The latest albums by the Dwight Twilley Band and Robin Trower derive from the two major guitar traditions of rock music which emerged in the '60s. Twilley's second album, "Twilley Don't Mind" (Arista AB 4140), is an explicit musical evocation of the mid '60s' guitar-based rock style initiated by the Beatles. The Beatles' "I Feel Fine" would be a perfect reference point - an intense guitar intro, the tight and exuberant harmonies of John and Paul, the constant clanging and ringing of guitars behind the voices, and Ringo incessant of the cymbals.
The success of "Twilley Don't Mind" results from Twilley's ability to use the sounds of the Beatles, Searchers and Kinks - and give them the more complex style of the '70s without sacrificing the basic pop and melodic feel. The first song, "Here She Comes," opens with a barrage of ringing guitars but possess fiercer and funkier rhythms than teen sensibilities of the '60s allowed.
If Twilley has resurrected some of the musical style of the Beatles era, it is not surprising that his lyrical stance is irrevocably teen-age. In his songs, Twilley inevitably searches for the girls, the night, the magic and the memories of cars and rock 'n' roll. The lyrics, however, define Twilley's feelings less well than his use of 'vocal fills and fades, composed of endless "oohs," "ahs" and "ohs". This emotive quality becomes a stylistic tour de force in "Looking for Magic" and "Sleeping," songs in which Twilley's breathless singing reminds one of Tommy James' unforgettable exercise in post-pubescent sensuality, "Crimson and Clover."
The best song on this album, "Chance To Get Away", features the compulsive acoustic rhythms and buoyant, soaring harmonies that were the Byrds' trademark a decade ago. It's what used to be called folk rock - only it has the hard, electric edge of the '70s and shows that every bright, young rock 'n' roller who comes along need not embrace instrumental heaviness or nihilism to insure the authenticity of his rock stance. The fact that Twilley's two albums provide a coherent and identifiable sound of their own is because his studio band of three members is committed to the romatic and rockin'-teen universe Twilley has staked out as his own. It's a territory mostly left vacant since the '60s, but it's still easy to drive around in.
"In City Dreams" (CHR-1148) is Robin Trower's fifth album in five years and generally finds his haunting, blues-based guitar style intact. Like a whole wave of British guitarists in the '60s, Trower was primarily influenced by American bluesmen like B. B. and Albert King. If these guitarists are Trower's roots, it has been obvious since he first left Procul Harum that his inspiration has been Jimi Hendrix. Although Trower has aimed for the same cosmic spaces as Hendrix, he has developed a unique style built on a droning and hypnotic guitar sound.
"In City Dreams" supposedly marks a new direction for Trower, one leaning more heavily on melody and tightly crafted songs. Trower, who has built his large popularity in America on his extended guitar soloing, said of his new direction, "I started to realize I had nothing more to prove as a virtuoso." There are only two songs on the album, however, that represent departures from the past. The first is "Sweet Wine of Love," a catchy R&B ballad in the Sam Cooke vein that allows Trower to play simple, jazzy fills behind James Dewar's gritty vocals. The other is "Bluebird," a fragile song that has Dewar singing in a high and affected vocal style, while Trower plays guitar lines that are like glistening drops of water, forming and dripping over and over.
The rest of the album is vintage Trower without the intensity of the past. The songs roll in slowly on a lugubrious beat and Trower's moody guitar repetitions. Eventually Dewar sings some obscure lyrics in his wonderful gruff and soulful voice; at the end there is a long fade-out with Trower again slipping into the endless drones and wah-wahs of his multi-tracked guitars. In the past, this style could become a musical thing of dreamlike intensity and beauty. Here, without the commitment of virtuosity, Trower is in desperate need of the solid songs he aimed for but did not achieve in this album. Without the intensity of his past work. Trower, the musical dreamer, may find himself to be merely a somnabulist with a guitar.