Westward Ho! is the third album by Police Dog Hogan – or “the band that I’m in” if you’re a regular reader of Tim Dowling’s Guardian Weekend column. Dowling downplays his band in the cause of humour, making it sound like it’s him and a couple of mates from the pub continually amazed that they’ve got a gig. In fact, Police Dog Hogan is an accomplished seven-piece band – or eight if you count trumpeter Emily Norris who is pretty much a fixture.
They play an English style of Americana with a solid foundation of bass, drums and guitar topped with banjo, fiddle, mandolin and accordion. The Englishness comes from literate lyrics and the subject matter. ‘A Man Needs A Shed’ wouldn’t mean much in the mid-west until you explain that British houses don’t have vast basements, the one bit of transatlantic culture that I actually envy. PDH have also created that great rarity, a song based on an English place name that works: ‘Crackington’ is a tiny coastal village in Cornwall. They pull off the same trick with ‘West Country Boy’ which cites both Ilfracombe and Fowey.
The album kicks off with ‘Thunderheads’, a rags to rags story sung by James Studholme in the style that Johnny Cash would have adopted had he come from Berkshire. It’s a classic piece of country-rock and it’s followed by ‘One Size Fits All’ and you’re in a roadhouse just outside Memphis listening to songs of heartache and drinking one too many beers.
‘Buffalo’ is in the style of a lost song from 19th century America and I was half convinced that it was authentic, which shows how good the writing is. “I made up songs out of snake-oil and pain” sings James in ‘From The Land Of Miracles’ and, you know, he really does. You might get the impression that I rather like this album and you’d be right. It’s one I could happily keep on repeat and they come by very rarely.
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Artists’ website: http://www.policedoghogan.com/
The official ‘Thunderheads’ video: