Old Blind Dogs - Four on the Floor
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Old Blind Dogs
Four on the Floor
Compass Records

When the Old Blind Dogs appeared on the Scottish folk scene fifteen years ago, the band was immediately pinned as innovators. They never deigned to 'go electric,' instead bringing stunning, rock and roll energy to Scottish acoustic music. At the same time, the group's early albums also felt comfortable alongside the best recordings from the era of 1970s folk revivalism. There were key tensions to the original Dogs: Davy Cattanach played his drum kit by hand, providing an African conga-like base, while elder folk master Ian Benzie's warm vocals anchored the band with sensitivity and verve.

Old Blind Dogs were always rooted in the past, but they were certainly not going to remain curios. Since those early days, the group has gone through numerous changes. Jim Malcolm, who provided the ensemble with vocals for several years after Ian Benzie's departure, has now left the band. Both Rory Campbell and Fraser Fifield added pipes to the repertoire, enriching and expanding their potential. Davy Cattanach also left the band, but Fraser Stone's percussion is very sympathetic to Cattanach's approach, providing continuity to their sound. Aaron Jones has Buzzby McMillan's founding slot of bouzouki and bass work. But there has been only one Jonny Hardie, whose peerless fiddle and vocal contributions have been the mainstay of the evolving group.

On Four on the Floor, Old Blind Dogs appear to be taking stock of themselves. All the band members take up vocal duties, which provides for nice variety, whether the songs are traditional or contemporary. Furthermore, the band, now comprised of only Jones, Campbell, Hardie, and Stone, is back to the original conception of four members.

There aren't many frantic moments, which the band always delivers live, on Four on the Floor. Old Blind Dogs sound much more relaxed than I recall, and they have gracefully mellowed into their status as one of the most important Scottish folk bands. "Gaelic Song" is a great example of the band's soft approach here, simultaneously lulling and enticing. The group even revisits some of their earlier repertoire: "Bedlam Boys" and "Bonnie Earl" are given new performances here. There's fire to their "Breton" medley - two of the tunes were taught to Rory Campbell by the great Breton musician Patrick Molard -- and it is nice to hear the Dogs cast their expertise on other Celtic traditions. Four on the Floor once again finds Old Blind Dogs steeped in folk legacy. But where they once titled an album Legacy in honor of their influences, their latest work acknowledges the Dog's own singular mark with style, craft, and humbleness. - Lee Blackstone

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