From the title of their new album, B-Room, to the band’s label, Anti-, the Philadelphia sextet, Dr. Dog, is dropping hints that they’re not sprung-out on current music fads. Their solution to industry trends is simple: they’re not going to be a part of it. Though their withdrawal doesn’t exactly have them branching out to undiscovered turfs. With its streamlined arrangements and throwback soul grooves, B-Room, their eighth studio album, evokes the early days of Motown with flashes of vintage ‘60s and ‘70s folk rock. But Dr. Dog’s tried-and-true fuzzy pop leanings aren’t forgotten. Co-produced by Nathan Sabatino, who also co-produced last year’s Be the Void, their new release, with its adherence to their sound, feels the psych-rock outfit’s quiet rebellion against today’s most grandiose music servings.
A nod to their new recording studio in a former silversmith mill in Clifton Hills, PA, B-Room is a celebration of stripped-down, humble music environments—a contrast to the extravagance associated with the “main room” of a pro studio. There are no flashy beats, big name guests, or abstract songwriting. This is the room where you’re close enough to see sweat dripping from the performer’s face. It’s where the shades come off. In this room, people forget their cool. It’s a sentiment that the band echoes on Too Weak to Ramble. Singer-bassist Toby Leaman sings almost disconsolately while lead guitarist Scott McMicken (who often shares singing credits with Leaman) delivers steady acoustic guitar riffs that attempt to pave the way for Leaman’s glum narrative about a man down on his luck. Leaman’s aching voice is filled drunken pain. “Too low to get up/ Too weak to try/ Too drunk to stagger/Too gone to lie,” he mutters and eventually howls. His delivery is raw, at times off-key, almost too rugged. Despite those lapses, the song retains the album’s overarching concept, which favors music in its most natural form.
It makes sense then that the band has likened the album’s feet-dragging opener, The Truth, to the music of the classic ’60s songwriting and production team, Gamble and Huff, who had an incontestable flair for creating accessible, no-frills soul music. The Truth has an easygoing ring to it. Its call-and-response singing style completely sucks you in, as does its half-melancholy chorus about coming to terms with the inevitable. For Broken Heart, one of the clear standouts on the record, Leaman declares that he’s never really had his heart broken. But by the time the chorus picks up, it’s clear that he’s bluffing. Lyrics like, “I’m fine on the shelf/She really loved him, I couldn’t see though,” which Leaman delivers in an infectious, if nervous, giddy-up stride, prove that his heart has suffered some cracks.
Like many of the songs in Dr. Dog’s discography, Minding the Usher, Distant Light and Love just don’t feel right unless they’re sung aloud. The songs’ bonfire vibes and joyride choruses are just asking for crowd participation. Even the Dylan-inspired Rock and Roll and head-swaying closer Nellie pack candied hooks that you can’t keep to yourself. And you shouldn’t. While the songs might have been labored in the b-room, that doesn’t mean that the guys intended them to stay there.