Old Blind Dogs / The Gab o Mey
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Old Blind Dogs
The Gab o Mey
Green Linnet

cd cover With over a decade as a band and seven albums behind them, Old Blind Dogs still have a fresh exciting approach to music. It's constantly evolving with new ideas while holding true to the original sound of the band. The Gab o Mey is their eighth release and continues bringing together a wide selection of songs and tunes, some from traditional sources and others written by band members, and playing them with skill, inventiveness and enthusiasm.

Jonny Hardie (fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and backing vocals) and Buzzby McMillan (electric bass, cittern and backing vocals) helped form the group back in the early '90s and are still there in the heart of things. Jim Malcolm (lead singer, guitar and harmonica) and Rory Campbell (pipes and whistles) joined in the late '90s, while Fraser Stone (percussion) adds the new blood which nourishes the music.

It is Stone who first grabs your attention. The album opens with the first of five songs, the traditional "Moneymusk Lads," featuring a jig intro with its mysteriously dark low whistle, flute, bass and guitar - it bubbles into life with his percussion complementing the throbbing, hypnotic instrumental work and driving vocals. Malcolm's warm voice pushes the song forward, especially when joined by the other band members for the chorus.

By contrast, the wistful "Bogie's Bonny Belle" presents a gentle side to Malcolm's voice and his soft accent is well-suited to the lyrics. He is accompanied initially by a simple, picked guitar and bass. One by one, percussion, fiddle, whistle and harmonies join in, slowly building up the song to its sad ending.

"The Wisest Fool," a song concerning the House of Stewart written by Malcolm, continues to develop the evolving atmosphere of the album. A rolling, echo approach to the arrangement accompanies Malcolm, whose warm singing is balanced by Campbell's border pipes.

There is a strong folksy feel to Brian McNeill's "Lads o the Fair." Dancing guitar and precise voice are perfect for the gymnastics the melody demands. Fiddle and low whistle weave around each other behind the singing and during the instrumental breaks, while touches of cittern from McMillan and high harmonies round out the song.

The album ends with an excellent interpretation of a shanty, "Rolling Home," with its irresistible chorus. Again, Stone excels with his work on percussion while his band-mates add guitar, fiddle, whistle, pipes, bass and cittern at various points. Most of all, the song serves as a reminder of Malcolm's wonderful vocals. His clear voice, with its warmth and depth, draws you in, making you wish in some ways this was an all-vocal album.

But Old Blind Dogs are more than a vocal group. There are five instrumental tracks which, along with the instrumental work throughout, show their appreciation for a good melody, their understanding of a sympathetic accompaniment and their knack of arranging the interplay between the various sounds.

They can present a 'jazzy' approach, as on "A Wild Rumpus," a repetitive pipe piece which is partly grounded on Hardie's guitar accompaniment - inventive chord progressions set on a strong rhythm. "The Whistler," while still strongly rhythmic, adds new dimensions, especially when Malcolm's harmonica takes over from the flute and whistle combination to add a rocking blues element. However, in spite of moving into other realms, the band is still firmly rooted in tradition. "Archie Beag" begins as a relatively standard pipe piece, accompanied by percussion and a guitar. Joined by fiddle, the set moves from a march into a jig, but again maintains its connection with traditional playing. The "Lochanside" set begins in a very Scottish way, right until bass, tambourine and harp-like cittern enter the fray and a mischievous element is added. The style is maintained until guitar adds another dimension.

"The Breton & Galician Set" is perhaps the most interesting instrumental. Whistle and fiddle play a repetitive Breton tune to a soft, strummed guitar accompaniment. Although this is not the usual sound one would hear in Brittany, lacking the power and poke of bombard and the like, they bring out the melodic effects of the tune. Gaita joins the mix and the track takes on a fiesta quality, without sacrificing the beauty of the tune. These are fine musicians with great understanding for the music they play. - Jamie O'Brien

CD is available from cdRoots

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