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"21st Century Blues" Irregular IRR043

A new album of 15 songs by our loveable thorn in the side of falsehood and injustice working with two musicians on double bass and violin/viola/cello. With a dedication "for the casualty list" which includes the writer and mentor to many, me included, Eric Winter it's not surprising that a mood of "my dark hour" prevails. The uninspiring character of weary, dreary old England has proved paradoxically inspiring to many songwriters from Ray Davies to Andy Partridge and Johnson is no exception, whiling away 'A Rainy Afternoon in the Star' and singing with a studiously resigned air whilst later brightening the palate with a visit to Santa's grotto down Hounslow High Street. Fittingly even this is outro'd with the music box tinkle of 'Over the Rainbow's' irony.

'At the Siege of Madrid' which tells us that each child born is an anarchist is as combustible as its name suggests and the title track has a battered anthemism about it with 'Everybody Wants to break Your heart', an uneasy, rueful ballad. These are stirring performances with Miranda and Saskia adding so-right accompaniments, which truly enhance the songs, by, turns passionate and delicate. Johnson's acerbic humour is kept on the back burner this time around, but his intelligent writing is never less than mighty and moving and those left untouched by his memory of a biker friend, Tony Grimes on 'I Am the Wind' must surely be numbered amongst the granite-hearted.

Robb Johnson is something to treasure. A man of the people, his songs have a transcendent quality that is all their own. "21st Century Blues" is, to these ears their best airing to date - witty, sardonic and affecting. Par for the course then.

Clive Pownceby

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This album was reviewed in Issue 43 of The Living Tradition magazine.