A comeback chance seized with both hands, this is fine country-rock that should win The Blue Dogs a new audience.
South Carolina band The Blue Dogs have not produced any studio material since 2004, although several live releases have appeared in the meantime. With a history going back to the late eighties the band is led by led by songwriters Hank Futch on bass and singer and guitarist Bobby Houck. Futch says. “We’ve probably been Americana before that became a term”. The band has been on sabbatical since 2007 as the leaders worked jobs away from music to support their families, but have returned when the opportunity to turn their snippets of song ideas into an album arose.
Starting the album with what is the weakest song and performance ‘The Good Ones’, which sounds like a group of buskers making it up on the spot, was not a good plan, and you can safely press the skip button on it. Matters improve hugely with the title song. “‘Big Dreamers’ is a song that celebrates family,” Futch says. “It celebrates where Bobby and I have been for the last 15 years, raising a family. That’s been a priority for us. It’s been nice to put music up there as a priority again, and to get the creative juices flowing. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our friends, and we owe it to our families, too.” The guitar opening of ‘Big Dreamers’ recalls the Pretenders, but it quickly shifts into a modern Country Rock song that sets the tone for the rest of the album.
The standard of songs and performances sits close to this high standard through the next three songs that have a Stones or Black Crowes style swagger. ‘Love Is Love Is Love’ and ‘The Good Road’ are Country ballads that The original Burrito Brothers would have been happy with. Some variety creeps in with the Bluesy ‘If Ever’ and Bluegrass tune ‘The Road You Don’t’. The latter features Jerry Douglas on Dobro, and he is naturally given a prominent slot.
‘Carolina Ground’ written by Houck and producer Sadler Vaden is a fine piece of Southern Soul with a punching horn section and trumpet solo straight out of New Orleans. When it fades you feel there is another minute of stomping and handclaps to be had out of it. Rounding up with the slow Blues ‘All Out of Time’ shows off their instrumental chops to great advantage.
The Blue Dogs have clearly poured all their current ideas into this album, just in case they don’t get another chance. Houck says. “I didn’t want to put out a record that didn’t feel like it was as good as anything we’ve done. And I didn’t want to the story to end with, ‘Well, they tried. They were full-time and didn’t make it.’ On this showing they certainly deserve to dream big, and hopefully making this album has started the creative process flowing again for them.