Diamonds and Dirt
posted on 2/2011 By:
In 1974, alongside Scott Gorham, an 18-year-old Scottish guitarist named Brian Robertson replaced Gary Moore (R.I.P.) in Thin Lizzy, solidifying the best and most popular incarnation of that perpetually underrated outfit. As a member of Thin Lizzy, Robertson contributed to five undeniable masterstrokes of guitar-driven hard rock – Nightlife, Fighting, Jailbreak, Johnny The Fox, and Bad Reputation, although by the time of that last record, the band had splintered, and Robertson was featured only on a few tracks and wasn’t pictured in the album art. After his ousting from Lizzy (in which he was himself replaced by Gary Moore), Robertson formed the short-lived band Wild Horses before famously and briefly joining Motorhead in 1982 as the first replacement for Fast Eddie Clarke. Robertson’s personality and melodic playing style was an ill fit for Lemmy and Philthy, and after 1983’s Another Perfect Day, Robertson was out of Motorhead (as was Philthy, albeit only briefly).
Since then, Robbo has popped up at a few tributes, played a few guest spots here and there, but largely, whether intentional or not, he’s stayed out of the spotlight. (He apparently turned down a spot in the reformed 21st-century Lizzy.) Now, thirty-six years after he first appeared with Thin Lizzy, Brian Robertson releases his first solo album, Diamonds And Dirt, featuring performances by Europe drummer Ian Haugland, bassist Nalle Pahlsson of Therion and Swedish melodic rockers Treat, and former Michael Schenker Group vocalist Leif Sundin.
Stylistically, Diamonds is straight-ahead classic rock, the kind of thing that inevitably gets labeled “bluesy” or “soulful,” and yes, those qualities are hinted at, but Diamonds sports a slick studio sheen, and thus it lacks the dirt that marks the best blues-rock. Most of Diamonds And Dirt sounds like late-80s Clapton mixed with Bad English. Sundin has the slight rasp and grit that reminds of John Waite (Bad English, the Babys) or Brian Howe (post-Rodgers Bad Company), and his performance is capable but nondescript, which adequately sums up most of the record.
Of course, the focus of a Brian Robertson disc is Brian himself, particularly his guitar playing, which is still as tasteful and skilled as it was back in his Lizzy days, easily the best part of the otherwise mediocre album. (Robbo also plays keys, bass and handles some vocals.) But still, even the best of Robbo’s wah-tinted bluesy soloing can’t save Diamonds from turning to dust – after the first few tunes, the album sinks beneath its own melodic rock blandness. Alongside five original compositions, of which the title track and the funky “Passion” are far and away the best, Robertson covers two Lizzy classics – Nightlife’s “It’s Only Money” and Jailbreak’s “Running Back,” the latter presented twice in two different versions. Diamonds’ true diamond is the heretofore-unreleased Robertson / Lynott composition “Blues Boy,” which features unmistakable Phil-ness beneath its twenty-year-old genero-blues-rock sheen.
While those few scattered moments of Diamonds And Dirt are enjoyable for what they are, unfortunately, they cannot overcome the dated sound and lack of personality. The Lizzy covers are so pale in comparison to the originals that they’re almost transparent, and the three covers of Scottish soul-rocker Frankie Miller fare only little better, if only because I’m not as familiar with or as emotionally attached to the source material. (Of the latter trio, the Miller / Robertson collaboration “Do It Til We Drop” is among the album’s lamest moments, superseded only by the abrupt right turn into the alt-country jaunt of Jim White’s “10 Miles To Go On A 9 Mile Road,” a good song that’s something of a sore thumb as the sole off-beat track in the middle of a middle-of-the-road record.)
Lacking the charisma and songwriting of Phil or Lemmy, solo Robbo is a showcase for some decent guitar wrangling stranded in some less-than-thrilling AOR tracks. I picked this one up because I love Robbo’s work with Lizzy and Motorhead. I was hoping for something a bit more charged, more gritty, less generic "blues" rock, and I have to say I’m far from blown away by what I've got. I won’t waste much more time dissecting Diamonds – stylistically, it is what it is, and for my money, what it is far too slick and too dull, with too few diamonds and too little dirt.
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