Track Dogs – Where To Now?: Album Review

Twelve songs with twelve distinguished guests.  A Triumph from “The Four International Madrileños”, Track Dogs.

Release Date:  18th March 2022

Label: Mondegreen Records

Formats: CD, Download, Streaming

Track Dogs are quite an outfit.  The band comprises Garrett Wall, Dave Mooney, Howard Brown and Robbie K Jones – two Irishmen, an Englishman and an American, and, between them, the guys play guitar, trumpet, horns, mandolin, ukulele, bass, banjo and all manner of percussion and their four-part vocal harmonies bring new meaning to the word ‘lush.’  Perhaps as a gesture of geographical neutrality, the band base themselves in Madrid and have been known to bill themselves as “The Four International Madrileños.”  But nothing in that brief introduction provides any clue of what to expect when these guys pick up their instruments, tune in their voices, and start to cook.

Track Dogs’ music has been variously described as: “A veritable 4×4 of voices and instruments identified for their dynamic fusion of styles” and “Sun-shiny songs thriving on dark themes behind irresistible rhythms” and, whilst undoubtedly true, those descriptions really only hint at what to expect.  Any attempt to classify the music of Track Dogs is to try and describe the indescribable.  There really is a bit of everything, and the end result is a seamless blend of folk, Latin, Americana, bluegrass and Dixieland jazz – with sprinklings of calypso and Southern soul sprinkled in for good measure.  And it’s impossible to dislike!

Formed in Madrid in 2006, Track Dogs celebrated their 15-year anniversary in 2021 and, along the way, they’ve established an awesome live reputation, have grabbed the attention of a throng of high-profile admirers and have released a long string of well-received, genre-defying albums, most recently (until now) their 2019 outing, Fire On The Rails.  Where to Now? is the band’s seventh album (their ninth, if you count the two early albums credited to the Garrett Wall Band) and it’s a triumph.

Track Dogs have used their contacts book very effectively and, for the twelve songs that make up Where to Now? They’re joined by no fewer than twelve distinguished guests, including Cathy Jordan – frontsperson for the iconic Irish band, Dervish, and the members of At The Barrier favourites Banter.  There are also some delightful contributions from UK violinist Kate Morgan and some outstanding string arrangements by Eli Bishop, Chris Demetriou and Adrienne Wininsky that provide a lush, rich filling to several of the songs.

Opening track On Every Dog’s Day provides a wonderful foretaste of what Where to Now has to offer – a fast, pleasant guitar/mandolin combo, filled out with the first taste of those strings and sprinkled with lashings of Howard’s trumpet – and it all amounts to a gorgeous mix of bluegrass and Dixieland.  It’s brisk, sunny and exactly what the doctor ordered.  The pace is kept up with My Love Feels Real, a song that features the first exposure to those awesome harmony vocals and in which the picked banjo, shuffling percussion and trumpet fills transport the listener from wherever they may be onto a back porch, somewhere in sun-baked Tennessee. 

The frantic pace is slowed for the mellow She Sang Songs, a gentle love song built around a soft guitar/bass motif.  Kate’s sublime violin captures the song’s mood exactly and the song is rounded off perfectly by a coda of strings and muted trumpet.  Cathy Jordan takes the vocal duties for the marvelous Donna Lola, and the Track Dogs lineup is augmented Tim, Simon and Nina, the lady and gents from Banter.  Guitar, melodeon, bass, banjo and drums join the fray one-at-a-time to build an irresistable Cajun wall of sound.  It’s a fun song, that Cathy sings with genuine passion and humour and, once again, the contrast of genres – this time it’s Cajun and Dixieland – is enchanting.

The excellent Meet Me In The Middle starts its life as a gentle piano ballad but, from the first soft chords, you can sense that there’s going to be a lot more to it.  And, sure enough, rich strings and a nice patter of percussion add substance as Garrett delivers a flawless, pleading vocal.  Calypso rhythms meet Latin sentiment for River Of Gold, and strings, trumpet and mandolin, all underpinned by a wonderful sun-drenched bassline paint a picture that evoke a Hawaiian beach at sunset, before we move on to one of the best interpretations of a James Taylor song that I’ve ever heard.  Track Dogs’ version of JT’s Carolina In My Mind is a fantastic, refreshing take on one my all-time favourites.  The album’s first single, it’s brisk, choppy and packed with great vocals and those signature harmonies.  Rumour has it that JT himself has given this version the “thumbs up,” and I don’t blame him!

Less Than Equal is urgent, passionate and (almost) soulful, and leads us into the album’s title track, a gentle, folky number with guitar, strings and a lovely 2-part harmony vocal.  The lyric is perhaps the album’s most resonant, capable of providing heartfelt encouragement to anyone who doubts their own self-worth.  It’s an excellent short song.

In contrast, Empty Tracks, featuring The Potato Monsters – Robbie K Jones’s side project – is a loose, lively jig, the most obvious link on the album to the band’s Irish connections, but that’s a brief interlude before a more thoughtful theme is resumed.  Fingerpicked guitar and softly tapped bongos introduce the album’s penultimate track, At a Time Like This.  Howard contributes splashes of trumpet, Kate’s violin flourishes are simply stunning and the lyric provides more food for thought as it ponders how we best support each other in an increasingly crazy and uncertain world.

The gentle Last Lick Of Light brings this outstanding album to a restful close.  Soft acoustic guitar and tight backing harmonies are all it takes to send us away, reassured, contented and highly satisfied.  As I’ve already said – Where to Now? Is a Triumph.

The really, really good news is that track Dogs are about to tour the UK in March – full details can be found here.  And, what’s more, they’ll be accompanying the one and only Show of Hands on their May tour – see here for details. I’ll be there – will you?

Watch the Official video to Carolina In My Mind – the album’s lead single – here:

Track Dogs Online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

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