Old Blind Dogs
Wherever Ye May Be
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Why the funeral sepia-colored album cover? Why are Aaron Jones and Fraser Stone dressed like gravediggers and Ali Hutton like a greasy undertaker? And why does Jonny Hardie look like an apparition from the past? If you recognize those names as the lineup of the Scottish band Old Blind Dogs, you’ll know that OBD seldom does what you’d expect and Wherever Ye May Be, their latest album, is no exception. As we learn in the liner notes, they have assumed the role of pschopomps--which is also the name of one of the tracks. If you don’t know that word, don’t be embarrassed--I had to look it up myself. Psychopomps are mythical beings who escort souls between this world and the next--guides such as Charon, Anubis, Epona, Azrael, and Virgil.
Old Blind Dogs have long been known for raucous sets, fiddle-, percussion- and pipe-driven compositions that melt the borders between rock and Celtic music. The set “Pyschopomp” aims to obliterate the ultimate border. That’s not the theme of the entire album, but it does seem to have impacted OBD as the music is more controlled and moody than usual. “St. Kilda,” for example, opens with a funerary drone and Hardie’s delicate and wistful fiddle. This traditional song was originally inspired by unrequited love, but OBD’s opening instrumental is somber enough to accompany a hearse. (They do finish it off with lively pipe, conga, and harmony vocals.) I don’t mean to imply that this is a depressing album--far from it. They are plenty of high-spirited selections such as “Scotland Yet,” the jazzy “Room with a View,” and “Copper Kettle,” which is about the brewing of whiskey, for heaven’s sake. Still, the overall mood is quieter and reflective than usual. It also spotlights Aaron Jones’s lead vocals more than Stone’s percussion, Hutton’s pipes, or Hardie’s fiddling. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that hand drums create OBD’s signature rhythms, the album could use more pipe-fired spark, and Hardie is, simply, one of Scotland’s best at the bow and is conspicuous by his relative absence. Even the big sets sound more subdued than usual.
The quality of musicianship is uniformly high throughout and I’ve no hesitation in recommending the album, especially if you’re unfamiliar with OBD. However, I also suspect that long time fans will agree with me that this is merely a so-so effort in the sweep of the band’s output. But then again, OBD has set a pretty high bar over the years, hence middle-of-the-road for them would be top-of-the-heap for lesser bands.--LV
Here's a YouTube link of OBD when they get things fired up.