Slough of Despond


Those who refuse to learn from the past don’t get to repeat it—well, not the good parts, anyway. The lack of iconic instrumental hard rock voices pitched by the mainstream becomes ever more glaring. Attribute it to one of my generation’s greatest original sins: the deep freeze, “classic rock,” a cultural imitation of the great Paleozoic extinction in which all successful life was scragged at once for reasons unknown. But although the trilobites never made a comeback 200 million or so years ago, the virtual world of rock culture allows for the veneration of remains in tandem with smug obliviousness to a reality in which things thought extinct are still alive, only fled to distant parishes.

Which is the case with Robin Trower, wiped from the territory he helped open up, and the similarly vintaged “Wino” Weinrich of Spirit Caravan, sentenced to brush clearing in the back lot of maryjane metal for the coincidental crime of starting just after the great radio erasure.

Weinrich, whose melancholy voice and viscous doubled lower-register legato ax style have become progressively more focused over two decades plus, continues to be wasted in the world of niche metal. And while Elusive Truth is just the kind of CD to press all that audience’s buttons, his muse shares more with Bridge of Sighs at the point of Trower’s commercial breakthrough than a boutique crowd will ever know. Most have forgotten that Sighs was unique on the radio in ’74: an LP devoid of a happy single, and successful because of an obsession with sustain and distortion as colors of depression.

Spirit Caravan are a power trio traveling the same landscape. While there are unmistakable stylistic diffs between the two guitarists, Weinrich, like Trower, lives inside of and for the note; his compadres hang on the details of tone and grooving, around which the guitarist supremo hangs curtains of billowing, harmonic fog. “Cloudy Mirror” and “The Departure” are, for want of better description, too Rolling Stoned. (Some make the case that Weinrich is an American Lemmy. Nope. The Motörhead library is remarkable for wretched, from-the-trash-can tones that vary in quality only by minor degree; Spirit Caravan are diametrically opposite, their three releases impeccably carved for the heavy sound.)

Trower’s “Long Misty Days” throbbed moodily in the mid ’70s, an extreme stylization of gray emotion from a craftsman on his way into blooz-land through a slough of despond nearby but not of heavy metal. Go My Way renews the good contract. Trower’s fondness for grafting slinky r&b spines into his ooze is undiminished, still hypnotically rhythmic. The title track glows through a hot cloud of organ and wah-wah. And in “In My Dream,” someone broods in the bedroom as guitars roll across the horizon in waves.