Police Dog Hogan – Westward Ho! review

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If you described Police Dog Hogan as “folk”, you’d be heading in the right direction, but you’d need to branch across a range of sub-genres to do justice to the variety their music provides. With a full line up of eight members, and an average age of over forty (bar twenty-three year old trumpeter Emily Norris), diversity and life experience are prominent throughout the record. London-based and almost classically English as far as blues goes, the more modern and urban touches to the sound reinvent a much overlooked genre.

Thunderheads (which you can listen to below) opens the album much as you imagine a sunrise would; gentle backing vocals accompany intricate instrumental which together form a backdrop for the declaring vocals which with lines as bold as “you do not frighten me”, drive the track. As the vocals waver to a more REM-esque style, the instrumental gets into full swing and plays its part in the creation of the song.

One Size Fits All provides the sentimental love-song off the album, with line, “when it comes to heartache / one size fits all”, sitting nicely next to references about Cupid and wallowing in self pity. A slightly irrelevant harmonica solo reinstates the blues of the album, before West Country Boy kicks off into something you could try and do an Irish jig to. The authentic country and western layers in the song (which boasts the title of the album) contrast the starkly British lyrics; “there’s an all night petrol station selling curried pasties and cigarettes / tried to check into a motel south of Bristol / but the sign says ‘no musicians and no pets'”. This juxtaposition leaves a fantastic clash of old-meets-new.

The pace slows down dramatically for St Lucie’s Day, and with a backing that wouldn’t go amiss in a Christmas song, the album almost feels as though its about to grind to a halt, with Buffalo doing little to phase the lul in enthusiasm. The simplicity of the track is almost irresistible though, especially before the surge of energy provided in Land Of Miracles. Taken from the title of their second album, this tracks forces energy into the record in a manner akin to the likes of Flogging Molly.  Upbeat, zesty, addictive lyrics and a hint of ska in the mini-trumpet solos, this easily boasts as being a person favourite off the record.

I can only assume that Ethan Frome is an ode to the 1911 book of the same name, and proves to calm the mood of the record, with a huskier edge to the vocals making the piece more lyrically focussed than its predecessors. Another burst of nostalgia is provided in Crackington, where James (Studholme, vocals) narrates a reflection on the impact the place has had on his life. In turn, Judgement Day holds more religious tones and pictures a discussion with God forgiving him, all with a stronger blues backing and vocals that blend the difference between voice and instrument.

I don’t think it’s unfair to say that A Man Needs A Shed is one of the tracks that shows the age of the band – it’s hard to criticise the frank fondness James holds when speaking of a man’s “need” for a car and a shed, though. Penultimate and longest off the album, Home is made all the more touching as a collaboration between Police Dog Hogan and the Music in Prisons charity. After a live gig with Platform 7, a band made up of ex-prisoners, “when it came to recording it, we knew that was the version we wanted”, states Tim (Dowling, banjo/vocals). The album closes with No Wonder She Drinks, a folk-infused track that whilst seeming a little unfinished to end a record, sums up the previous eleven tracks beautifully.

Infusing the intricacies of traditionally folk music with an urban edge, and layering the whole thing with observational honesty, if you’re a fan of the likes of Flogging Molly, this’ll be your cup of tea.

 

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