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Irregular Records IRR059

Robb Johnson burst into my life years ago at the local folk club. He bounded on with a battered guitar and a clutch of gutsy, passionately left-wing songs which eulogised the 'little people' and tore into the venal politicians and corrupt capitalists (I especially remember The Herald of Free Enterprise) who exploited them. Next time I saw him, he was in a duo with Pip Collings; the songs still had bite but the pill was sweetened by those exquisite harmonies.

For Metro, Johnson's laid aside his guitar and teamed up with pianist Russel Churney. The songs are more polished and subtly enhanced by Churney's marvellously empathetic arrangements and Johnson's gritty voice has never sounded better. He can't resist having a pop at the old enemy in Stand Clear! in which a 'toff' gets her comeuppance from a stout member of the RMT union, but generally the songs are reflective, befitting a man to whom middle-age is relentlessly beckoning. He recalls schooldays when everything seemed possible and the inevitable subsequent disappointment in The Golden Boys: 'Outside the rent was due, and all our poetry/ meant f**k all next to business studies'. Paranoia - 'It's like the way that beggar zeroes in on me/Like I'd know what it's like to have nowhere to go' - and anger - 'Thou shalt not fight, but to kill for your country's okay/'Cos you've got a name rank and number' - surface frequently. But Johnson retains his capacity to surprise with an evocative tribute to the novelist in Greeneland and concludes with a reaffirmation of his faith in the redemption of humankind through romantic love: 'Just when you weren't looking/Here comes that miracle again'.

Apart from Leon Rosselson and Jake Thackray, we haven't had any chansonniers who come close to Jacques Brel and Georges Brassens. We have now.

Dave Tuxford

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This album was reviewed in Issue 66 of The Living Tradition magazine.