It still baffles me how Dr. Dog has only just begun to get noticed. Now six records deep, their discography boasts flawless neo-retroism that bounces and skips through ’60s pop-rock and blues influences, taking you through a dusty back-porch world that’s closer to a Steinbeck or Kerouac novel than the one they travel in. The energy in this group is inescapable as the two lead vocalists trade tracks that jump from The Beatles at their most country to deep bluesy soul, each unique to the one who’s behind the mic. Whether it’s Toby Leaman’s fire or Scott McMicken’s boyish charm, they’ve been able to craft some of the most fun and addictive music out there. With their latest, Shame, Shame, you find a continuation from where they left us back in 2008 with an even more defined identity. What used to be two distinct styles are now blending further for continuity, and the end result is a more personal record that’s just as irresistibly electrifying as anything they’ve ever done.
There’s a nostalgic theme on all Dr. Dog records with many songs referencing what they call “the old days,” and this time is no different on opener “Stranger”. Leaman is the first to step up with this track bringing back memories of “Hang On”, and it’s always great to hear him stretch his pipes out. The retro-rock kicks strong with a slick bass groove and solid guitars, as he sings about an unknown future and keeping your head straight when you think your steam runs out.
The storied strums of “Shadow People” get us reacquainted with their playful and carefree guitar strut with McMicken taking the lead, while “Station” breaks out a lazy steel slide for a country-tinged love song. Harmonies swirl on the more emotional “Unbearable Why”, and “Later”, which breaks out a steamy guitar solo, has Leaman shouting in reverberated angst on another bouncy blues-rock number. The raw energy is kept up clear across the board with “I Only Wear Blue” using the organ to smooth out the unstoppable drive.
The back and forth between the two vocalists is something that has always treated them very well, and they keep it going here with gem after gem. Be it a story, or a tale of warning, the variety keeps you glued to your speakers wanting more. On this record, however, a bit of that contrast blended with who’s singing is not a clear sign of a song’s tempo anymore.
Forever uplifting, Dr. Dog songs are about everything and nothing in particular, delivering age-old wisdom like on the top-notch “Jackie Wants a Black Eye” as McMicken explains, “Yesterday’s love defines you, and today that love is gone, tomorrow keeps you guessing, rollercoaster’s rolling on.” The brooding “Someday” has Leaman doing what he does best with southern soul in the bluesy and honest number that digresses, “I should’ve known better.” Not found so often before, those words feel more personal than the band has on past songs. Maybe it’s the slightly wiser tone of much of the tracks that seems to take things more inside, as with the title track. It could also just be the moment of the record, which reminds us over and over that in the end we can’t take life’s trials too seriously.
Even with a new home at Anti Records, they’re just like they’ve always been since the days of home recording in rural Pennsylvania. The only flaw to find is personal, that there aren’t more songs to dig into. These cuts, while technically peaking over three to four minutes, feel like they could go on forever without ever tiring. It’s hard to find a throwback band out there with the ability to craft inventive songs that push way beyond just mirroring their predecessors, and Dr. Dog has done it again. Simply put, Shame, Shame is perfect from start to finish, and even if this band isn’t around for the next decades to come, their music sure will be.