Gig review: Richard Dobson

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LEITH FOLK CLUB, THE VILLAGE, EDINBURGH ***

DESPITE his distracting nominal resemblance to a certain Scottish ex-Skid turned angry middle-aged filmmaker, Richard Dobson is a veteran Texan troubadour based in Switzerland. His main claims to fame are that a few of his songs were once recorded by the likes of Nanci Griffith, Carlene Carter and Guy Clark, and that he hung out in the Seventies with celebrated Lone Star hellraisers Rex Bell, Mickey White, Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt.

With this intermittent musical career punctuated by spells on oil rigs, shrimp boats and in other hardscrabble jobs, Dobson's deep, rugged, Johnny Cash-esque voice and easygoing demeanour certainly bespeak a wealth of authentically gritty experience. Beneath its richness of timbre, though, his singing was often wavery in pitch, at times verging on the querulous in a set of pretty relentlessly downbeat material. Downbeat goes with Dobson's classic country/folk/blues territory, of course, but grows relentless in the absence of sufficiently arresting lyrics, or melodies that transcend a standard country/folk/blues template, which largely prevailed here.

Griffith's favoured song, The Ballad of Robin Wintersmith from her 1984 album Once in a Very Blue Moon, was among the stronger exceptions, as was a more recent composition Homemade Kites, metaphorically likening that childhood pursuit to the adult one of writing songs. There was some excellent accompanying guitar-work, along with adroit backing harmonies, from Highland singer-songwriter Jim Hunter, but the show overall was short on distinguishing spark, despite the genial warmth of Dobson's company.