Based in Madrid and now entering their 16th year together, the quartet follow up 2019’s Fire On The Rails with a dozen songs and a dozen guests for an album, Where To Now?, their seventh under this name, that is equally introspective and upbeat. They kick off in latter mode with the buoyant, down but not out ‘Every Dog’s Day’ featuring scampering strings, cajon and Howard Brown’s lively trumpet, keeping the energy flowing with the bluegrassy, handclapping romp ‘My Love Feels Real’ which, with the line “love is like a moving train/Gotta get on board or lose again” carries a similar message about taking the road that lies ahead of you.
Soaked with moody strings and carried by Garrett Wall’s strummed guitar, ‘She Sang Songs’ takes the pace down for a desert country song about the restorative power of love and music (“She used words I could never find/In spilling her heart she filled mine“), before kicking it back up again on ‘Donna Lola’, a celebration of Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld, better known by the stage name Lola Montez, was an Irish dancer and actress who became famous as a Spanish dancer, courtesan, and mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. Sung by Dervish’s Cathy Jordan and featuring co-writer Delories Dunn on autoharp, Simon Care melodeon, and his fellow Banter members Tim Walker and Nina Zella on drums and piano, it moves from an Irish folksy intro to Cajun to New Orleans trad jazz before fading out into an echo chamber.
Again slowing things down, arranged with piano and strings, ‘Meet Me In The Middle’ is, as the title suggests, about trying to find common ground and “heal the air between us” while ‘River Of Gold’ takes on a panoramic Texicali feel complete with Eli Bishop’s string arrangement, mariachi trumpet and Spanish guitar telling the story of an adventurer from Trujillo in Spain and his ill-fated expedition to the New World in the footsteps of the conquistadors in search of fortune. The blue agave, by the way, is the cactus base for tequila.
There’s one cover included, a rather fine version of James Taylor’s ‘Carolina In My Mind’, Wall and Brown sharing the verses, which they first performed at tribute concert and, given the seal of approval by Taylor, has become a staple of the live set. Spotlighting Dave Mooney’s mandolin and with a violin solo from Kate Norali, ‘Less Than Equal’, is a trumpet burnished bluesier sway about how trying to make something work can become all you end up doing and “tolerance is a two-way path through the dirt”.
The penultimate number is the title track, a ruminative fingerpicked guitar and strings ballad about not seeing the wood for the trees and to not “lose faith by thinking/You don’t shine as bright” because “you make a difference every time you try”. The answer to its question being to not give up and stay on the path. It ends (save for two bonus extras) on a very different musical note to what’s come before, ‘Empty Tracks’ a railway song with tumbling vocals and an Irish jig structure featuring The Potato Monsters, the solo project of Robbie K. Jones, here featured on panderetas alongside whistle and violin.
As mentioned, there’s two additions to the official track list, ‘At A Time Like This’, a fingerpicked, reflective, slow tempo number released a pandemic-related single back in 2020 and featuring Brown on flugelhorn with cello and violin by Chris Demetriou and Adrianne Winisky, and, finally, Wall’s solo simple acoustic ‘Last Lick Of Light’ with his harmonised backing vocals, an evocation of the day closing, “a portent of stories untold”.
A very welcome return after two years of lockdown and isolation, it both fizzes with the energy of release and soothes with the melancholy of rumination, the answer to the title question clearly ever onwards and upwards.
Artists’ website: www.trackdogsmusic.com
‘Carolina In My Mind’ – official video: