David Granville reviews Wallop The Spot, Four Men And A Dog, Hook Records (Hook 005)
BACK IN the studio after a five-year break, the new album from the popular Irish musical ensemble Four men And A Dog is packed to the gunnels with virtuoso playing, well-crafted songs and the kind of musical vitality guaranteed to brighten up even the most miserable of winter days.
The band's current line up, Donal Murphy (accordian), Gino Lupari (vocals, percussion), Gerry O'Connor (banjo,fiddle, mandolin), Cathal Hayden (fiddle, banjo, viola) and Kevin Doherty (vocals, guitar), deliver a rollicking collection of traditional tunes interspersed with songs whose style embraces everything from from Latin-tinged calypso to honky-tonk rock and roll, skiffle and western swing.
The band are accompanied throughout by a string talented guest musicians in the guise of Arty McGlynn (guitars), Ciaran Tourish (fiddle), Liam Bradley (drums), James Delaney (piano, organ) Nicky Scott (bass), Jimmy Higgins (percussion) and James Blennerhassett (bass).
Setting down a marker for things to come, the album kicks off in fine traditional style with a set of Scottish and Irish reels. Played with sustained vigour and panache, you'd have to be tone deaf and joyless not to respond with tapping feet and a broad smile.
By way of contrast, the opening tunes are followed by Kevin Doherty and James Delaney's calypso-style love song 'Bloomsday'. While the song's style owes much to the Caribbean and Latin America, Doherty's lyrics, as its title suggest, are firmly rooted closer to home.
Doherty's excellent song-writing skills are further showcased in the more traditionally-styled love song 'The Greengrocer's Daughter', the swing-soaked Mary Anne and the album-closer 'I Don't Want It'. The latter, co-written with fellow Irish singer-songwriter Paul Brady, rails against the tiresome iniquity of consumer capitalism, adding a subtle political voice to Four Men and A Dog's eclectic 'rock and reel' triumph.
As you'd expect from a line up of this calibre, the musicianship on Wallop The Spot is magnificent throughout, with the interplay between Gerry O'Connor and Cathal Hayden on Scatter the Mud and Cúil Aodha - a sort of 'duelling banjos, Irish style - providing possibly the best of the album's many highlights.
While the mixture musical styles employed on the album won't be to everyone's taste, for this reviewer at least it added rather than detracted from my enjoyment. In fact you could say that it was spot on.
Connolly Publications Ltd, 244 Gray's Inn Road, London, WC1X 8JR
Copyright © 2008 David Granville