Dr. Dog | We All Belong (Park the Van)

cd_drdogThese five Pennsylvanian dudes are musically old souls, Cro-magnons in the midst of their psychedelic peers.






The first two tracks off of Dr. Dog's second full-length album (not including a couple of self-released albums) are entitled "Old News" and "My Old Ways." Whether this is intentional or not is beside the point. What is clear in this subtle statement is that these five Pennsylvanian dudes are musically old souls, Cro-magnons in the midst of their psychedelic peers.

Yet, Dr. Dog is just as much '60s pop and R&B as they are avant-garde, and their old Beatle ways shine through on We All Belong more than ever. The result is an album that takes leaps beyond the critical success of 2004's Easy Beat. Trading lead vocal duties on alternating tracks, Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken establish a groove-happy medium between the respective soul of Levon Helm and the sweet charm of early Lennon. And just like their bygone pop-predecessors, Dr. Dog is able to lean on the group's collective strengths, melting their imperfections with hopping hooks, the ache of reduced semitones, and the beauty of honest resolves.

We All Belong serves as a reminder that pop music doesn't have to be formulaic to be effective, and authenticity will always emerge if a band's creative efforts are as earnest and imaginative as their borrowings. The more listens you give this album, the more revealing it will become in its clever mastery of retro sympathies. Dr. Dog has created a truly classic album, and although they've been around, this is the effort that will mark their official arrival.

With a restlessly diverse track list that is focused by a smooth oscillation of ups and downs, We All Belong elicits a broad scale of emotions without dramatics or ego. Instead, Leaman and McMicken's strains on "Die Die Die" and "My Old Ways" are made sympathetic through the camaraderie of "Weekend" and "We All Belong." There is a resonating feeling throughout both singers' lyrics that suggests the listener is already on their side, and if they're not, they will be. This is never more apparent than on "Ain't It Strange," when McMicken begs the eponymous question, "Ain't it strange, how a word can tell you more than words can say?" Dr. Dog show that a note can do the same, as the singer's musings are interrupted by Justin Sten's locomotive drum-fill before the band collectively pulls a rip-chord, turning a wistful ballad into a soaring jam and leaving McMicken to ask us all to "c'mon and work it out." Whatever you say; you're the doctor (I couldn't resist).

We All Belong is of the ilk of albums in which your favorite song changes every few days. There are no weak tracks, no songs clearly compromised to resemble a "single," and no fallback conventions. There are songs to match moods, yet the full album's cogency from start to finish is undeniable. From the first pounding beats of "Old News" (a swaggering intro reminiscent of another Doctor and his Medicine Show) to the epic grasps of the title-track finale, a quiet confidence pervades. This is a band who has experimented and figured out what works without compromising their rootsy style and unexposed innocence. Without turning to vocal effects or distorted instrumentation, the quintet retains a mysticism that only true rockers can maintain. In an era when credible rock icons are dying and their replacements are not nearly as intriguing, Dr. Dog act as messengers from the ghosts of the former.

My best advice to those who have little patience for in-depth exploration of complete albums is to listen to the three-track stretch of "Weekend," "Ain't It Strange," and "Worst Trip." The first is booze in the sunshine with your best pair of too-big shades, the second a swooping exploration of the art of acceptance, and the third a thumping display of rock perfection, complete with one catchy fill after another, noise de-evolution, and the happiest harmonized solo since "The Boys Are Back in Town." From there, any convincing should be unnecessary. Now, if you can only get past the band's head-scratching name (no, they're not rappers), you'll be set. A | Dave Jasmon

RIYL: The Beatles meet Bowie meet The Band

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