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Music Review: Brian Robertson – Diamonds And Dirt

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If you look up the definition of “wasted talent” in the dictionary, there you’ll find a picture of Brian Robertson. One of the most gifted guitarists of his generation, he threw his talents away, and since his brief tenure in Motorhead he’s been largely missing, presumed pissed. A recent appearance on a BBC 4 documentary on Thin Lizzy did nothing to change that perception, but, lo and behold, here he is with his first-ever solo album. Sort of.

See, this is a record that was salvaged from a bag of tapes (yes, tapes) that Robbo found and handed over to Swedish musician Soren Lindberg. Which means you’ve got songs that hark back to the days when he was still in Lizzy and on through the ill-fated Wild Horses collaboration with Jimmy Bain, which confirmed that musical excellence does not always translate into songwriting ability. Which means this is actually a bit of a surprise. I really wasn’t expecting much as half the tunes here are solo Robertson compositions, but it’s amazing what good production and sympathetic collaborators can bring to the show.

It was Lindberg, who’s been working with Robbo since the nineties, who pulled all that together, bringing in drummer Ian Haugland from Europe and bassist Nalley Pahlsson from Treat. There’s also room for ex Michael Schenker Group man Leif Sundin on vocals to help out on those hard to reach notes. And it’s all made for a rather good album of melodic rock. Naturally, most of the attention will go its retreads of Thin Lizzy music, which sees a revisit to “It’s Only Money” from the 1974 album Nightlife and “Running Back” from Jailbreak, which makes two appearances here. As anyone who knows their Robbo history will attest, he’s an old friend of fellow Scotch rock legend Frankie Miller (as well as appearing on Frankie’s Dancing In The Rain record) and has recorded three of his songs – “Mail Box,” “Do It Till We Drop (Drop It!),” and “Ain’t Got No Money,” with Rob Lamothe (formerly of Riverdogs) popping in to sing on the latter. There’s also a previously unrecorded Phil Lynott / Robertson co-write, “Blues Boy,” although it turns out to be a standard blues riff in search of a melody.

It’s actually quite annoying how good this is, when you think how little Robertson has recorded over the last quarter of a century. As yet another delightful melodic solo gets peeled off, you can’t help but shake your fist in his direction and demand to know what took so damned long! For sure, I’d rather he’d brought someone else in on vocals, but his own voice isn’t bad, just unremarkable. Instead, just listen to the guitar playing on “Passion,” “Texas Wind” or “Do It Till We Drop (Drop It!)” and think about the wee fresh-faced boy who promised so much. It’s no surprise that one of the songs here is called “Devil In My Soul.”

I understand why the old songs have been dug out again, but I’d rather have heard some more new material, as there have been visits to the studio by Robbo over the years with songs like “Linger My Love” being recorded but then discarded. That said, it’s just so nice to hear his guitar again, after such a long time, that it’s easy to forgive, if not forget. The album itself has a good, rich sound, no doubt thanks to the studio presence of Scandinavian uber-producer Chris Laney. Hopefully, it’s the start of a comeback from Robbo, but never has the phrase “don’t hold your breath” seemed more appropriate.

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About Stuart A Hamilton

  • Axelinger

    As I sit here listening to this album, one thought continually springs to mind. Where is the fire and in-your-face attitude of the Brian Robertson, who tore up the fretboard in Thin Lizzy, Motorhead and Wild Horses? Aside from the odd spark, there’s nothing here to get worked up about, and the overkill of annoying female backing vocals are the very definition of cringe-worthy. Every track is dragged down by some chick yelping away, which adds absolutely nothing of substance. Limp, tepid, and even wimpy; how can anyone compare this dreck with the brilliance Robertson has offered up in his stellar past? I really wanted to like this album, but I guess my expectations were way too high. I was looking for the Robbo of old, and wound up just getting an old Robbo. Pity.