REVIEW: New Dog, Old Tricks

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ED_KING_1.jpgBY ED KING ROCK SNOB On “Hang On”, from Dr. Dog’s latest album, Fate, everyone’s favorite floppy-eared psychedelphians swing Tarzan-like from bearded, cut-out bin Beach Boys to cokehead-era Band, before doing a canonball in the Beatlesque bongwater. Come on in, the water’s lovely! The Dog always seem to front load their albums with these kind of multi-faceted tracks — part homage, part theft — which is right up my alley, and even though the singer’s reedy voice has more in common with Steve Forbert than Rick Danko, I’m always excited to hear more. A bit like The Byrds in their post-Gene Clark Everyone-Must-Grow-A-Beard Period, this charmingly rickety band is strong on backing vocals despite the lack of a distinctive lead vocalist. Guitarist Scott McMicken and bassist Toby Leaman share lead vocals, but frequently, as on the “The Breeze” and “From”, it’s the pillowy Abbey Road-cum-Surf’s Up backing vocals that take the lead, cuing the dynamic shifts of the arrangements. Neat trick!

THE BEACH BOYS: Cool, Cool Water

This Dog knows lots of old tricks. “The Old Days”, for instance, hangs on a cool ostinato, building to a solo that would sound at home on Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy. No small feat, that. However, the band’s preponderance of laid-back tempos leaves me hankering for that elusive “more.” On songs such as “The Ark” and the circular sing-along “Army of Ancients,” I’m waiting for that “goosebumps” moment, the point in the song where a vocal or lyric cuts to the bone. Considering that Dr. Dog freely uses arrangement devices of The Band, for instance, I feel justified in seeking a couplet worthy of “This hill’s too steep to climb/And the days that remain ain’t worth a dime” in “Rockin’ Chair.” When Richard Manuel gets to that couplet, I know it’s coming, I know how it’s going to make me feel, yet it still seems as if that emotional wave has taken me by surprise. With Dr. Dog, when the tricks begin to wear thin (and tricks ALWAYS wear thin after a while, even with the best of magicians) I can just sit back and savor that peaceful easy feeling you get from the gentle, rustic psychedelia of “Uncovering The Old.” And yes, a fat piece of smoke helps. Fate ends with the anthemic “My Friend”, featuring a kitchen-sink’s worth of swirling orchestration: sunbeam harmonies; kaleidoscopic gee-tars and stomping, extended, oom-pah rhythms. The band take it right back to my “double back alley,” ending on a Rutles-worthy high note.

THE RUTLES: Cheese & Onions

PREVIOUSLY: Why Pitchfork’s Review Of The New Dr. Dog Album Has Its Head Up Its Ass

DR. DOG PERFORMS A FREE CONCERT TONITE AT 7 PM IN RITTENHOUSE SQUARE

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