Dr. Dog’s sixth album and first for the Anti label is also the Philadelphia band’s most modern-sounding record, perhaps due to the enlisting of producer Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Beck). Which isn’t to say Shame, Shame sounds exactly like anything else you’re likely to hear in 2010. The band, more than anything, is the sum of its very intriguing parts.
Toby Leaman (bass/vocals) and Scott McMicken (guitar/vocals) are the alpha dogs in Dr. Dog. Leaman has the better voice of the two, but McMicken’s voice is at least full of character, in the way that, say, Rick Danko’s voice was in The Band. Once Dr. Dog’s terrific, oddball harmonies kick in though, it makes little difference who is singing lead.
McMicken and Leaman trade songs like “Shadow People,” McMicken’s diary of his West Philadelphia neighborhood, and “Station,” Leaman’s Stones-y lament of life on the road. “Just leave me at the station and you can rest assured / That I’ll be back sometime this time next year… I need to go back home,” Leaman sings on the latter. Dr. Dog have become road warriors over the last few years, opening tours for the likes of My Morning Jacket and Wilco before starting to headline their own shows.
The Shins-like “Where’d All the Time Go” has a disoriented trippy-ness to it that borders on psychedelia, but it’s grounded by a banjo and acoustic guitar. Leaman’s “Later” is a circus of a song built on a bouncy little Asian-sounding riff and a piano part borrowed from a Billy Joel song.
Just when you think you’ve spotted the influence and got them all figured out, Dr. Dog will throw you a curve ball, breaking down an arrangement to a bass and drums groove à la Spoon or solo-ing the vocal harmonies on “Jackie Wants a Black Eye,” McMicken’s tune about commiserating with friends at a bar. “We’re all in this together now as we all fall apart,” he sings.
Old pal Jim James from My Morning Jacket turns up on Leaman’s Bowie-esque set-closing title tune, providing a high harmony vocal assist. Another Leaman tune, “Stranger,” opens the album with a reggae lilt and a melancholy chorus. “I do believe that there’s no more tricks up my sleeve,” he sings.
Based on the strength of the ear candy on Shame, Shame though, nothing could be further from the truth. Dr. Dog is still learning plenty of tantalizing new tricks and showing clear promise of a future best in show.