style – there’s a certain precision in the playing and a certain self-demanding approach to songwriting that’s been lacking before.
The title track, as has been said before, recycles the riff of ‘I Can’t Wait Much Longer’, not for the last time, but it also improves on that song, with cleverly placed effects and Dewar’s impressive vocal delivery as he recites the depressing, dark lyrics that fit the song’s mood perfectly (for comparison, the simplistic love lyrics to ‘I Can’t Wait Much Longer’ never really fit the song’s ‘royal stature’). The combination of Trower’s moody playing with the howling of the wind and Dewar’s sad, angry intonations makes up for a truly atmospheric listening – and was deservedly a stage favourite.
And that’s just the first two tracks. But most of the rockers on the record are equally deserving as well, being really catchy – this is one rare Trower record that breaks the basic rule of R&B (never write a memorable melody, just howl as much as needed and more). Could one say that ‘The Fool And Me’ is not catchy, for instance? That’s hardly possible. It’s catchy as hell, indeed, at some points I’m becoming afraid that the main melody is way too simplistic for Trower and almost nursery-rhymish in structure… hah hah. Isn’t it a nursery trick when you end every line with the phrase ‘the fool and me’? It’s fun.
Of course, this is the album that features the ‘quintessential’ Trower song – the anthemic ‘Too Rolling Stoned’. Quintessential or not, this is one great number, worth it for the opening bass line alone: thousands of hard and soft rock bands alike would kill, steal and borrow for such a magnificent bass riff that drives the track along like a ‘stone keeps on rollin’, well, more like a couple choo-choo trains than just some stupid stone. Then there’s the slow part – actually, the fast part may be regarded as just an intro for the slow boogie that follows, over which Robin is intent on displaying all of his playing techniques. Funny thing, I’ve never bought much into that second part… and shame on me, pr’aps, but I recognize quite a lot of lines that go back to as far as ‘Whiskey Train’ off Procol Harum’s Home. Okay, enough dirtying up Robin’s reputation coming from the impure mouth of a ‘wannabe rock star’ like somebody gently christened me after I’d unintentionally offended Tales From Topographic Oceans or something like that.
‘Lady Love’ and ‘Little Bit Of Sympathy’ are also solid slabs of boogie, though a wee bit inferior to the other rockers on here, but there’s one more track that could be raved about: the wonderful ballad ‘About To Begin’. It sounds very personal, with Trower using only a moderate amount of echo and drawing the listener somewhat closer into the actual experience than he usually is. Dreamy, gorgeous and short – three and a half minutes, with just a very economic amount of soloing. The other ballad, ‘In This Place’, is just okay.
I’m not really sure if the sudden rise in song quality has anything to do with the fact that Trower is mostly credited as sole author to all of the songs on here; I think that Dewar was primarily the ‘lyrics man’, although I could be wrong. More probably, the band was just solidifying its sound and tightening up all the bolts, because despite all the professionalism, Twice Removed still sounded too loose. Here the band is just an unstoppable monster, and in tightening up the sound, they also manage to improve song structure and ‘catchify’ their chord progressions. Thus, Bridge Of Sighs captures “Robin Trower” (the band!) at a relative peak – with the band in a state of perfect balance. Naturally, this peak couldn’t last long; by the time of their third album, they’d already fallen back on formula.