Four Men & a Dog made a name for themselves with their eclectic and vivacious blend of traditional Irish music with a wide spectrum of other genres, including rap, Southern rock, jazz, blues, bluegrass, polka, country swing, and even salsa. Barking Mad, their debut album from Cross Border Media, snagged an award for Album of the Year from Folk Roots magazine in 1991, marking the first time that an Irish group had ever won the prize.
Four Men & a Dog's music is enthusiastic and infectious. During live shows it is also spontaneous, since band members do not rehearse. The group emerged in 1990 with a high-energy performance during the Belfast Folk Festival. Its name stems from the nickname of its original vocalist, Mick "the Black Dog" Daly. Other original members included percussionist Gino Lupari, accordionist Donal Murphy, mandolinist and banjoist Brian McGrath, and fiddler Cathal Hayden. Kevin Doherty later replaced Daly as lead singer. Around the same time, the group added James Blennerhassit on bass and Rod McVeigh on piano. Early in 1992, Conor Keane took over for Murphy on the accordion. By the following year, Gerry O'Connor stepped in for McGrath on banjo. A later lineup consisted of guitarist Arty McGlynn, Doherty, Lupari, Hayden, O'Connor, and Keane. McGlynn, who produced the group's first album, formerly played with Patrick Street, the Clancy Brothers, and Planxty. Kean hails from the group Arcady, while O'Connor previously played with Skylark.
In 1993, Shifting Gravel, the group's second album, was not greeted by critics as enthusiastically as the band's debut. Objections arose over the pop-rock undertones injected by singer/songwriter Doherty. He pulled back a bit for the following album, Doctor A's Secret Remedies from Castle Communications in 1995, and added more narrative structure to the songs rather than his previous stream-of-consciousness stylings. Castle Communications issued the group's next album, Long Roads, in 1996. Aaron Hurwitz, producer for the Band, engineered the recording at a studio run by Levon Helm in Woodstock, NY. Featured on the release are the Band's Rick Danko?, Randy Ciarlante, Garth Hudson, and Richard Bell.