Robin Trower’s No More Worlds to Conquer echoes his string of splendid albums in recent years such as Time and Emotion and Where You Are Going To. But this latest by the British guitar hero may most closely align with its immediate predecessor, 2019’s Coming Closer to the Day, not just by the apparent contradiction within the record’s name, but by dint of the essential strength of its slightly more than forty minutes of blues-drenched music (enclosed in similarly impressionistic cover art by the artist himself).
On the very first number, “Ball of Fire,” the muted Hendrixian wail emanating from the guitar is as familiar as the singing voice of Richard Watts. Echoing a young Rod Stewart in his hoarse but nuanced delivery, the man supplants Trower himself on vocals (as was the case on the aforementioned albums) and does justice to predecessors including the late James Dewar circa Bridge of Sighs. It’s a testament to Watts’ natural command of his role that, on the quietly fiery title song, even multiple guitar parts can’t wholly distract from his presence. In fact, Richard is as riveting with his falsetto on “Deadly Kiss” as Robin is with his Fender guitar and Marshall amp: always a fan of R&B, the original fretboarder of Procol Harum has rarely sounded more authentic in his devotion to the style and, in Watts, he’s certainly found a kindred spirit.
That’s no idle statement either hearing how the lyrics of “Birdsong” present an arresting narrative. The story there and on “Losing You” is almost as absorbing as the depth of sound for No More Worlds to Conquer: the audio quality compels more than a passing thought about how that less than three-minute latter track might go on longer. But Robin Trower repeats himself no more often in his solos than with each successive record of his, so “Waiting For the Rain to Fall” also whets the appetite for more of his rich, thoughtful playing.
“Wither on the Vine,” however, suggests this LP has too many cuts too similar to each other. And while that impression may only lie in the sequencing of tracks–these last-named numbers are juxtaposed in the running order and otherwise contain no intrinsic faults–more upbeat numbers like “Cloud Across the Sun” would definitely benefit this record. Plus, the last-named number’s arrangement offers other distinctions in the form of some soul-influenced vocal harmonies as well as the resounding kick of drummer Chris Taggart.
It’s little wonder that same man’s been Trower’s go-to percussionist in the past few years. Similarly, Livingston Brown remains the most astute of mixing engineers, preserving the range of textures he and Sam Winfield captured in their original recordings. There’s also more than a little whiff of Robin’s early solo work in the chord progression to “Fire to Ashes,” a notion furthered through the organ of Paddy Milner that weaves throughout it (it’s well to recall this venerable guitarist’s ‘Whiter Shade of Pale” bandmate Matthew Fisher produced initial efforts such as Twice Removed From Yesterday and For Earth Below).
In more ways than one, though, No More Worlds to Conquer resoundingly belies its title. Ever the artistic iconoclast, Trower remains up to the challenge of further reinventing himself and bravely so, too: this closer, “I Will Always Be Your Shelter,” is a heartfelt piece of secular gospel in word and, even more so in sound. The man continues to transcend the very category he’s helped define for close to half a century.