Bill Staines has been singing and writing first-rate songs for most of his life and while many A-list country and folk artists have cut his tunes, he still remains largely unknown outside of folk circles. Old Dogs probably won't change that, but it's another excellent album full of finely crafted songs and well chosen covers that showcase Staines' beautiful high tenor and understated fingerpicking. Staines isn't a singer who bowls you over, but his comforting vocals and melancholy melodies slowly insinuate themselves into your heart and leave you feeling warm and comfy, like an old friend who always shows up with good stories and a bottle of wine. "The Heavens and the Years" is a solemn meditation on aging, with Staines' stately piano and subtle churchy organ adding to the song's sanctified feel. "Old Dogs" sings the praises of a life well lived, with humor and compassion, "Savannah" is an ode to a beautiful aging city with a quiet bluegrass arrangement to augment Staines' tranquil vocals and the gracious Southern poetry of the lyric. "Once We Walked" is a poignant song about a long marriage that's weathered time to bind two souls ever closer together. It's the most affecting song on the album marked by Staines' intimate vocal, quiet soulful and profound. Staines also has a winning way with covers. "Cotton Pickin'" is a charming medley of Elizabeth Cotten's "Freight Train" and "Oh Babe It Ain't No Lie." Guy Clark's "Lone Star Hotel Café," the tale of a romance that never quite happened, is given a quiet arrangement full of subtle fiddle and dobro, and John Stewart's "Cody," a song about a homeless musician with mental problems, is given a simple poignant reading. The songs here are all about aging and the specter of mortality that hangs over us all, but Staines doesn't wax too nostalgic about the good old days. His ability to accept life's changes and limitations, and his belief in a better tomorrow, makes every tune here shimmer with faith and compassion.
AllMusic Review by j. poet