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THE ROBB JOHNSON ROOTS BAND "Hell's Kitchen" - Irregular IRR026

I often find it difficult to review a recording by singer/songwriter where all the material is self-penned, because it is hard to get an accurate appreciation of the man's true worth. Robb Johnson usually goes out solo, and works damned hard, giving a great club night - unless, that is, you are a dyed-in-the-wool true-blue. If you are it would only really suit you if you were open to the objective appreciation of talent and ability, regardless of political persuasion - I know, that's an oxymoron isn't it?

Anyhow, Robb performs here with his band. The band is large, expansive even, but comes with good pedigree; Steafan Hannigan, Huggy Harewood, Maggie Holland, Fiona Larcombe, Terry Mann, Rory McLeod, Paul Mullineux, Scarey Red, and Paul White. It's really not so much a working band as a bunch of mates, and they work hard, with some particularly notable piping from Hannigan and tasty squeezin' from Terry Mann The CD kicks in with a belter, "Working On A River". An opening track with the relaxed, light feel of "the African tune", you know the one - the African equivalent of "the Irish tune", but alright for all that! However, the rest is rather mixed, in both form and subject, and although there is a variety of styles and treatment, the themes are fairly consistent.

"The Butchers Hand" is a sharply observed comment on the contradictions of British capitalism and the arms trade, "Lottery Land" is equally pointed social comment, and the title track is anthemic reggae, a highlight which really hits the spot. Over though the commitment expressed in the lyrics sadly doesn't to transfer to the music, there is a lack of bite, with the band appearing to be just along for the ride. No matter how much I sympathised with the sentiments, I kept looking for more fire, more anger ... somehow, just more! And the closing track, "Red, White and Moo" about the BSE fiasco is weak, and well, rather juvenile - OK in a club as a break from darker meat, but out of place on an album. I'm sorry I can't be more enthusiastic 'cos I like the guy and I've really enjoyed the live sets that I've seen him do, but sadly it doesn't really work for me on CD. But go see him in a club near you. I'm sure that you'll enjoy it - and when you do, buy the CD.

Mel Howley

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This album was reviewed in Issue 21 of The Living Tradition magazine.