Old Blind Dogs, |
(Green Linnet, 2001)
Old Blind Dogs is a band I should listen to more often. I say this every time I hear one of their albums. And the 50 minutes, six songs and six instrumental tracks of Fit? (meaning "What?" in Doric, a dialect spoken in the northeast of Scotland) serve as a strong reminder of this simple fact.
The band has an excellent lead singer in Jim Malcolm (guitar, harmonica), though all five musicians provide vocals. With his melodic tone and soft Scottish accent, Malcolm dances through the songs, weaving quite a spell as his stories unfold. And around him, the others add well-placed tight harmonies, which color the songs without intruding on the melody lines.
Instrumentally, the band goes from strength to strength. Intriguing arrangements bring out the best in the players. Busy lead work on fiddle, border pipes and whistles, with mainly percussion, guitar and bouzouki accompaniment, draws them into the same grouping as such Irish bands as Lunasa and (to a lesser extent) Coolfin, though there is no mistaking Old Blind Dogs as they retain their own distinctive sound.
A glance at the track listing had me wondering. I know three of the titles and wondered why they had included them. Robert Burns' "Is There For Honest Poverty" and the two traditional songs, "Tramps and Hawkers" and "Tatties And Herrin'," have been recorded almost to death. But it comes as a pleasant surprise to hear Old Blind Dogs' refreshing approach to the Burns' number. And now I remember why I liked "Tramps and Hawkers" so much as I listen to the jig time version here. New life is breathed into these songs.
There is a nice balance between traditional and contemporary tunes. I'm totally taken by "Sky City" more than any other track. Jonny Hardie's fiddle slides and flows through the opening of this jig, with a laidback, complementary guitar accompaniment, until it suddenly moves into the B part with its leaps and shift in emphasis. Beautiful, but too short as it moves into the flute and percussion led "Lovely Basket of Nice-Smelling Flowers," one of a couple of tunes written by Rory Campbell (pipes, whistles). The set ends with a traditional "Galician Jig," featuring some lovely interplay between the flute, pipes and fiddle.
Buzzby McMillan anchors the band with his steady bass guitar and bubbling cittern. He also creates a delightful old-timey setting for another Burns song, "Awa' Whigs Awa'," which works remarkably well combining elements of Scotland with the Appalachians. Paul Jennings keeps the rhythm flowing with inventive, effervescent playing on an assortment of percussion instruments.
This album will not get lost on my shelves. It's taken its place by my stereo so that I can remember to play it often, a fate it greatly deserves -- even if I might stop it short, just before the "Tatties And Herrin'," which don't appear to have aged as well as some other songs.
[ by Jamie O'Brien ]