Old Blind Dogs, the gab o mey (Green Linnet, 2003)
Go buy this amazing CD now. It's one of the finest listening experiences you'll ever have. (Tick... Tock...)
Still here? Oh, you want to know more. Aren't you a doubting Thomas, eh? Ok, let's head down to the Green Man Pub where we can listen to some fine music and have a few pints of a brew that just came in -- Kinmount Willie Scottish Oatmeal Stout from Broughton Ales Ltd. This traditional beer has a rich dark colour and a very strong roasted malt flavor and aroma, offset by a good hop. Fine for drinking on a cold afternoon with the wind and rain outside! And fittin' indeed given the strong Scottish nature of this band!
The Old Blind Dogs, a decade or so on now in their journey as a band, is one of the new wave of Scottish groups that have combined traditional material with an unconventional style of playing. I promoted them years ago when they visited our fair city, when the Old Blind Dogs consisted of Davy Cattanach on percussion, Jonny Hardie on fiddle, Buzzby McMillian on cittern and bass, and Ian Benzie doing vocals and playing guitar. This was not actually the original group -- the first OBD had Dave Francis on percussion and Carmen Higgins on fiddle (there are two cassette-only recordings of this incarnation of OBD). The 'classic' lineup of Cattanach, Hardie, McMillian, and Benzie, which began in 1992, toured as a four piece and recorded four great CDs with the Scottish record label, KRL -- New Tricks, Close to the Bone, Tall Tails, and Legacy. Live they are simply superb, easily one of the best Celtic touring bands ever -- in a recorded form, they sound just as good with nary a sign of being too heavily produced.
Several changes in band composition followed with some musicians only 'round for one CD. Only Hardie and McMillian remain from the classic lineup, but Jim Malcolm, lead vocalist, and Rory Campbell, border pipes par excellence and other instruments, have been with the group for the last three CDs. I'll skip mentioning who's on percussion as, like that certain Scottish play, it may be a curse to mention who it is this week. (One tour saw, I believe, three drummers.) It really doesn't matter who's on percussion as they all sound remarkably alike -- the core sound is Hardie (fiddle and mandolin), McMillian (cittern and bass), Jim Malcolm, who joined them with the world's room album, (harmonica and guitar), and Rory Campbell (border small pipes and whistles). Ok, I'll admit the percussionist this time is Fraser Stone. Satisfied?
This is not thrash Celtic, as is the case of groups like MacKeel, and Seven Nations, but rather a more subtle approach that allows both the vocals and other instruments to be clearly heard. Their sound is very unique -- no other group sounds quite like them. In contrast to groups such as Seven Nations and MacKeel, who combine traditional material with aggressively loud percussion (often just this side of being painful) and a lot of piping, the Old Blind Dogs only started to use pipers on their last four CDs (Five, the world's room, FIT?, and this outing) and manage to apply a lighter, much more graceful touch to the music. This allows them to bring out the heart and soul of the traditional material instead of beating the bleedin' music into submission.
More ale? Of course! And let's see if the kitchen can send some grub for us. Mince pies, samosas, and crisps should do nicely.
What's the Neverending Session playing? It's the Old Blind Dogs 'A Wild Rumpus' written by Rory! And no, I don't know the piper. Plays a lot like Billy Pigg, doesn't he? Ahhh, you've read Charles de Lint's The Little Country which has Mister Pigg in it? Stephen Hunt, one of our finest reviewers ever, is a fan of that piper, as am I!
Now the gab o mey is, by me count, their ninth album. Like all truly great bands, it builds on where the band comes from, and that is a fine history indeed. Though the loss of two key members would've crippled a less talented band, they simply adjusted and incorporated two new members, including a lead vocalist, with nary a thought. I saw 'em play in all three incarnations and was amazed how good they always are. And this CD is no different. As the promo material for this CD says, 'Polished vocals, the sweetest fiddle playing, smoking pipes, powerhouse bass, and Aberdeen accents are punctuated with the pulse from djembe and conga.' Yes, djembe and conga -- the 'afro-celt sound' is definitely part of their unique musical texture. The band's sound is, in a word, lovely -- though far removed from the awful shite that often passes for Celtic music in America (Quick -- who wrote 'Danny Boy'? A bleedin' Englishman, that's who!) This is not the maudlin pap that gets tossed about on Robbie Burns Day -- this is music simultaneously ancient and modern.
Did I mention that Malcolm and the other vocalists have lovely Scottish accents? You should see the lassies at their concerts hang on their every word!
Think fine songs with nary a bit of 'Tartan Messiah' worship in them, stirring tunes that it'd wake Robbie Burns out of his grave, and a level of professionalism that's all too rare these days as musicians in so many Celtic bands simply seem to be there for the money. Nought there's nothing wrong with earning a few quid, but I really prefer me music to be made by musicians who like performing. I won't name names here, but I 'member one band that I saw perform a few years back where two of the bleedin' members were sleeping while the other members played. None of that 'the punters won't give a damn if we slack off' attitude here as this group is far too good for individual egos to spoil their playing! Rather refreshing to see!
There are ten cuts here ('Monymusk Lads, 'A Wild Rumpus', 'Bogie's Bonny Belle', 'The Whistler', 'The Wisest Fool', 'Archie Beag', 'The Breton & Galician Set,', 'Lads O the Fair', 'Lochanside', and 'Rolling Home') divided between tunes and songs, between traditional material and that which Malcolm and band mates have written. An excellent CD with not a bad note to be heard. As I said, go buy it now. And then get the rest of their CDs, starting with the other three from Green Linnet which almost any decent CD seller in the States will carry. The earlier releases are on the great Scottish label KRL. PortlandAmerica carries the KRL albums.
Now it's time for me to be off to meet Brigid, me wife. We're off to see The Beggar's Opera, so I'll leave you here to listen to the music and enjoy a few more pints. Cheers!