Confronting gritty politics and softer periods of reflection and love, Matthew Robb’s second album, ‘Dead Men Have No Dreams’, will bring pleasure to fans of poetic lyricism. Competing with our good friend Bob for the title of king of the verses, Robb produces ten tracks with an award-winning set of musicians from his harbouring hometown in Germany. Collating elements of folk, blues and country, one thing remains consistent throughout, and that is the need for sincerity. This includes the opening title track, which feels more akin than any to the writing of Dylan.
Other more distinctive songs emerge such as the sound on ‘Common Density’. The bizarre nature of the chord progression, random time signature changes, the point in which the vocal melody sits cleverly uncomfortable, all combine to make a point of mocking the policy makers Robb sings off in which he claims: “… there must be something definitely lacking, to have given the go ahead, to unrestricted hydraulic fracking”.
‘Red Light Blues’, a particular favourite, adds a touch of humour, sounding full and nicely driven but respective of Robb’s cool spoken voice which sits as well as on any J.J Cale record. Lyrically, ‘Mother’s Song’ pays a touching tribute to someone very deserving when Robb quotes “your life is a blessing, where love accepts all things / your tongue has passed confession, your eyes drink sunlight in”.
At times though, the album relinquishes its dynamics and although served well by the accompanying musicians, could have gained perhaps from a little more focus on production and arrangements. Where ‘Valley of Stone’ carries little dynamically, the interchange to the chorus and the song as a whole could easily go amiss which is a real shame considering the story behind the song is so sweetly and rather sadly reminiscent.
At times a little inexperience is also present in Robb’s vocals and guitar. The very nature of this style of song writing/performance encourages a more rough and ready approach, but there are occasions when the syncopation shows signs of a little less maturity. I’m sure many would also want the same excellent delivery and poignancy of the words in ‘Spoils of War’ to be reflected in Robb’s vocals, but these lack the same passion and grit that the lyrics convey.
To Robb’s credit, all the songs lay bare his soul and he obviously has a keen desire to apprehend the truth. For that I am sure many followers of Americana UK will take comfort and particularly appreciate Robb’s final ode in ‘When Am I Gonna Wake Up’. “When am I gonna wake up and stop telling lies / I could never fill an empty cup with the tears I’ve cried / when am I gonna wake up to the love that’s inside / while greed and desire try to strangle my mind”.