Police Dog Hogan – Wild by the Side of the Road

Album Review | Major Tom Records | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

Formed in 2009, Police Dog Hogan are a hard-gigging, riveting band, full of personality and presence.  With a string of festival appearances and a Bob Harris session under their collective belts, they are deservedly going places.  Hopefully this excellent CD will take them a stage closer.  It may be that Police Dog Hogan are victims of their own surreal name, it’s wonderful back story and their Banjo player Tim Dowling’s self-deprecating recanting of their rise in his Saturday Guardian column.  It may be that they are having to work hard to be taken seriously.  But Police Dog Hogan are better than the caricature Dowling presents and a more serious proposition than their tale of the over-zealous PD Hogan would make it seem.  There are many moments on this album where they reach for and firmly grasp the crowns of Show Of Hands and Bellowhead.  Steely Dan were named after a fictional psychotic sex toy and that ultimately didn’t do them any harm, so what’s in a name.  “Tyburn Jig”, the opening track, is a wonderful old school folk rock, tale of a hanging, song.  It roars along and is literally a jig that will have audiences swirling at gigs.  The ballad flows organically into a lovely violin bass duet at its end.  “Dixie” is an observational song that you’d write from the bar with a glass in one hand, wry and dark, a lyric that would sound perfect on Mark Knopfler’s lips.  Devon Brigade is a more intimate arrangement and a wonderfully evocative postcard from someone at the front in WW1.  Beautiful guitar parts run through this track.  By keeping it small scale, as a Devonshire teenage farm hand writing home, it all seems so achingly real.  James Studholme’s vocals are brilliant, his ‘been there bought the T Shirt’, lived in quality, gives gravitas and sincerity.  “In the Country” is an upbeat rouser of a track, with nifty piano and some interesting vocal harmonies that you know will just come alive on stage. All You Know about Love is another ‘elbows on the bar’ song, but the melancholic lyric is lifted by some engaging and beautiful playing.  “Let My Spirit Rise”, possibly one of the album highlights, brilliantly evokes the music and oblique lyrics of Paul Simon and the mood of Gershwin’s “Summertime”.  There is a wonderfully spiritual quality to the rich lyrics and their delivery that drips Southern Soul.  This track could have been laid down at Muscle Shoals, Alabama rather than somewhere in southern England. Someone should play this to Van Morrison.  “The One on the Left” is a wry reflective country song.  “Our Lady of the Snows” builds a beautifully melancholic atmosphere all swooping violins and cello a simple ballad lyric and a great chorus, another album highlight.  Police Dog Hogan are a huge eight-piece band, which gives them a wide palette of musical possibilities, this is a good thing.  The fact that they let the song dictate the arrangements and can also exercise restraint is also a good thing and a real strength. After the brooding restraint of “Our Lady of the Snows”, as intense as the moment before a storm, comes the full on hoedown of “East Nashville Back Porch Fix” (I’m sure there is a band joke in there somewhere).  A wonderful rollicking ‘story of a band’ song, like Fairport Convention’s “Angel Delight”.  With some superb Duane Eddy guitar licks.  Ready and willing indeed.  Final track “Fare You Well” lays a slower reflective groove down, personal lyrics of Cornwall over a rolling beat with a great Celtic vibe and a superb anthemic closer, like an encore of an old classic with an instrumental coda to catch you out.  Seek out this album, there is much here to reward repeated listening, folk rock, country rock, acoustic brooding ballads on a bedrock of interesting and sparky musicianship.  If the album isn’t enough hen check out the band on their live dates they are as musically rich and lively on stage as they are on record.