Rootdogs got together in 1997 under the auspices of Roger Watson’s TAPS project. The original line-up was Mark T. on guitars and vocals; vocalist Fran Wood, bassist Keith Holloway and, on percussion, Mysterious Bob – don’t ask, I’ve already tried. Later Paul Critchfeld replaced Holloway and Paul Midgely and Greg Cox replaced Bob. This digital album features both line-ups and, although Rootdogs formally split in 2016, they still work together on a rather more ad hoc basis. In fact you’ll hear them on Mark T’s next album. Although they were popular on the live circuit they never got to record a studio album so Live is all we have.
Before you ask, these recordings are of very high quality. Some are from radio sessions but the majority are from various venues including The Troubadour. Rootdogs played blues based around Mark T’s slide guitar and Mark also wrote or heavily adapted most of the material. The set opens with ‘Sweet Sister’, a loose loping blues by him. ‘If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day’, perhaps better known as ‘Rollin’ And Tumblin’’, is the first familiar title – this version coming from Robert Johnson although Eric Clapton had a hand in it, too. A down and dirty rendition of ‘St James Infirmary’ with Critchfield on lead vocals is next, followed by ‘Remain In Light’, presumably inspired by Talking Heads. Here the band essay a more conventional pop sound and it would have made a good single back then – although it might have been judged to be too long.
Fred McDowell’s ‘Worried Life’ is followed by the album’s tour de force, ‘Mean Mean Woman’ featuring Fran Wood on lead vocals – what a voice she has! ‘Waiting For A Change’ is another of Mark’s pop songs with a very 1960s feel which makes ‘If I Had A Hammer’ seem less like a fish out of water in this company. ‘Lavender Cowboy’ isn’t the song I remember from my misspent youth – I would have been very surprised if it had been – instead it’s a 19th century murder ballad written by Mark and Paul Critchfield in 2007 and sounds quite authentic.
The Rootdogs’ take on ‘Gallows Pole’ is the most extraordinary you’ve ever heard, running to nearly nine minutes and complete with police sirens, cracked vocals and even a drum solo! A bit of slack-key guitar introduces Mike Cooper’s ‘Christmas In Hawaii’ to wrap up the set – eccentric to the end.
Rootdogs were very good at what they did and clearly enjoyed doing it. It’s a great shame that they didn’t make a “proper” record – some of these songs would have been on it, no doubt, but they might have been given an unnecessary polish. I like the honesty of these recordings.
Artists’ website: www.marktmusic.co.uk
‘Gallows Pole’ – live: