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Donald Byron Wheatley Donald Byron Wheatley
Album: Moondogs And Mad Dogs
Label: Maiden Voyage
Tracks: 11

The debut album from Donald Byron Wheatley, and the second release for cracking new record label Maiden Voyage following hot on the heels of Henry Senior Jnr's critically acclaimed "Plates Of Meat" - and I have to hand it to them, they've unearthed another gem here in the form of "Moondogs and Mad Dogs"!

There are albums that just grow on you the more you hear them, and this is certainly one of them. There's a haze of inherently brooding soul that hovers tantalisingly over the album as a whole, an almost E Street Band-like vibe that conjures evocative images of long hard nights laying it down in the studio, a sweat-drenched gig in a packed basement club, music with spirit, capacious tactility and a joy in the playing and writing that radiates from every groove of the record.

"Moondogs and Mad Dogs" is very much an album for present times. Opener "Smoking Gun", the standard bearer, shuffling a ragged keyboard-suffused rhythm where piano and hammond organ vie for top billing with wah-driven electric guitar and Donald's unique vocal style that is a curious yet charming mix of Graham Parker and Bob Dylan. There's a definitively vintage feel about the songs in the way in which they've been presented too. The swaggering bar room blues bravado of "Swaley Howell" underscoring just that point, while "Ten Dollar Jenny" swings along in similar style, all defiantly nostalgic, yet at the same time idiosyncratically contemporary.

And that's where this album is such a great listen - it's roots firmly entrenched in a world-weary microcosm, but somehow there's an infectious sense of optimism that permeates every song and that in turn affords the album a vitality and brightness that many others fail to deliver. "The Lonesome Carol Of Big Don" and "Hand Me Down Leopard Skin Hat" explode into life and rock where they're meant to rock, and roll where they're meant to roll, but without ever feeling cliched or trite.

Title track, and album closer "Moondogs and Mad Dogs" perhaps best sums up the ethos of the music served up on this sumptuous platter. There's a heavyweight sound in there, and when organ and pedal steel collide it's a heavenly cacophony that has undoubted medicinal properties.

At a time when technical wizardry can make even the least musically talented layman a potential contender, it's decidedly heartening to listen to an album that oozes quality from start to finish. Great songs, played by great musicians is hardly a state secret, but getting those two together is an all-too-rare occurrence. "Moondogs and Mad Dogs" has them both in abundance.

Ken Brown