Four On The Floor

Old Blind Dogs

Compass, 2007

REVIEW BY: Michael Broyles


For awhile, my friends were suspicious of my obsession with Scottish art. The movie Trainspotting was a permanent fixture on my DVD player, a book of Robert Burns poetry lays across my coffee table, and the Old Blind Dogs album Four On The Floor was in constant rotation on my stereo. There is great depth in Scottish artistic expression – from the usage of easygoing dialectal speech to the complicated themes of a people still living in an occupied country – and Four On The Floor provides a rich, yet sometimes inaccessible, peak into Scottish tradition.

Consisting of both vocal and instrumental tracks, Four On The Floor’s vocal songs are rich in harmony, melody, and emotion. Although unabashedly rooted in the longstanding Scottish folk tradition, the songs are also quite diverse, from the haunting “Terror Time” to the pseudo-reggae “Braw Sailing.” The magical mix of earnest vocals, whistles, pipes, and fiddle is inspiring and monumental.

Three vocal tracks that especially impress me are “The Bonnie Earl O’ Moray,” “Bedlam Boys,” and “Star O’ The Bar.” “The Bonnie Earl O’ Moray” roots Old Blind Dogs steeply in the Scottish musical tradition. A well-known folk song, “The Bonnie Earl O’ Moray” laments the loss of a brave lover of Scotland’s queen who died fighting for Scottish freedom. The somber melody recalls the memory of the Earl: “He was a braw gallant/ He played at the ring/ The bonnie Earl o’ Moray/ He micht hae been the king.” my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Containing a beautiful whistle intro replicating the melody of the traditional “The Rights Of Man,” heart-piercing vocal harmonies, entrapping acoustic guitar work, and an epic melody to match an epic story, “Bedlam Boys” gives the listener a comprehensive experience of storytelling and song. Set against a musical backdrop of wonder and adventure, “Bedlam Boys” tells of a woman who will stop at nothing to win the heart of her unrequited lover, Mad Tom of Bedlam. She proudly states, “No gypsy, slut, nor doxy/ Shall take me Mad Tom from me/ I’ll dance all night and with stars fight/ But the fray it shall become me.” Sung by all men, “Bedlam Boys” is a testament to character appropriation and powerful musical storytelling.

Lastly, David Robertson’s “Star O’ The Bar” paints a sincere, if misogynistic, view of love. In the chorus, the singing lover describes his long-lost soulmate as “coarse,” “heartless,” and “not that bonnie.” Sounds like a winner, huh? Nonetheless, the lover implores that “better one who’ll sit down with you/ Sing a fine tune with you/ Pass the glass round with you/ Drink herself blind.” She may not be pretty, but she sure is fun to drink with. Mixed with a flowing fiddle, pitch-perfect vocals, and a minstrel-waltz guitar, “Star O’ The Bar” is the best song on the album.

While Four On The Floor’s instrumental songs likewise offer the listener an important and enigmatic gift of Scottish musical tradition, they are far less accessible than the vocal tracks. Since all the instrumental songs are arranged as part of medleys, disconnect happens when one part of the medley outshines the others. This makes the medleys sound disjointed and unfocused. Take “Goats,” which mixes the traditional songs “The Maid That Tends The Goats” and “Lord Of The Manor” with Rory Campbell’s “Innes Campbell.” While “Goats” and “Innes Campbell” are decent songs, their impact is significantly diminished by the wondrous “Lord Of The Manor.” Each song would have been more enjoyable if presented individually. Also, the long, drawn-out Scottish medleys may seem repetitive and boring to non-Scottish listeners – this reviewer included.

Nonetheless, Four On the Floor gives its listeners the opportunity to experience the power of musical storytelling, a landscape of epic harmonies, and the depth and beauty of Scottish music and wordplay.   To quote “Braw Sailing,” “It’s braw drinking Glasgow beer/ It’s better drinking wine/ But it’s better to be in my love’s arms / Where I have been many’s the time.” And it’s better to be in my love’s arms while listening to Old Blind Dogs. Especially if she is the Star O’ The Bar.

Rating: B

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© 2009 Michael Broyles and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Compass, and is used for informational purposes only.