Superficially at least you’d never think to put singer/songwriter Maxi Priest, guitarist Robin Trower, and producer and multi-instrumentalist Livingstone Brown (Ed Sheeran, Tina Turner, Kylie Minogue, Bill Withers) together, but having met by chance at Brown’s Brixton studio the trio realised they shared a deep love of soul, R&B and gospel music. The result is United State Of Mind (9 October 2020; Manhaton Records), which has a strong sultry 70s vibe that is brimming over with soul.
In fact Trower and Priest were born just a stone’s throw away from each other in Catford and Lewisham, London. While Trower’s incredible guitar playing, often on his signature Fender stratocaster, has influenced many, his albums such as Bridge Of Sighs and For Earth Below have also sold in the millions. As one commentator trenchantly wrote: “Robin Trower’s mastery of the guitar is not so much technical as emotional. His solos are not pyrotechnic displays of speed and precision, rather he uses his guitar to draw out the hidden emotions that lie closest to the heart.” Priest has also enjoyed huge commercial success with numerous top 10 hits – Close To You among them - and multiple grammy nominations. Brown on the other hand is a longtime collaborator with Trower, having worked closely with him on his highly rated 20th Century Blues album.
So, when Brown slightly provocatively suggested that they work together on a song, Trower and Priest reportedly looked at each other and said “why not?”
The album opens with the outstanding funky title track, which both showcases Trower’s guitar chops and Priest’s silky voice. “USM was one of the first pieces of music that I came up with for Maxi,” says Trower, “as soon as he heard it, Maxi had the lyric idea of ‘On a lonely highway’ and everything started to fall into place from there. I think it is one of the best tracks I’ve been involved in.”
Brown brings cohesion to what is a diverse range of songs, from more rock-oriented numbers like Hand To The Sky and On Fire Like Zsa Zsa to the atmospheric Are We Just People and Bring It All Back To You, as well as more traditional R&B cuts in the form of, for example, Sunrise Revolution. Walking Wounded is a particularly lovely blues-tinged song that finds Priest plaintively singing: “Bless her heart and soul, There's no way she could've known, How the devil played the part, In the damage that's been done, No trace no evidence, No smokin' gun, Walking Wounded …Love has shut me down.”
The meeting of these three artists came about as a consequence of what Brown amusingly describes as “a diary malfunction”. That serendipitous encounter, however, has proved magical.
“When Robin first met Maxi,” says Brown, “I thought this cannot end well [but] this record is proof I was so wrong!” Working on the album with Livi and Maxi was a complete joy from beginning to end,” concludes Trower.