Yorkshire born Matthew Robb is an enigma personified…after living in the wilds of the Andes and the Rockies, he returned to Europe, acquired a piece of land in a community in Cologne then built a home from reclaimed material where he now lives there with his partner and three children.
In this self-made idyll he has begun to craft what some call ‘song-poetry’ and revealed his talents in 2017 with his debut album, Spirit In The Form; he has added to that with the expanded sound on the darkly titled Dead Men Have No Dreams. It is a very professionally written and recorded work, especially considering the ‘self-released’ difficulties I’m sure he encountered. The style is predominantly singer/songwriter but of the Dylan/Guthrie/Donovan school of music, putting poetry to music.
Opening with the title track, we get a very Dylan approach to strumming and lyrical phrasing except Matthew’s voice is more tuneful! It does step up with the band providing suitable backing and a very good electric guitar solo that is inventive and reflects the melodies and lyrics very well. The storyline is as portentous as it sounds but closes with a slightly upbeat message…“in the big black tunnel of time, a light can still be seen so I’ll carry on through the rain for dead men have no dreams”. Common Destiny is more of a lilting country blues that addresses the modern day issue of fracking and he fits a serious amount of words into each line. The country feel melts into a slight jazzy feel courtesy of more clever electric guitar while the brushed snare is apt. Beggin’ U Back is next and I wonder why such a well-read and word wise man such as Matthew has fallen into the modern and to me annoying trend of shortening a three-letter word to one! The missing ‘g’ being replaced with an apostrophe is accepted practice since the early music pioneers so I always forgive that one. Anyway, the song is a country-style love song with sadness and is lifted by the intricate electric guitar in the background and in the solo that combines deliciously blurred chords and picking even if it didn’t last long enough.
Red Light Blues is, unsurprisingly, a very blues-based song that even references ‘cross-town traffic’ in the lyrics. It has a simple but effective blues-rock riff over the acoustic guitar and the solo is inventive and almost surfy in its fuzz and tremolo…regardless, it does work. Cry Some Tears takes us back to the slightly darker side of the heart but is an acoustic/vocal masterpiece with minimal drums behind the carefully picked guitar. The electric is used sparingly with only the occasional staccato chord before it unleashes some simple chord work that appears twice and does add to the overall emotive effect. Valley Of Stone picks up the pace with another countrified Dylanesque song the lyrics of which could be referring to many years ago or yesterday or even tomorrow…that’s his skill with words. Spoils Of War begins with neat and subtle picking before we get another tale of truth from Matthew. The band slowly join in to add gravitas to the message and is fascinating although, inevitably, I would have liked the lovely electric guitar tone to have been developed into a solo…still an atmospheric song that gets to you after a couple of listens. Pass The Buck is back to Dylanesque acoustic for the intro and the style of the vocals is a cross between that and old fashioned ‘walking blues’. The lyrics are sharp and, at times, laser beam accurate while the band embellish the background admirably. Mothers Song is the penultimate track and, I write this as I mourn my own Mother’s passing three days ago, so it may well be a biased mind that listened to the simple picking and the sometime aching words. Final track, When Am I Gonna Wake Up gives eight and a half minutes of lyrical imagery… try this for size: “When am I gonna wake up and start to give, see what I am doing in this life that I live, when am I gonna wake up, be more kind and care and see I’m not alone in this life that we share”. The music is simple acoustic and subtle backing as Matthew paints his vocal pictures. I can’t help (again) wishing for an instrumental interlude with that lovely electric tone and, for me, whilst the story is intriguing, ingenious and really makes you think, it does get a bit much…but that might just be me.
All in all, this is an album of thoughtfulness, dreaming and reality wrapped in a mix of country and blues. It is a very easy, at times challenging listen when you hear the carefully crafted words. Give it a listen if you like the Guthrie school of storytelling and simple but effective backing.
Bluesdoodles Rating – Wonderful
- Dead Men Have No Dreams
- Common Destiny
- Beggin’ U Back
- Red Light Blues
- Cry Some Tears
- Valley of Stone
- Spoils of War
- Pass the Buck
- Mothers Song
- When am I Gonna Wake Up
Matthew Robb (guitar, vocals)
Marcus Rieck (drums)
Cecil Drackett (bass)
Tobias Hoffman (electric guitars)
(The iTunes run on track this time featured the heavy rock of Max Magnani and, from the Twister album, the priapic track, Can U Get It Up? featuring Glenn Hughes on vocals: I only bought it because of GH but found a decent guitarist who seems to have fallen into obscurity…the cover was crap mind! There is also the issue, as mentioned above of the pointless ‘U’)