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FOUR MEN AND A DOG "Long Roads" Transatlantic Records TRA CD 223

Fiddle and banjo creating more sparks than a monkey in a bri-nylon suit, bodhran pounding like a fourteen year old's heart on his first date and a guitar binding the lot together tighter than the elastic on Pavaroti's Y fronts, can only mean that it is the new CD from the reigning heavyweight champions of the Irish Folk scene (or any Folk scene) - Four Men And a Dog.

FMD have hit a groove (man!) which sees them bring Irish traditional, Country, Rock and Roll, Blues, Soul and even Polish Polkas to the Party and they don't leave until they have coaxed them all into one of the most distinctive, and original, sounds around.

"Long Roads" follows on from the brilliant "Dr A's Secret Recipe's" and is in very much the same vein. Like its predecessor it slowly reveals its innermost secrets, each successive listening revealing new pleasures, a banjo refrain here, a fiddle solo there, clever lyrics everywhere. Loads of the credit for the FMD sound must go to Kevin Doherty who writes most of the groups' songs (seven of the nine on this CD).

For my money Kevin is turning out to be one of the outstanding song writers of the moment. His songs ache with melancholy, are riddled with irony, and humour is never far from the surface. Kevin provides the rock solid base around which the rest of the group (and assorted others, including producer Arron Hurwitz on accordion and organ) can build marvellous musical structures. Skilfully weaving in "traditional tunes" around the songs keeps Cathal and Gerry busy but they never override the songs but instead "fill in the gaps" to generate a complex and rich sound which is as distinctive as it is enjoyable.

When there are no lyrics to be respectful of, the band let loose as only they can. The "engine" of Cathal's fiddle and Gerry's banjo runs at full rev through tunes such as "The Sally Gardens" and "Miss MacLeod". As always the incomparable Gino Lupari's percussion stands up to be counted, and is perfectly appropriate. Gino gets to perform his long time live "party piece", "Tipping it up to Nancy", which also allows him to show of his considerable bodhran playing skills.

The other song not written by Kevin is the Issac Hayes (sic) and David Porter classic "Hold On I'm Coming" which is given the full FMD treatment and six minutes and thirty four seconds later the CD reaches an energetic climax! It is a storming finale which is bound to become a "live" favourite. Once again FMD have come up trumps. This CD confirms that FMD have few peers, whether it is playing "straight up" traditional material or creating new avenues for traditional players. The songs are great, the tunes are superb and the musicianship is nothing short of phenomenal.

Another Classic from the kings of "Rock and Reel".

Chris MacKenzie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 19 of The Living Tradition magazine.