Robin Evans Esq.-Demon Swing EP (Review)

Robin Evans made the transformation from tea-drinking gentleman with a Guinness World Record to something completely different. Around a year ago, Robin unleashed his Down and Dirty Delta Blues style of music and to see him live has become an experience. Playing a suitcase for percussion and singing into a megaphone, watching Robin play slide ukulele through a Big Muff is truly a sight to behold, and I’m so proud to see him finally release an EP after much anticipation. The question is, does it translate the same energy to CD?

The opening “Demon Swing” is the classic example of slow, engaging blues, telling “a story from a few years ago”. Robin’s normally sibilant vocals become a delicate whisper distorted to your ear, his melodic narrations breathe chills on your neck. The song escalates in tempo bringing an almost scat-like retelling of his tale to a thumping suitcase on-beat that invites merry uncoordinated dancing.

His most popular track “Badger Milk” brings out everything I love about this artist. The dirty fingerpicked slide uke carries such a grittiness that it breathes new life into cliche’d blues tropes. The ridiculously hilarious lyrics of “Drinking badger milk, I drink it all day long. Drinking badger milk, but I can’t keep it down for long” are so catchy in their absurdity that it becomes instantly memorable. The rapidly alternating suitcase and tambourine hits in tandem with his wild uke solos create a weirdly unique blend of Blind Boy Fuller and Jimi Hendrix.

The dip in energy comes in the form of “Gastown”, and the substitution of a banjo brings a rich tonal contrast as well as a musically engaging chorus. Robin’s voice becomes more breathy and melodic, as he tells a detailed story of graft through The Great Depression. The song however is rather generous in length and it does outstay it’s welcome. Had it have been a minute shorter I would’ve enjoyed it a lot more, but it is still a fun track that acts as the mule to the 2 stallions that preceded it.

“Building a Plane” brings out the ballsy Baritone/Big Muff combo with a tense chord progression and biting, aggressive vocals that recount a Norwich equivalent of Johnny Cash’s “One Piece At A Time”, carrying a darker edge to it.

The closing “Delta Truckin’ Woman” will probably be the most underrated song on the CD, but it just might be my favourite. Robin ramps up the energy with Rolling Stones-esque chord progressions, and the kick drum emphasis of the beat builds the song wonderfully through its clappable introduction. It’s the most ‘poppy’ song of the EP, but it bridges the gap between modern pub classics and 1910s Chicago blues in excellent fashion with some bitingly good riffs and fills in all the right places. The hidden track at the end is a nod to all supporters of Mr Esq. through his pre-delta days, and it is an absolute joy to listen to.

My experience of this EP has the (dis)advantage of being compared to seeing him live numerous times. The production is great, but there are some choices made that seem to prioritise the EP sounding “good” over it sounding “Robin”. The vocals are more intelligible, yet less gritty-the suitcase is like a thumping kick drum, less like a canon firing. The package has a certain cleanliness to it that in places takes away from the angry, beer-fuelled rage that is Robin.

Overall my feelings on this EP are largely positive. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it in my life, it is just stunning. Even compared to other ukulele blues players like Manitoba Hal, this presents a darker, dirtier blues that feels more representative of the genre in its primitive form. My experience of this CD is likely different because I’ve seen him live and I have that comparison to make, but despite my nitpicks this does a great job of sampling what bonkers mad shit you can expect from Robin Evans Esq. 8/10

Now buy this EP and go see him live, it’s bloody mental!

 

You can see more of Robin Evans Esq. here. 

 

Marc Gallagher