A Review of the CD
"The Triumph of Hope Over Experience"
by Robb Johnson

"The Triumph of Hope Over Experience"
by Robb Johnson

Irregular Records - 2002
(IRR 045)

This review is written by Dai Woosnam, daigress@hotmail.com, 6/03

About a year ago I came across some words of Robb on the subject of festivals and bookings. Words that really struck home.

To paraphrase - and to do him an injustice, for he put it in a more articulate way than this - he pointed out that for all the ploughing of his own lone furrow that he had done, he was only booked for a couple of British festivals that year. Yet the same names keep appearing at festivals up and down the country: implicit in his comments was "what am I doing wrong"?

The answer my dear sir, is NOTHING. You have commendably danced to your own drum, and not gone down the broad Folk Highway that seems the "road of choice" to so many Folk performers.

That is not to say that you do not have your influences. Your long love of the "chansonnier", really comes across on this album. Track 4 for instance, "When the Swing Began to Swing", could have been written by your hero Jacques Brel. And there are fleeting touches of Jackson Browne there: not in the voice or the song structures, but more in your ability to catch that sense of poignancy that is in the air.

But of course, the real influence is Leon Rosselson. It is there in the whole delivery, the uncompromising political stance and the humour. In fact, I think of RJ as "Son of Rosselson": and that is no put-down, since LR is a very fine artiste indeed. (And come to think of it, there is another similarity: Leon does not get booked for many festivals either!)

True Robb Johnson has not scaled the great heights than Leon has, but he still has time on his side. Leon has written at least half-a-dozen top-drawer songs: Robb has not made the same mark. But he has written many pretty good ones, and there are a few evident here.

"Life is Football" is a witty take on our national sport, with a killer last line (a RJ speciality: just when you think a song is a throwaway humorous ditty, he hits you with a line that gives the whole song another layer of meaning and a real sense of profundity). And "Happy Birthday General", whilst being a non-subtle song, is one that grabs you, by its sheer ATTACK on General Pinochet.

But the standout track has to be "Supporting Chumbawamba". Both witty and catchy.

Fine production to boot, with some quality musicians including Saskia Tomkins on fiddle and rising star Miranda Sykes on double bass. This is a CD that has its failures (don't most albums?), but has the all-compensating quality of being an artiste's attempt at being true to his heart and mind. You cannot say that very often these days.

Dai Woosnam
Grimsby, England

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