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Friday, May 06, 2011

Album Review: Brian Robertson - Diamonds and Dirt

Brian Robertson - Diamonds and Dirt
2011 SPV/Steamhammer
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Whether you're aware of it or not, Scottish axeman Brian Robertson has left an imprint upon the scene by association of his time during the seminal years of Thin Lizzy as well as his demonstrative work on Motorhead's criminally overlooked Another Perfect Day.

Lemmy Kilmister once spoke of adversity with "Robbo" in the Motorhead camp, in particular Robertson's flashy guitar wizardry, pop rock sensibility and anti-grimy stage garb. Still, Another Perfect Day is a loud sock in the puss, yielding a hint of culture clash (for Motorhead in 1983, that is) with Brian Robertson on lead guitar. As far as this writer's concerned, "Die, You Bastard!" remains one of Motorhead's fiercest tunes from top-to-bottom. Robertson's soloing and shredding had oodles to do with it.

You're talking about a cat who laid down licks on Thin Lizzy's Jailbreak, Johnny the Fox, Vagabonds of the Western World and Nightlife. It can be argued that ol' "Rob" or "Robbo," if you will, has benefited from an instinct to surround himself with hard rock greatness. You might remember the short-lived Balaam and the Angel and Wild Horses, whom Robertson has likewise played with.

For his solo enterprise, Diamonds and Dirt, Brian Robertson corrals a few nuggets from the Lizzy catalog, a handful of cuts written by Frankie Miller (with whom Robertson played on Miller's 1986 album, Dancing in the Rain) and a slew of personal basement tapes unearthed for a modern touch-up.

It's this reason Diamonds and Dirt has a classic radio rawk feel for much of the ride. Robertson makes a humorous to-do about his original songs on this album being first recorded on cassette tapes. It's why the title track emerges in 2011 feeling like a lost Foreigner cut and "Devil in My Soul" is like much of what you would've heard in the late eighties from mainstream heavy rockers dabbling in country-blues. Followed by the co-written "Do It Till We Drop (Drop It!)" (also borrowed from Dancing in the Rain) which could serve as a vintage bar jam you'd be grinding ass with the nearest willing filly to, Diamonds and Dirt is perhaps what Lemmy feared would've befallen of Motorhead if he hadn't given Robbo the gate.

This isn't to say Diamonds and Dirt is a hopeless case of Headbangers Ball nostalgia, even if it partly is. Much of Robertson's endeavor is to clean up a few closet tracks for a new lease while attempting to gloss up some of his past in a less-constrained fashion.

Assuredly his studio time accenting the drag of Thin Lizzy's "Blues Boy" and "Running Back" had to have been less of a pill today than it might've back in the seventies in the court of major label production. "Running Back" is an appropriate choice for Robertson to cover, and it's more a case of jamming some old Lizzy for the sake of jamming, versus the more ballistic approach Robertson takes with "It's Only Money." Brian Robertson really rips his guitar solos on "It's Only Money" while dressing it with his own down-tempo keys and bass. Loud it may be, it still carries a minimalist vibe, given a touch of soul by Liny Wood's cooing background vocals.

A red-hot commodity in Scotland and her surrounding territories, Wood helps Robertson carry his retro blues rock mission by heaving and cawing extensively through "Mail Box," "Diamonds and Dirt" and "Passion."

Aside from Liny Wood, Brian Robertson recruits Europe drummer Ian Haughland and former Michael Schenker Group vocalist Leif Sundlind amongst other guests to his time capsule cracking--Rob Lamothe on the mike for "Ain't Got No Money," for example. While Diamonds and Dirt is hardly urgent, that is precisely the point of the album. Nobody is asking Brian Robertson to reinvent the wheel, least of all, himself.

Some of the songs on Diamonds and Dirt could use a little more giddyap. "10 Miles to Go On a 9 Mile Road," for instance, could've been left on the shoulder of a desert highway, despite some cool quick-shot soloing. On the flipside, the self-penned "Texas Wind" is a hell of a good rock show with a tapping rhythm, confident front and back vocals, a gnarly set of riffs and best of all, wailing guitar solos. In the end, Brian Robertson has asked nothing more of his album and his listeners than to take a casual drift to the old school and ride free.

Rating: ***

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