Thursday, 30 June 2016

Album Review: For The Kids - Fire Dog

Fire Dog are a three-piece band from St Louis, USA, who describe themselves as a ‘pop rock harmony explosion,’ and on hearing their album, I couldn’t have put it better myself. Although the band generally plays to adult audiences, they have released their new album For The Kids after numerous requests to do so from their fans.  The result is a superb album containing seven songs that are original, upbeat, engaging and delivered with fine musicianship throughout.  The album also contains an array of interesting and diverse subject matter ranging from eventful birthdays, to historical characters, to conservation and beyond. 

The album kicks off with the lively “Everybody Has A Birthday”.  Here a grungy guitar sets the overall tone of the track, providing a soundtrack to the various rituals of birthday parties, with a particular emphasis on food.  We are reminded not to forget the ice cream during this festival of fun, which is clearly a birthday party that ‘rocks’.  The guitar solo is pure grunge, intense and to the point, with children’s backing vocals adding a shade of charm to the proceedings.  The bass improvises with some expertise towards the end, and we are also treated to a lively drum solo unusually early in the proceedings.  Clearly the band is quite at ease playing live, and does so with impressive verve and spontaneity. 

“You Don’t Know My Mama” has a gentler feel; it is slightly funky, melodic and engaging in a melancholy type of way.  We are informed that Mama who is clearly the hero of the hour ‘is sweeter than a sweet potato’. The addition of a piano adds further texture to the overall sound.  The song also includes a spoken tribute to Mama, which begins like Elvis before metamorphosing into an engaging rap.  Again the bass is imaginative and experimental and deviates from the script throughout.  I’m sure no major record company executive would have approved such an ambitious arrangement, and the song is all the better for it.

“I Love Myself,” is delivered with a grungy laid-back guitar, accompanied by lyrics that illustrate the multiple reasons to feel good about yourself.  These include ‘being talented, lucky and cool’.  This is a great message for young people, expertly assisted by some spirited kids’ backing vocals providing additional enthusiasm to the track.  To add further chaos to the proceedings, the song finishes with a guitar solo that reminded me of something Slash might have attempted back in the nineties.  Those were the days my friends.

“Hellbender” is the single taken from the album and is a tribute to Missouri’s Hellbender the largest salamander in North America and a native amphibian to Missouri.  The track also features a voice over by renowned Canadian folk icon and activist Bruce Cockburn.  The song itself reminded me a bit of the Doors, with shades of Blondie thrown in for good measure.  The middle eight features a spoken voice, which is delivered in the style of a radio broadcast.  The lyrics describe the threats to this endangered species, with authentic background noise leaving the impression that the recipient is actually tuning in to listen.

“Bessie Coleman” provides a tribute to the first female pilot of African American descent, exploring her life, how famous she became and all the resultant media attention.  The song itself powers along in uncompromising fashion with a no-nonsense message musically elaborating on the prejudice of the age.  However the chorus is uplifting, optimistic even, perhaps implying how Bessie overcame the many challenges of life, and all these ‘obstacles never giving up her dream.’  Despite the grungy garage vibe, the song is catchy, kid friendly and upbeat, with a chorus that truly soars like an aeroplane. I literally had it swirling around my head all day. 

“Chame” mixes an interesting bass line with an acutely percussive rhythm to create a lovely ska feel.  The song discusses the plight of indigenous people, their ancient language, and the stories they tell.  The title apparently means ‘let’s go’, and some of the lyrics use the indigenous language to pursue the message. The guitar part that ensues is more melodic and suits the ska feel with its slightly cleaner sound.  The song also benefits from some interesting key changes at the end, and elaborate percussion finally giving way to some crunchy power chords bringing up the rear.

“For The Birds” is quite simply brilliant, and provides a perfect finale to the album.  The song itself is quite stripped back, with perhaps no more than four chords on display, allowing space for the lyrics to really soar.  The song also benefits from a quite mesmerising piece of guitar work, which literally lifts you off your seat.  The major strength of the track is its instantly hummable melody, which is both unique and original.  The additional children’s backing vocals add further dynamics to a song, which for me is clearly the best track on the album.

This album is great fun, has musical depth, and contains interesting subject matter.  The tone is upbeat and positive, and there is literally never a dull moment.  The album is packed with songs that are diverse, imaginative and brimming with pop sensibility.  There is also a wonderful spontaneity to the music, with the band leaving the impression that they have recorded the entire album jamming in the garage.  Despite the somewhat organic delivery, the album is well produced, and superbly arranged throughout.  The songs have heaps of attitude, are full of energy, and contain melodies that are second to none. Despite its brevity, the album clearly succeeds in providing an authentic message brimming with energy and optimism for the twenty-first century.

Fire Dog – bold, intriguing and brilliant.