The Old Blind Dogs new CD Play Live was recorded in 2004 on the road in Chicago and Tulsa and I believe captures their live feel quite well. As befits a group that was judged Best Folk Band at the 2004 Scots Traditional Music Awards. Sadly though, this is the last recording that will feature the line-up of Jim Malcolm (lead vocalist / guitar / harmonica), Aaron Jones (bass, / bouzouki / backing vocals), Rory Campbell (small pipes / whistles / backing vocals), Jonny Hardie (fiddle, mandolin / guitar / backing vocals), and Fraser Stone (drums / percussion), as Jim Malcolm has decided to leave the group after the completion of their North American tour in the summer of ’06. The band’s website says that they ‘can confirm that the band will continue as a four-piece with Jonny, Rory and Aaron sharing vocal duties. Old Blind Dogs will debut the quartet during their September 2006 tour of the USA.’ I booked the second incarnation of the Dogs – Jonny Hardie, Buzzby McMillan, Ian Benzie, and Davy Cattanach – here nearly a decade ago, I can say they survive changes in the band rather well as only Jonny’s left from those days! Hell, they’re now on their third label as they started on a Scottish label, KRL, before signing with Green Linnet which has recently been absorbed by Compass Records. So the lads are definitely survivors.
Play Live is either their first or second official live release, not counting such boots as a fine soundboard recording I have of them such playing an impromptu ceilidh set at Brodick, Isle of Arran, Scotland, on June 12, 1993. The Dogs played as headliners the previous night, and the lads were dragged from the bar because the ceilidh band were late arriving. (That band may never have actually gotten there!) The result is a wild finale to the ’93 Arran Festival with ‘The Salmon Leap/Rip The Calico/Jenny Tied The Bonnet Tight/The Crooks’ set being particularly well-done. Anther fine live boot’s a recording of a concert at Chagrin Valley Little Theatre, in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, on March 3, 2003 – check out ‘Come a’ Ye Kincardine Lads’ and ‘Battle of Waterloo’ which show the soon-to-be no more line-up at its very best.
Why I say Play Live is either their first or second official live release reflects the band’s official stand on Live, a 1999 album that KRL released without (apparently) the Dogs’ approval as the band says it fulfilled its contract with them with the release of Close to the Bone, Legacy, New Tricks, and Tall Tails. KRL disagreed. When GMR’s Richard Dansky reviewed that recording, he said:
A sweet little package arrived this week from KRL – Live is a concert CD recorded on the home turf of Aberdeen at the Lemon Tree club. I’d love to tell you when this was recorded, but KRL forgot to include that in the liner notes. I can tell you that lineup is that of the first four albums: Ian Benzie, Davy Cattanach, Buzzby McMillian, and Jonny Hardie. If you like your music with audience participation, this CD is for you. It has all the OBD classics: ‘Twa Corbies,’ ‘The Bonnie Early O’Moray,’ ‘Bedlam Boys,’ ‘Pills of White Mercury,’ ‘Lay Ye Doon Love,’ ‘MacPherson’s Rant,’ ‘Twa Corbies,’ and ‘The Barnyards O’Delgaty.’ This is a superb look at the band in its longest lived lineup. For completists, it’s essential; for the rest of you, I suggest that it may be purchased only if you really like multiple versions of the same songs. I said they sound the same live as recorded, and I was wasn’t kidding!
Indeed Richard’s right – they do sound the same live, live recorded, or studio recorded. They’re always at the top of their game when playing music, period. Far more consistent than, say, Lunasa which I find somewhat flat in more than a bit of their recorded material. (Best recorded Lunasa I’ve heard would be the decade-old concert they did in Melboune, Australia which Paul Brandon, author of Swim the Moon and The Wild Reel, sent me. There’s a freshness to it that is oftimes lacking in later years.)
The bottom line is that if you like the Dogs already, you’ll like this recording; if you don’t know the Dogs, it’s a reasonable place to get to know them. There’s tragic Scottish battle ballads here, ‘The Battle of Harlaw’ and ‘The Battle of Waterloo Old’ as well as lighter fare such as ‘A Man’s a Man’ for A’ That’ as penned by Robbie Burns, and a favorite of mine, ‘Tramps and Hawkers’, a song about the travelling life. Not a less than sterling bit – good job, lads!
(Green Linnet, 2005)