Roger Robinson: Dog Heart City

The lyrical nature of most poetry means that it can lend itself to being set to music, and many poets have attempted something along these lines; in the 1950s, Jack Kerouac recorded some of his poems with pianist Steve Allen (released on 1959 album Poetry for the Beat Generation); more recently Jeremy Reed set some of his poetry to electro beats with the Ginger Light (Big City Dilemma (2012), Down For You Is Up (2014), Excess & Ruin (2019) and Stalker (2021).

Dog Heart City is poet Roger Robinson’s third album, following 2015’s Dis Side Ah Town and 2004’s illclectica, and is not so much Robinson’s poetry set to music as a musical enterprise on its own – it just happens to have poetic lyrics written by a notable poet.

The album is billed as a “reel full of new tales about survival in a Dog Heart City…delivered in Robinson’s full vocal spectrum between low-end dub poetry tremors and haunting falsetto singing”. Dog Heart City certainly has its own distinct world – an urban wasteland of the dispossessed, the “people with nothing looking for something”, “where we “can’t tell what’s wrong or what’s right” (“Welcome To Dog Heart City”).

Dog Heart City shares some concerns and themes with Robinson’s poetry. Standout “New Maps” considers the disparity between rich and poor, gentrification – penthouses versus council houses and tower-blocks. “Flowers” meditates on the death rate of young black men, where another victim dies before the last mourning flowers have dried; “Nighshift” focuses on the workers who clean the buildings where power is held.

Much of the album has a reggae/roots backing, with some interesting sound effects to convey the sound of the city – “a pile of special riddim cuts from the Jahtari vaults, from re-edited classics by Bo Marley, unreleased gems by John Frum, to completely new experiments, all lovingly dubbed live and soaked in analogue goodness by disrupt”.

The music and effects often swirl in discontent; the title track starts off in a squall of distortion and echo, but shifts into a gentle, human beat; radio signals come in and out of range on its sister track “Welcome To Dog Heart City”. The modernity of the truncated track “Swastika”, a song about how the city wears a Swastika like a proud badge in post-Brexit UK, is emphasised through electronica. “Bun Bun Bun” is intensely spooky due to its ghostly children’s choir as distant backing.

Throughout the album Robinson’s vocals draw the listener in – deep and growling on the postcode-claiming “Ruins”, and empathetic with inner city worry on “Corridors”.

With art and backing vocals provided by Kiki Hitomi, Dog Heart City is available on digital download and vinyl (cassette now sold out)

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Label: Jahtari
Release Date: 03 AUG 2017