The Moondoggies
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The Moondoggies

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"The Moondoggies - Don't Be A Stranger"

6.8

A quick perusal of the track names on this Seattle quartet's debut should give you a clue to the sound of the music contained within. After all, songs called "Ain't No Lord", "'Ol Blackbird", or "Bogachiel Rain Blues" aren't likely to be black metal (well, maybe just the first one). No, songs with such titles should glow with warm Rhodes organs, twangy harmonies, and whiskey-soaked, thowback guitar melodies, pledging allegiance to the three Bs of vintage Californian Southern rock: beer, bellbottoms, and beards. As such, listeners won't be surprised to note that the Moondoggies, like their Northwestern brethren in Blitzen Trapper and Fleet Foxes, take their cues from Laurel Canyon, circa 1970, imagining neighborly collaborations that may or may not have happened: Crosby, Stills and Nash harmonizing over Graham Parson's country-rock riffs; Crazy Horse's fuzzy, bloody knuckled blues mingling with the Byrds' psychedelic organs; the Band flying in from Big Pink to add some gritty Americana backbone to the Eagles' easy, druggy melodies.

On Don't Be a Stranger the Moondoogies are meticulous in their immersion in that era's sound-- a sound that is, by the way, older than even the band's most mature member by more than a decade. Frontman Kevin Murphy has the keening, reedy voice of Neil Young, so it is no wonder that he gravitated toward such cosmic countrified rock. Keyboardist Caleb Quick adds soul and graceful longing to Murphy's ruggedly masculine licks, while the rhythm section of Carl Dahlen (drums) and Robert Terreberry (bass) hold down boozy, plucky grooves. But it's the rich three- and four-part harmonies that really give the Moondoggies' expansive, epic jams their distinctive, vintage sound. (Well, that and the impressively authentic vocal drawls that these Washington-bred men are able to imitate.) The almost eight-minute stop-and-start suite "Night & Day" opens with a sweetly rolling acoustic guitar that wouldn't sound out of place on an Iron & Wine weeper, but almost halfway through, it becomes the Moondoggies' "Southern Man", a slow-burning surprise (albeit without any political implications) built on an insistent roadhouse piano line, pounding percussion, and a fiery country-blues arrangement.

The aforementioned "Bogachiel Rain Blues" is the Moondoggies at their most sprawling. Honky tonk pianos lead the melodic charge, with gurgling Freedom Rock riffs in hot pursuit. As Murphy blows a wanton harmonica, the cacophony of voices gives the impression of a drunken campfire sing-along. And "Jesus on the Mainline" feels similarly tossed off, a revival tent improvisation of cabaret piano vamping and crisp handclaps. But the intricately layered harmonies-- squeaky falsetto bleeding into volcanic bass and buttery tenor-- give away just how much foresight goes into tracks that sound this spontaneous.

Don’t Be a Stranger is a charming collection by a confident and competent group of musicians, but its drawback is its same-ness. Sure, these 13 tracks are a rollicking good time-- a soundtrack to the open road, a score for all the neon lit biker bars on the interstate, and an expression of the joy at returning home-- but there is little dynamic diversity between them. Almost every song is played at a hazy, stoner pace-- slow enough to allow for impaired motor skills, but fast enough to build a repetitive, jammy groove-- with only delicate acoustic tracks like "Old Hound" and "Undertaker" for respite from the mid-tempo boogie. But, in the end, that's not so bad. After all, you knew what you were getting into. The tracklisting warned you.

— Rebecca Raber, August 12, 2008 - Pitchfork


Discography

Don't Be A Stranger - CD released by Hardly Art, 2008

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Bio

Seattle's Moondoggies play timeless American music. Warm three-part harmonies, gothic Rhodes organ, and wanderlust guitar mark a sound rooted in boogie blues and cosmic country. Whipsmart songwriting leads to hook-heavy tunes that bristle with originality. Shades of gospel, blues, rock, and country commingle, and wall-of-sound harmonies radiate joy and passion. The influences of The Band, The Byrds, and especially early Grateful Dead are evident, though The Moondoggies' lyrical economy and compositional sensibility render these tracks fresh and unique.