Robin Trower, Maxi Priest and Livingstone Brown – United State Of Mind: Album Review

Diverse musical maestros combine to deliver a sublime fusion of guitar rock and R&B on United State Of Mind.

Release Date:  9th October 2020

Label: Manhaton Records

Formats: Digital release (all platforms)

On paper, perhaps, this is a strange concept.  Robin Trower – guitar virtuoso, veteran of Procol Harum and his own durable, Robin Trower Band who hit paydirt in the mid-1970s with a string of innovative guitar-driven albums including Bridge of Sighs, For Earth Below and Live! Maxi Priest – British-born vocalist with a strong Jamaican heritage and a pioneer of reggae fusion – a musical style that combines reggae with R&B. And Livingstone Brown – multi-instrumentalist and in-demand producer/engineer with a CV that includes work with Ed Sheeran, The Waterboys, Tina Turner, Bryan Ferry, Bill Withers and more.  My first impulse was to conclude that this shouldn’t work.  My second, was to ask myself why not?  And my third was to sit back and let the music do the talking.

The trio got together after a chance meeting at Livingstone Brown’s Brixton studio, found that they had a great deal in common, not least a strong passion for good music of all genres and a deep love of soul and gospel music, and decided to write and record some tunes together.  The result is United State Of Mind, a title that describes the common ground that formed the seed to this enjoyable album.

What we have here is a true fusion of guitar rock, soul and R&B with each member of the ensemble being fully represented.  Indeed, for many of the songs in this 9-track collection, it’s possible to imagine how each member would have tackled the piece in his own style.  When those styles are joined together, the result is invariably a piece of music in which each contribution is clearly identifiable, yet, at the same time, seamlessly merged to deliver a whole that manages to exceed the sum of its parts.  And that whole is polished, yet characterful – tasty and interesting.

The album opens with the title track and the first single and it sets the formula for the rest of the set.  The overall feel is funky (in the case of this track, there’s a distinct flavour of Sly and the Family Stone) and Robin T exercises remarkable (uncharacteristic?) restraint, except in the solo passages where he treats us to the gymnastics that we’ve all come to love and expect.  As the mood is set, so it continues. 

The tunes vary between the rocky and upbeat (Hand To The Sky, Good Day and the magnificent On Fire Like Zsa Zsa), the brooding (Are We Just People, Bring It All Back To You and the tingling Walking Wounded) and classic R&B (Sunrise Revolution and Where Our Love Came From) but the formula remains consistent. Upfront, soulful vocals, funky bass, crisp, punchy drumming, sublime string and horn arrangements and a guitar contribution that starts off restrained before venturing into virtuosity.  And it all works very well!

The overwhelming impression that I’m left with after listening to United State Of Mind is a feeling of great pleasure at the way these three excellent musicians have demonstrated how closely related these apparently disparate musical styles really are, and how effectively and rewardingly they can be combined.  This is a project that has been well worthwhile!

Watch the official lyric video for the title track, United State of Mind here:

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