>Awful name, decent band

>Just a short little blog – it’s been a tough week back at the schoolhouse and I’m cream crackered. I thought I’d share a little review of the recent album from Philadelphia indie band Dr. Dog. Here goes…

Dr. Dog – Shame, shame

 I heard about this band through passing comments on a couple of blogs and after listening to a few tracks from their back catalogue thought I’d give their latest offering the blog treatment. Dr. Dog are a band who haven’t really made a significant mark in the music world. They have been a group who are easy to like but seem to lack that special spark which makes you love them. In fact in recent years they have received criticism for sounding increasingly polished and having diminishing soul. This is a hugely difficult slide to arrest – if you are happy and content what is there to write about without sounding offensively smug? On this latest effort they have made a conscious effort to amp up the emotional content and reaffirm that connection. So do they succeed? Perhaps surprisingly they do. Lyrically there is a new freshness and a darker tone pervades the album creating a markedly different feel from the quirky, breeziness of previous offering Fate. For a borderline psychedelic indie times at this on this record they plunge deep into country territory which fuels the personal story telling approach. ‘Station’ is a glorious ode to touting which whilst lamenting the repetition recognises the comfortable security of consistent affirmation of your art. ‘Jackie wants a black eye’ could easily be a Bright Eyes album track were it not for the absence of the trademark Oberst cracked delivery. Vocally this is a really interesting sound, harmonies often drive the melody of the music not unlike Crosby, Stills, etc. Dr. Dog operate the duel vocalist approach to good effect – though lacking the bite and frission of Gomez for example. The 60s pop-rock comparisons are less relevant on this album though it would be incorrect to claim a dramatic new direction has been taken. One issue I do take with the album is the odd insistence on fading tracks out abruptly and clumsily. This could perhaps be a product of the uneven nature of the album – a handful of tracks had been written and set aside over the years – and it doesn’t quite work together as a cohesive piece. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be of great concern, but it is when a band is looking to stimulate an emotional connection with the listener. I couldn’t help but feeling that Leaman and McMicken set out with the intention of creating a Richmond Fontaine record yet couldn’t bring themselves to entirely leave the old habits aside. The result is an enjoyable but ultimately forgettable album.

Five out of Ten

(Skip to 4:05 for the performance)

>Rainy day, Rainy Music

>God bless the British summer – it is currently throwing it down in leafy Thunder-Ridge so I thought I’d have a listen to an appropriate album.

Rainy Day Music – by The Jayhawks

The Jayhawks had brought out seven albums by the time this landed in 2003. They had made their name through jangly, acoustic melodic alt-country and this album continues in that vein. Produced by Ethan Johns and Rick Rubin it is a marriage of experienced, successful producers and a band who had honed their craft. Rubin may raise a few eyebrows given his heavy background (Metallica, Slayer, Slipknot) but there is no hint of a harder edged influence on the album. The result is a delight – the whole album is peppered with Byrds style harmonies and a lot could easily come off a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young record which can’t be anything but a positive in my book. Gary Louris’ vocals have never sounded better and his occasionally earthy rocky delivery offers a neat contrast to the gentle harmonies I alluded to earlier. This is an album which though released in 2003 could easily have been part of the California movement of the 1970s and for some this may prove off-putting. I cannot help but sound hypocritical when I laud The Jayhawks for maintaining a classic rock style whilst deriding The Courteeners for a lack of imagination but the key difference is the quality of songwriting. The Jayhawks have earned the right to indulge their own wishes and you sense this is an album they took great pleasure in putting together. ‘Save it for a rainy day’ is easily the standout track for me and if you only seek out one song following this review than that is the one. ‘Come to the River’ is also a noteworthy track which has a rootsy, raw power not commonly found in the rest of the album. An interesting element is when drummer O’Reagan takes over lead vocal duties – on ‘Don’t let the world get in your way’ there is more than a touch of Neil Finn to his delivery and given Johns later produced Crowded House comeback album ‘Time on Earth’ there is a clear cross-over of styles. Unfortunately the back end of the album fails to offer the same impact as the front six – ‘Will I see you in heaven’ is something of a return to form but even that track fails to counter the feeling that the album is petering out.

One criticism I would make of the Jayhawks generally is they lack their own distinct identity – as a reviewer I struggle to describe their sound without relating it directly to others and this in my view is the reason why they have not received greater recognition. An hugely enjoyable band they may be but there is no hint of revolution in their output and as a result they fail to sustain interest over the course of a long album such as this.  

6 & 1/2 out of 10