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ROBB JOHNSON - Some Recent Protest Songs

ROBB JOHNSON - Some Recent Protest Songs
Irregular Records  IRR080

One thing you can never say about a Robb Johnson album is “I wish you would say what you mean”!  The plain fact is that he never leaves you in any doubt.

And here again we have an object lesson - to tyro protest singers - in “total commitment” to the message.  It is absolutely uncompromising stuff: indeed, enough to make some listeners “man the barricades”.  It engages one from start to finish.  I may have found it occasionally a little lacking in “nuance”, but that was more than made up for by the realisation that - throughout the 43 minutes of playing time - one was getting the heart and soul of the performer.  The fact that Robb has chosen to cut a SOLO album, and just use his own guitar for accompaniment, helps emphasise the feeling one has of the ordinary man speaking out against a largely corrupt system.

He kicks off with a rather jaunty opening track The Cream Of The Nation: but don’t let the music fool you.  There is nothing light-hearted about the lyric: he has the “Hooray Henrys” of the Tory party in his crosshairs.  “All eyes right/It’s the cream of the nation/Thick, rich white.”

And if you are still in any doubt, get this crushing put-down of our current British Prime Minister: “Up comes Dave the Head Boy/And he’s worth a bob or two/’Course he’s never had a proper job/Soon you won’t have one too”.

The remaining 12 tracks are just as uncompromising.  They cover an impressive range of subjects including bombs, cuts and royal weddings, Gaza, Afghanistan, Tolpuddle, Maiden Castle and the Land Freedom Army.  True, there are no songs that say “let us pass the debt on to our unborn children”, but then in fairness, it is not his job to sing songs that say “On the one hand, this, and on the other hand, that”!

He is a PROTEST singer, for godsake!  And a powerful one at that.

And a final thought: it was not his fault that I start EVERY DAY by playing my favourite new track of the last couple of years: the great Leon Rosselson’s Talking Democracy Blues, a veritable masterpiece.  That nothing on this album comes even CLOSE, is not Robb’s fault: he is a mere mortal against a colossus that has bestrode the protest scene for over half a century.  One hopes Robb can keep the passion, and at the same time - with age - develop some of Leon’s subtleties. 

But for sure, Robb is up there right now with Billy Bragg, as the best of the rest.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 92 of The Living Tradition magazine.