It’s no mean feat to release an album which stays in the mind for both its music and its sense of authenticity. Two years ago, Matthew Robb released Spirit In The Form which did just that. On December 5th he releases Dead Men Have No Dreams and I suspect he’s done it again.
Listen to the title track below. Right from the start you have Robb’s vocal, simultaneously (and paradoxically) stark and rich. It demands your attention, as do the simple acoustic guitar that wouldn’t be out of place in Guthrie or 1963/64 Dylan, the insistent refrain, and a nine verses tale taking you into the depths of:
“…………….……. too terrified to ask
for the bright lights of salvation
on that dark night you will scream
for you know your soul will go to hell
and dead men have no dreams”
before pulling you up through images of hope: “trying to find the diamond in your mind”, “love is the only fuel for survival” to the concluding, life-affirming:
“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”.
Robb is also a performer of his own poems and if you get the album, you’ll find the imagery in the accompanying lyric book to be as compelling as the CD.
There are ten great tracks on the album and I only have a limited number of words for a review, so a few other highlights. The opening line of the second track is “In these policy makers heads there must be something definitely lacking”. On the page, that looks like a line from a report. In Robb’s hands it becomes the opening to a couplet “they’ve given the go-ahead to unrestricted hydraulic fracking” for a song, ‘Common Destiny’, which builds through a steady and simple jazzy-blues arrangement to a conclusion five verses later that “you’ll see we share a common destiny”.
‘Begging You Back’ is a love song asking a partner to return; there are few male vocalists who can make a catchy tune and a pleading lyric sound like the song of a strong man. Robb does it on this track. Similarly, ‘Cry Some Tears’ rips your heart out with its simple arrangement and Robb’s vocal asking “come here baby, don’t hold it all inside/where the feelings of yesterday remain”.
Listen to ‘Valley of Stone’ for yourself and decide whether it’s an economic, political and environmental description of life in an old mill town and/or an image of emotions made visible through the valley of stone, its objective correlative. I love ‘Spoils of War’ for the way it hits you from the start, subtle guitar picking, a mesmeric tune and haunting backing arrangement, which builds line on line to the final lyrics “imagination killed by some material disease…..when the dust finally settles, hope someone’s still home”.
‘Red Light Blues’ is, unsurprisingly, blues-based and rich in imagery and references (including the passing use of the phrase “cross town traffic”); ‘Pass The Buck’ is another track with a livelier tempo, perhaps echoing most strongly of talking blues with the band driving the pace.
The album finishes with an eight and a half minute song, ‘When Am I Gonna Wake Up’, that you can listen to, then play from the start and listen to again, then listen more times and unpick the imagery which hops from verse to growing chorus until it reaches a final question:
“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”.
Like the rest of the album you wonder whether this is the song of an individual, the song of our society – or both. Beats me. All I can suggest is you give the album a good listen and see how Robb’s images interrelate with your own life.
Finally, then, Dead Men Have No Dreams isn’t poetry, it’s a CD of songs. While the sound on the first album was pretty impressive, the trio on this album of Marcus Rieck (drums), Cecil Drackett (bass) and Tobias Hoffman (electric guitars) have helped Robb to create something which sounds like…well, actually, I don’t have comparisons.
It sounds like Matthew Robb, a lyric-poet uncompromising in the way he covers the emotional and societal concerns of the modern world and makes them into damn good songs.
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Artist’s website: https://matthewrobb.com
‘Dead Men Have No Dreams’ – official video: