Giles Robson – Don’t Give Up On The Blues
American Showplace Music – 2019
12 tracks; 61 minutes
UK harmonica player Giles Robson turned a few heads when he became the first European artist to appear on an Alligator album and only the third Briton to win a Blues Music Award when Journey To The Heart Of The Blues won in the acoustic category. That album featured Giles with Joe Louis Walker and Bruce Katz and Giles has maintained the connection with Bruce whose band backs Giles on this album: Bruce on keyboards, Aaron Lieberman on guitar, Antar Goodwin on bass and Ray Hangen on drums, Giles fronting the band on harp and vocals on an all-original program.
Over recent years Giles has established himself as one of the leading European harmonica players and the hard rocking opening track “Land To Land” provides an opportunity to hear him in ‘tough’ style with periodic blasts of harp and some rapid-fire over-blowing as Bruce cooks on organ and Aaron’s solo provides a counterpoint to Giles’. Giles also sings well across the album and the title track has lyrics that all blues fans will appreciate about how the blues will always be there for those who keep the faith; Giles ranges far and wide on harp over Bruce’s piano which adds a honky-tonk feel to the shuffle. A Bo Diddley style beat on “Damn Fool Way” finds Giles being self-critical about how he mistreated his girl (and it is not often you hear ‘obliterate’ in a blues song). The slow blues “Your Dirty Look & Your Sneaky Grin” has plenty of space for Giles to weave his magic before another lively shuffle, “Show A Little Mercy” finds Bruce back on piano and Aaron adding some tasty slide.
At the half-way point in the album we get the first of three instrumentals, the title “Boogie At The Showplace” indicating that this one was probably concocted on the spot at the studio, a duo performance for harp and piano. “Fearless Leaders” lays into our politicians on a churning blues with lashings of tough harp and bitter lyrics like “it’s getting hard to tell if it’s them or us who are the biggest fools” before things lighten up with “Hey, Hey Now!” with its catchy guitar riff at the core of a song in which Giles is “going out to conquer this city”. The jerky instrumental “Giles’ Theme” opens with Giles at full throttle before he gives way to Bruce whose organ solo harks back to Jimmy Smith. Giles gets reflective again on a Chicago style shuffle “Life, With All Its Charms”, telling us that he has what he needs without lots of money, as “I have life, with all its charms, when I hold my baby in my arms”.
The album closes with two contrasting tracks, both sufficiently extended to allow solo space for all: we remain in Chicago for the frenetic “That Ol’ Heartbreak Sound” (a reference to classic blues) which includes a short feature for the rhythm section, lightning fast solos by Aaron and Bruce (on piano) and lots of Giles’ strongest blowing; in contrast “Way Past Midnight” is a gospel-tinged slow blues instrumental that opens with Bruce’s stately B3 and Giles’ high register harp, a track that would not sound out of place on a Ronnie Earl album. On an album with lots to admire this track is perhaps the pick and a fine way to close the album.
There is something for most blues fans here. It is good that Giles and Bruce carried on the collaboration they started on Journey To The Heart Of The Blues and well done to American Showplace for providing a platform for the release.