Giles Robson: For Those Who Need The Blues (Blue Midnight)

The Dirty Aces harp player’s got a winner up his sleeve.

Giles Robson: For Those Who Need The Blues album artwork

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He’s been making a name for himself over the past few years with garage blues/alt.rock outfit The Dirty Aces, and Giles Robson’s not the kind of guy to stand still. When the singer/harp player found his fellow Aces unavailable for a show at the Great British Rock & Blues Festival in January, he cobbled together a four-piece under his own name. Their set of downhome blues was so well-received that he, guitarist Andy Knight, bassist Jeff Walker and drummer Darren Crome reconvened just a few weeks later to record the material for Robson’s solo debut.

The nine original tracks that comprise For Those Who Need The Blues were recorded in just one afternoon in Plymouth, all in just a few takes and during what was only the combo’s third session together. They play ordinary blues extraordinarily well. We’re in roadhouse country, sitting back with our boots up on the table, bottle of suds in hand, lapping up the band. The familiarity of the form is part of its brilliance, with more shuffles than an iPod factory.

Opener Shady Heart sets the tone. With Robson’s wailing harp front and centre and the band shuffling along behind him, he tells the tale of a cheating woman who’s ‘hiding her evil way down low, so when’s she’s runnin’ round on me you know it don’t hardly show’. That hoary ‘good-man-done-wrong’ theme persists: Sarah Lee is an entertaining 12-bar blues about a home wrecker (cracking SRV-style solo from Knight here) and Where You Been is a suspicious lover’s 12-bar blues, harking back to the golden Chicago era. One-chord trick Bound For The Border and earthy Start A War also feel like unknown relics dredged up from Muddy Waters. Only the excellent motoring slab of upbeat rock’n’roll Summa That Good Stuff hints at the post-modern Jon Spencer/Jack White notes which, on a good day, Robson’s original Aces can deal.

He plays ordinary blues extra-ordinarily well.

Crome and Walker are solid as railway tracks throughout and Knight supplies consistent, occasionally thrilling support, getting the spotlight on instrumental rockabilly romp Andy Steps Out. Robson’s own charisma is distinctly English, unvarnished and quasi-punk. What his vocals lack in gravelly heft they make up for in bluesy spirit. His harp – a warm, fuzzy Hohner Special Twenty mic’ed through, one assumes, a Green Bullet – is the ace up this Ace’s sleeve. On showcase GR Shuffle and throughout the album, he hoots and hollers like a train comin’ round the bend; his blown, vibrato-rich melodies make it feel like there’s two voices in the group. He plugs straight into the tradition – a dash of Waters here, a little of Carey Bell’s snatchy rhythmic style there, and a lot of Little Walter. The album concludes with the tune A Walter Shade Of Blue.

Given its fast turnaround, For Those Who Need The Blues can feel a touch one-note in parts, the songs cooked just a little too rare. But the flipside is you can feel the seat-of-the-pants, first-take spontaneity of the performance captured, which was clearly Robson’s aim. If you need the blues, he’s got just the thing.

Grant Moon is the News Editor for Prog and has been a contributor to the magazine since its launch in 2009. A music journalist for over 20 years, Grant writes regularly for titles including Classic Rock and Total Guitar, and his CV also includes stints as a radio producer/presenter and podcast host. His first book, 'Big Big Train - Between The Lines', is out now through Kingmaker Publishing.