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 added to that with the expanded sound on the darkly titled Dead Men Have No Dreams (reviewed here on Bluesdoodles) and followed that with Spirit In The Form. His latest is astutely called War Without Witness. 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: putting poetry to music.
Opening track, I Miss You Babe, is very Dylan but with better enunciation and melody! Lyrically, Matthew is on form yet again as he tells of separation from a loved one; the instrumentation is countrified, but the piano and Hammond back it beautifully. Tell Me Brother is blues and behind the lucid and telling lyrics that supply a years worth of insults in one song; genius. Plus, we get a dobro, great bass and a lovely electric guitar solo…what’s not to love?
The title track, War Without Witness, has a hint of Dylan too as the melody reminds me of All Along The Watchtower as he did it originally before Hendrix (in my opinion) improved it no end. The biting lyrics should be required reading for a huge number of politicians…instrumentally, the bass is rather clever and the sparse chords from the electric guitar support the acoustic base, before a (way, way too short) Hendrixian electric solo dazzles. Special Rider changes the mood to a country styled love song. Matthew may be a Yorkshireman in Germany, but this song is more Americana than many Americans…pure country is not my first choice but, he does it very well indeed.
Numbers moves up to blues-rock as the world’s financial businesses are the target for some acerbic and accurate lyrics. The riff is sort of Stones crossed with Faces…it bops along nicely and has some quality backing and an imaginative solo too even if it fades too soon. Rock stays with us as Sometimes evokes Lou Reed in his Velvet days…and if you like that loose, complex rock then this is just as good.
Ode To Consequentialism is a beautiful paradox as Matthew, in his mild and lyrical Yorkshire accent, over a clever and complex musical backing educates us all (if we listen closely) because consequentialism exists and is defined on BBC as “…right or wrong depend on the consequences of an act, and that the more good consequences are produced, the better the act”. It takes numerous listens to really get the message but perseverance pays off as I found myself sharing his insight and agreeing with the bulk of his commentary…not very often a piece of music can engender that. I Love The Way is back to country, not county, as romance is on the table and so is a great piano solo.
Don’t Lie To Me has delightful electric slide guitar that Ry Cooder uses so effectively and this Dylan(ish) structure has clever backing (a near reggae beat mixed with country and blues) as governments feel the mighty ire of Mr Robb. The final track, Vagabond For Love, is a finely picked, acoustic blues with Matthew’s talking approach working well, although accent-free.
This another high quality release from Matthew; not all blues, but lots to appreciate with multiple listens as the layers show themselves.
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a wonderful album of (not too) Dylanesque troubadour with some tasty blues woven through.
1. I Miss You Babe
2. Tell Me Brother
3. War Without Witness
4. Special Rider
7. Ode To Consequentialism
8. I Love The Way
9. Don’t Lie To Me
10. Vagabond For Love
Matthew Robb: guitar, vocals
Ekki Maas: bass
Wolfgang Probe: keyboards
Tobias Hoffman: electric guitar
Marcus Rieck: drums
Recorded and produced at Musikkollektive, Cologne
(iTunes decided that I would be treated to some sensitive electric guitar shredding by Mattias ‘IA’ Eklund on a track from the Tribute To Jason Becker album. Mattias is a Swedish guitarist of the Malmsteen type, although he can play slowly too! Two volumes of tributes were put together by a wealth of six-string talent to help Jason sustain a reasonable lifestyle as he has had ALS for over 30 years now.)