Pretty much every time Philly’s scrappy indie-soul rockers Dr. Dog drop a new album you can expect tight three and four-part harmonies, Beatles and Beach Boys-inspired melodies for miles, and a back and forth vocal play between lead dogs Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken. What you shouldn’t expect is some drastic difference in their mission statement, which reads something like this, “Always wear your heart on your sleeve.” They’ve never steered away from that sentiment; whether they were singing songs that would’ve been comfortable on a Tin Pan Alley compilation, a Nuggets Anthology, or put out by K Records in the 80s. Dr. Dog were always honest pop troubadours, all done up in dirty jeans, ratty t-shirts, and bed head. In 2010 they released what my ears perceived to be their masterpiece, Shame, Shame. That album seemed to be the point where Dr. Dog found “their” sound. Before, they were wearing their influences on their sleeves just as proudly as their hearts. But Shame, Shame was different. It felt more personal than anything else they’d done up to that point, and in turn their sound was an honest look at the musicians, not just their honest love of who came before them. Be The Void from last year seemed to fall back a bit on the scrappy, lo-fi hum and buzz of their earlier work, but with great results. Between then and now the guys have built their own studio, and within the studio there is a room called the “B-Room”. This is where the band congregates and just plays. No goal other than to just play. Work off each other and see what happens. If a record button is pushed, then so be it. The result is Dr. Dog’s loosest, up front, and sonically rich album yet. The formula remains the same. The harmonies still soar. The melodies float above like purple clouds hanging above their Philly practice space. If you’re looking for drastic changes, check out the Flaming Lips or those new Beck songs. It’s scrappy pop songs here. Just as it should be.
The album opens with a one-two punch of “The Truth” and “Broken Heart”. The former a slice of Philly soul unlike Dr. Dog has ever done, and the latter a Toby Leaman-sung tune filled with pop finesse and catchy hooks to get you through any lousy day. “The Truth” is a stunning number. Something Bobby Womack could’ve sung in 1972 and made a big hit out of. This could’ve fit nicely on Marvin Gaye’s opus What’s Going On as well. “Broken Heart” has just enough weirdness going on to keep it off radio dials, but enough pop smarts to make you wish it was. Leaman has become a monster vocalist in the years since Dr. Dog began their scrappy indie rock journey. He’s the secret weapon here. Just check out “Too Weak To Ramble” and you’ll see what I mean. “Distant Light” is another Leaman-sung song that shows his ability to tell a story like the best of them. McMicken keeps it weird and fun on “Long Way Down”, complete with ghostly “oohs” as a funky horn section rides in to brass it up a bit. From first note to last, this is yet another top notch record from one of the best bands in America. There, I said it.
I’m not telling you anything you shouldn’t already know, dear listener. Dr. Dog keep doing what they do best on B-Room. They’ve written another collection of songs that anyone from 8 to 80 could love. I think we’d be a lot better off if these Philly indie soul scrappers did rule the radio dial. I really do.
9.2 out of 10