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OLD BLIND DOGS "Tall Tails" Lochshore CDLDL 1220

Over the last few years, Old Blind dogs, from Aberdeen, have been taking the Scottish folk scene by storm, due to their powerful live performances and a couple of excellent albums. Their material is split evenly between songs and instrumentals, with a line-up of fiddle, guitar, mandolin, brass and percussion.

The songs are mainly old standards of the Folk Revival, but they are given a fresh and invigorating - sometimes even irreverent - arrangement by this band. In Ian Benzie the band have a fine singer, with a rich, relaxed voice which is always in control whether performing a Bothy Ballad such as "The Barnyards O' Delgaty" or a love song such as "Lay Ye Doon Love". However, the standard of musicianship and the musical arrangements are what really make them click in particular Jonny Hardie on fiddle must be one of the finest fiddle players on the Scottish folk scene, and Davy Cattanach on percussion gives the band an individuality and vibrancy reminiscent of the Easy Club.

The new album follows the format of its predecessors and as such is bound to delight fans. Of the six songs, the aforementioned "Barnyards O' Delgaty" is a stand out, which was a surprise to me given its hackneyed reputation. A novel "call and answer" chorus breathes new life into this song. I first heard Peter Hall of The Gaugers perform "The Pills of White Mercury" - a version of "The Sweets of Laredo" and concerning the death of a young man by syphilis - about sixteen years ago, and I was interested to see Peter being noted as the source singer after all this time. I only hope that as a result of this recording, this superb song achieves some long overdue prominence.

The six instrumental tracks are excellent. However, I should highlight "Boondock Skank", composed by Jonny Hardie, where the fiddle led tune is taken over by reggae style percussion to become infectious. Also the rip-roaring set of reels "Willie's Aul' Trews", where the band are joined by fiddler Gavin Marwick of The Iron Horse - need I say more.

Call me an old fogey, but my one reservation from previous Old Blind Dogs albums is that there is an occasionally song where the arrangement is so irreverent it is totally unsuitable to the ethos of the song. On this album I would place "The Banks O' Sicily" in that category. It is given a laid-back treatment which does not stand comparison with, say, Dick Gaughan's roaring performance. Then again, it is probably not meant to. You certainly cannot accuse Old Blind Dogs of lack of imagination or of restricting their sources of influence.


Malcolm MacInnes

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This album was reviewed in Issue 8 of The Living Tradition magazine.