RedDog is a Seattle-based trio that specializes in "old-time music," North American folk songs dating back to the late 19th century and early 20th century. Their debut album, Hard Times, contains seventeen prime examples of such music. Combining fiddle, mandolin, banjo, and acoustic guitar with plaintive vocals, RedDog is helping to keep alive the traditional music of the American southeast. The song selection is excellent throughout, with the running time split roughly 50/50 between vocal and instrumental tunes.
As old as these songs are, the lyrics remain relevant and often deeply moving. Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More" has been covered by many artists, ranging from Mavis Staples to Bob Dylan. By opening Hard Times with their own sweetly sad rendition, RedDog sets a melancholic tone for the rest of the album. "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live" is a woeful account of tough economic times. Though its author Blind Alfred Reed was born way back in 1880, his song is easily relatable to many in 2010. "Farther Along" questions why innocent loved ones are sometimes taken from us, while wrongdoing by others so often goes unpunished.
That's not to say that Hard Times is a morose affair. The instrumentals in particular are often lively and rambunctious. With idiosyncratic titles like "Jake's Got the Bellyache" and "Hell and Scissors," these pieces are jaunty clap-alongs dominated by jubilant fiddle. "Cold Frosty Morning" and "Cabin Creek" are great examples of RedDog evoking a specific time and place through their intricate ensemble playing. The trio's musicianship really has a chance to shine on these tracks.
Extremely helpful to the old-time music neophyte are the liner notes for Hard Times. Each track is accompanied by brief but informative paragraphs offering some detail about the song itself and the original composer. This is a great aid for anyone interested in learning more about where this music came from.
Vocal duties are shared amongst RedDog, but one voice will be easily recognizable by fans of the influential rock band The Velvet Underground. RedDog's fiddler is none other than Doug Yule, who's tenure as the Velvets' bassist (and more) began in 1968. Yule sang lead on a number of VU classics, including "Candy Says" and "Who Loves the Sun." RedDog's mandolin player is Cary Lung, who recorded and toured during the '70s with the Sweet Mills String Band. Anchoring the trio on guitar and banjo is Tom Collicott, who splits his time between RedDog and another old-time band, Atlas Stringband.
Hard Times has limited distribution, with RedDog's website being the ideal place to get it. The site also contains more information about the band. This music is well worth hearing. RedDog's combination of great musicianship and vocals keep these old songs sounding vital.