RedDog is back with Nine-Tail Cat, the follow-up to their excellent 2009 debut, Hard Times. A trio made up of Doug Yule on fiddle, Tom Collicott on guitar and banjo, and Cary Lung on mandolin, RedDog is an old-time stringband. They play Appalachian folk and bluegrass, completely acoustic and without any production gimmicks; exactly as you would’ve heard it in the late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century. If you need a relatively well-known, more recent point of reference, think of the soundtrack to the 2000 Coen Brothers film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?.
If the name Doug Yule sounds familiar, it’s because he was an important member of the legendary rock band The Velvet Underground. Yule joined the group after founding member John Cale’s departure, playing bass and a variety of other instruments. He also sang lead on several Velvets’ classics, including “Candy Says” and “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’.” If you loved Yule’s plaintive, unaffected singing on those great Lou Reed-written tunes, you’ll recognize his voice immediately on Nine-Tail Cat. But RedDog is very much a collaborative effort, with Collicott and Lung taking turns at the mic as well. The three harmonize very well together, creating a comfortable, warm vocal sound.
Nine-Tail Cat’s 17 tracks alternate between vocal tunes and instrumentals. Highlights include deeply felt renditions of gospel songs “Down to the River to Pray” and the album-closing “Angel Band.” Regardless of the age of these public domain songs, the choruses of “Boatman” and “I Truly Understand” lodge themselves in the brain – as catchy as any modern hook. Harmonica player Frank Metcalf guests on a pair of tunes, “John Hardy” and “Featherbed,” adding a nice touch of variety to the standard RedDog sound.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with the band, in fact, most notably for a Gilda’s Club benefit show in the summer of 2011. Seeing RedDog perform live is a great experience, as they share lots of tidbits about the background of the songs and their origins (very helpful for songs such as the rousing “Old Christmas Morning”). It’s like a mini-history lesson and a great way to give some perspective to this old-time music. Don’t pass up a chance to see them in concert should the occasion arise. RedDog is based in Seattle, Washington but they do get around from time to time, including a European tour in 2010.