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FOUR MEN AND A DOG "Dr A's Secret Remedies" TRACD106

Roll up, Roll up. Ladies and Gentlemen your attention Please. Dr A is offering his "secret remedies" in a never to be repeated package. Aching hearts, weary souls and wage slave blues are guaranteed to be cured by a liberal application of the musical elixir only available in "Dr A's Secret Remedies".

OK. So the latest offering from "Four Men And A Dog" may not change your life but it will certainly perk it up for fifty one minutes and thirty seconds. Four Men And A Dog with a little help from Dr A, also known as Aaron L Hurwitz the producer, have skillfully blended cracking traditional Irish sets with the magical properties of Bluegrass, Blues and even the Samba to create this special potion.

Those already familiar with FMD know that they have always had a fairy eclectic taste and are not averse to straying pretty far off the traditional road. With this, their third CD they have strayed even further than before and I suspect, found what they were looking for. Although the tracks range from top drawer banjo and fiddle playing from Gerry O'Connor and Cathal Hayden, to a "Sometimes Samba" with the irrepressible Gino Lupari "rapping" as only he can, there is a cohesion about this recording which was missing from the two earlier ones (great though they are).

Kevin Doherty the bands guitarist and lead singer has written all the songs on the CD, and a grand job he has made of them. Songs like the wistful "Mother of Mercy" and "Heading West" with its faint echos of "Shenondoah" in the tune are detained to become staples of the folk scene. The "upbeat" numbers don't disguise sloppy lyrics either with the "hopeful" "Take It On Back" especially good. Kevin's voice remains calmly authoritative whatever is being asked of it.

Gerry O'Connor's magnificent banjo playing is given full reign in the "Woodstock" set and as usual it almost takes your breath away. Gerry must be one of the few banjo players you would put money on to beat that wee fellow in "Deliverance"! Perhaps surprising Gerry's banjo playing is far more restrained in most of the other tracks and we get to see that he is no "one speed" player. His delicate playing on "Hollow Time" makes the track. Two of the three instrumental tracks feature the fiddle heavily. "First Months of Summer" sees Cathal Hayden in cracking form while "A Punch in the Dark" has both him and Gerry O'Connor doing the honours. There's no way round it, this is a seriously talented band.

There is little doubt that FMD's musical roots can sometimes be about as Irish as Jack Charltons, but so what? In fact this CD has a distinctly American feel to it with tracks like "Last Night", "Hector the Hero and Me" and "Heading West" all evoking a definite US of A feeling. Perhaps not surprisingly as the CD was recorded in New York.

FMD have resisted the temptation to go for the easy path of endless jigs and reels relying on Gerry's banjo playing and have instead carved out a unique and distinct sound for themselves which is musically inventive and a joy to listen to. This CD is their best so far - which is no mean task given the quality of the two previous ones.

Chris MacKenzie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 11 of The Living Tradition magazine.