The Sheepdogs must have been one of the hardest working bands of the Great Escape 2012. As well as featuring in the Canadian music showcase at the Blind Tiger, the four beardy Saskatonians seemed to pop up all over the place for scheduled and “secret” sets. I caught them late one night, long past the point when I was paying attention to details such as which venue I was in or who I was there to see. All I remember is that they played a pretty much perfect set, completely different from anything else I heard all festival.
Had I been at a festival in 1973 somewhere in the southern US, rather than the south of England in 2012, things would have been different – this is exactly the kind of thing we would have been hearing. The Sheepdogs do classic rock – southern, bluesy rock with big riffs and tight harmonies. The list of bands you can compare them to could go on and on – Creedance Clearwater Revival, CSNY, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Band…. The riffs, the sound and the hooks in songs like I Don’t Know and Southern Dreaming, from the first album Learn and Burn, make you think you must have known them for years. You may or may not see this as a good thing. If you demand that your bands strive relentlessly to break new musical ground, or if you just don’t like the Allman Brothers, this probably isn’t for you. But if you’re happy to put aside concerns about originality and embrace the warmth and the sincerity with which they play, the music of the Sheepdogs will reward you by bounding up to you with a friendly bark, jumping up and licking your face.
Their second full-length album, The Sheepdogs (available to stream on their website), was released last year, co-produced by Patrick Carney of the Black Keys. Having won three JUNO awards (the Canadian music industry awards) in 2012, they’re nominated for three more this year, and in mainstream categories like group of the year and single of the year. If the commercial success they have in Canada spreads over here, they could be heading for arena tours, like their mates the Black Keys. It’s possible that this is the last chance we get to see them in a venue like the Haunt. While the Sheepdogs are always open to charges of borrowing from the past, we don’t get to hear music like this, being done this well, very often in these parts. So in a way, this could be one of the most out of the ordinary, if not entirely original, gigs you’ll see in a while.