With so much music available these days it’s very easy for a band to slip between the cracks. It’s going to happen no matter how hard you try to keep your finger on the pulse. Until a recent email (thanks Tom) arrived in the RGM inbox with an invite to check out The Sheepdogs I was totally in the dark. The band name doesn’t exactly help as it brings to mind visions of that old British TV institution ‘One Man and his Dog’ but any such apprehensions were blown away by the road-hardened Canadian quintets perfect mix of classic and country rock which proved to be a total joy.
On arrival at The Borderline the place was busy and opening act The Good Water, who classify themselves as psychedelic, indie pop on their website, proved a different proposition in the flesh as the guys really moved some air thanks to a dense, heavy live sound with pounding drums, fuzzy guitars and swirling organ. Not quite my thing to be honest, but I can appreciate when a band obviously have something going on and The Good Waters went down very well judging by the folks heading to check out the merch stall at the end of their set.
As I’ve said, a new name to me until very recently but The Sheepdogs actually formed in 2006 and the excellent ‘Changing Colours’ is their sixth studio album. The band are in the UK for their third visit of the year and it shows; this is a well-oiled rock n’ roll machine. Opening track ‘Who?’ is a cool way to get things going with chugging bar chords and multiple vocal harmonies (the guys can all sing) while lead guitarist Jimmy Bowskill peels off the first in a string of increasingly impressive guitar breaks.
The Sheepdogs’ sound is built on the fingerstyle bass of founding member Ryan Gullen, who also acts as chief audience participation inspirer while his busy playing adds warmth and considerable bottom end. Fellow founding member and chief songwriter Ewan Currie is all relaxed cool and soulful vocals, his black Les Paul guitar the perfect counterpoint to Bowskill’s Telecaster as the pair trade solos and lockdown those sublime harmony guitar parts. The diminutive and fiery Bowskill really gets into his playing feeling every note, which is great to see. Equally adept at Albert Lee style countrified picking such as ‘Bailieboro Turnaround’ or harder edged classic rock lead lines Bowskill was a revelation on the night. There was a moment during the set when he switched to slide guitar briefly for a monster solo that was as good as it gets. Shamus Currie on keys is also a very important part of the sound adding a touch of Gregg Allman / Gregg Rolie to proceedings; add in his vocal ability and an unexpected switch to trombone for a song or two (not something you’ll see every day)and his vital contribution is confirmed.
During their approx. ninety minute set The Sheepdogs proved equally at home switching between country rock and harder-edged 70’s classic rock with The Allman Brothers Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival type material delivered with Eagles grade vocal harmonies. The clue might be in Bowskill and Ewan Currie’s taste in shirts which looked to have come from Gram Parson’s online store (a store that probably doesn’t exist but maybe it should). The tougher sounding material reminds me of The Guess Who and BTO, the guys are from Canada after all. Shamus’ keys occasionally added a Santana like quality to proceedings while the twin guitars during ‘Kiss The Brass Ring’ had a marked Thin Lizzy feel. By the time the guys ploughed through an extended ‘Nobody’ with Shamus joining Ewan and Jimmy in a triple guitar attack for an extended workout, they had this member of the crowd sporting a very wide, cheesy grin.
A final encore of the Allman’s classic ‘Rambling Man’ with Jimmy and Ewan sharing the lead vocal was a fitting end to a very fine set. The Sheepdogs will be back in the UK in 2019 touring with Rival Sons which sounds like a really good match and a great night out. In the meantime, that merchandise table is calling…