Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Old Blind Dogs

"Four On The Floor" 2007

When the Old Blind Dogs appeared on the Scottish folk scene fifteen years ago, the band was immediately pinned as innovators. They never deigned to 'go electric,' instead bringing stunning, rock and roll energy to Scottish acoustic music. At the same time, the group's early albums also felt comfortable alongside the best recordings from the era of 1970s folk revivalism. There were key tensions to the original Dogs: Davy Cattanach played his drum kit by hand, providing an African conga-like base, while elder folk master Ian Benzie's warm vocals anchored the band with sensitivity and verve.
Old Blind Dogs were always rooted in the past, but they were certainly not going to remain curios. Since those early days, the group has gone through numerous changes. Jim Malcolm, who provided the ensemble with vocals for several years after Ian Benzie's departure, has now left the band. Both Rory Campbell and Fraser Fifield added pipes to the repertoire, enriching and expanding their potential. Davy Cattanach also left the band, but Fraser Stone's percussion is very sympathetic to Cattanach's approach, providing continuity to their sound. Aaron Jones has Buzzby McMillan's founding slot of bouzouki and bass work. But there has been only one Jonny Hardie, whose peerless fiddle and vocal contributions have been the mainstay of the evolving group.
On Four on the Floor, Old Blind Dogs appear to be taking stock of themselves. All the band members take up vocal duties, which provides for nice variety, whether the songs are traditional or contemporary. Furthermore, the band, now comprised of only Jones, Campbell, Hardie, and Stone, is back to the original conception of four members.
There aren't many frantic moments, which the band always delivers live, on Four on the Floor. Old Blind Dogs sound much more relaxed than I recall, and they have gracefully mellowed into their status as one of the most important Scottish folk bands. "Gaelic Song" is a great example of the band's soft approach here, simultaneously lulling and enticing. The group even revisits some of their earlier repertoire: "Bedlam Boys" and "Bonnie Earl" are given new performances here. There's fire to their "Breton" medley - two of the tunes were taught to Rory Campbell by the great Breton musician Patrick Molard -- and it is nice to hear the Dogs cast their expertise on other Celtic traditions. Four on the Floor once again finds Old Blind Dogs steeped in folk legacy. But where they once titled an album Legacy in honor of their influences, their latest work acknowledges the Dog's own singular mark with style, craft, and humbleness. - Lee Blackstone


Blogger Hooli said...

Being an Aberdonian, I saw Old Blind Dogs more times than I can remember, both before and after they were formed.
Ian Benzie, in a previous band was the mainstay of my local pub.
Back then he was the hally racket individual, the one who would crank things up. It was no surprise to me that he would be the first to plough his own furrow, as it were.
I have to say, I was always a fan, even then in the pub, as a teenager, when everyone else was into the Cure or Echo & The Bunnymen, Ian touched the inner Dylan in me. To say he is probably the finest folk singer the north east of Scotland has produced is no exaggeration. The rest of the band were the perfect compliment to his vocals.
It'll be interesting to hear this.
I have to admit that I never kept up with the band after he left.
Funny though how things turn - I bought a bouzouki on Saturday. Playing it made me think of all those great runs Buzzy MacMillan used to play so I dug out some old Dogs stuff. While searching around, lo and behold, what did I find? A solo album by Ian F Benzie.
I have to say first impressions - not as strong as with the band.

Anyway, apologies for going on at great length. Just wanted to say thanks for this.
If you want some early Old Blind Dogs, have a look through the posts at Hooligans Lament.



27 September, 2008 03:38  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unlike the previous poster, this band was new to me as Scottish folk bands aren't exactly abundant where I live. The Internet can be wonderful and I'm grateful to be turned on to this fine album by a top rate band. Thanks,

28 September, 2008 01:47  

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