Formed in 2009 and currently an eight-piece, Wild By The Side Of The Road is Police Dog Hogan’s fourth album and firmly consolidates their growing reputation for infectiously punchy folk rock shaded with elements of country and bluegrass.
Fronted by lyricist James Studholme and with banjo and mandolin provided by Tim Dowling and Tim Jepson, they have established themselves as festival regulars, guaranteed to get the crowd jumping with their rollicking, bouncy melodies. And they’re much in evidence here, kicking off with ‘Tyburn Jig’, clattering rim percussion driving a bouncy song about being hung and swiftly followed by the jaunty countrified and brassed up ‘Dixie’, about a doomed romance with a country fan in Birmingham, the saloon piano and fiddle driven clopalong ‘In The Country, a paean to the rural Devonshire life, and the rousing bluesy stomp ‘Black Road’ with its lively accordion, trumpet-heavy and what sounds a like touch of Jew’s harp.
Of course, this is only one side of the band, they’re equally adept at quieter, more thoughtful and reflective balladry. ‘Devon Brigade’ is a case in point, a first person narrative about a young lad fighting in the Great War as part of the Devonshire Regiment, its melancholic underscored by the cooking horal backing and strings. The same holds true for ‘Tomorrow’s Boys’, a more uptempo foot-tapping strum about how yesterday’s dreams never materialised, the trumpet-haunted disillusionment of ‘All You Know About Love’ and, swathed in violins and cello, the moodily atmospheric traditional flavours of the lyrically dark ‘Our Lady Of The Snows’.
Their bluegrass inclinations can be heard on the wryly retrospective, banjo-led ‘The One On The Left’ (its percussion intro reminding me of the start to ‘Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town’) while, with its lap steel, Hammond, trumpet and circling percussive rhythm ‘Let My Spirit Rise’, is bathes in the waters of Southern soul gospel.
The album closes with two numbers that deftly lay out their main two approaches, the romping bluegrass musician’s perspective hoedown ‘East Nashville Back Porch Fix’ and, built around a circling drum pattern and fiddle, the five-minute ‘Fare You Well’, Studholme’s Celtic-tinted anthemic adieu to Cornwall, complete with a namecheck for the Pier House Hotel overlooking Charlestown harbor, and its brief instrumental coda.
They’re out on the road from February 22 until the end of April, I suggest you scour the hedgerows to find a gig blooming near you.
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Band website: www.policedoghogan.com
While we wait for a video from the new album, here’s an old favourite, ‘Thunderheads’: