Like a friend wanting to console you after a great disappointment, Dr. Dog have emerged from the wilderness of the post-election shock and awe to give us something to ease our worried minds and pained hearts. It seems the Philly folk/soul/rock philistines entered their studio and for two weeks belted out a song a day in order to give the world a calming voice to connect to. Abandoned Mansion is the culmination of that two weeks. It’s a “back to basics” affair, filled with ghostly melodies, beautiful harmonies, gently strummed acoustics, and piano strewn throughout. The band have dubbed this record “easy peasy” listening and I believe this description is apropos. Abandoned Mansion is a gentle arm around your shoulder telling you “Hey, it’s gonna be okay. Really, it is.”
If you’re a follower of the Dr. Dog fellows you know that the songs are put into two categories: McMicken songs and Leaman songs. Guitarist Scott McMicken and bassist Toby Leaman take turns stepping up to lead vocal duties. While there’s a consistency among their songs(the songs are put together as a band), their vocals give a unique presence to the tracks. McMicken’s songs have a fragile nature to them; whimsical vocals and wobbly construction give his vocal-inflected tracks a delicate nature. They’re like an antique ornament you take great care in hanging on the Christmas tree. Toby Leaman on the other hand has powerfully soulful pipes that he’s honed into quite the instrument over the course of 10 years+ of writing, recording, and performing.
“Casual Freefall” opens the record as if you’re walking into some old musty bar in some long lost part of town. The same old ghosts that haunted the joint 30 years ago are still there, some rooted on bar stools and some in spirit hovering over the proceedings in stale, smoke-infused air. The jukebox whispers this track in the background as if it’s subtly trying to tell you something very important. It’s aged to perfection. Leaman’s vocals welcome us in “Ladada” and they envelope us in warm regards and nostalgia. His question within the confines of this beautiful track “Do you need a friend?” is easily answered: of course we need a friend, Toby. Now more than ever. Keep singing. I think that helps. “I Saw Her For The First Time” is almost chamber pop with its exquisitely arranged strings. Scott McMicken’s gently delicate vocals add just the right amount of humble earnestness. It’s a love song of the highest order. “Could’ve Happened To Me” sounds like a cross between Songs From Big Pink and Dylan’s “Wigwam”. It’s got all the drunken sway of the latter with the eloquent raconteuer quality of the former. “Both Sides Of The Line” has a Ray Davies vibe, after the big productions of the early 70s and when Davies got back to basics in the late-70s. Title track “Abandoned Mansion” has all those elements that made you fall in love with Dr. Dog way back in 2007 with We All Belong.
Dr. Dog have made a record of “meat and potatoes” intentions. There are no experimental fancies or over-produced pop/soul declarations. What Abandoned Mansion is, is simply a record of breezy songs with only one goal: to give our tired ears a much needed refrain from the static and squall. Dr. Dog have paroled us from the sentence of anger and disillusionment, even for only an album’s length at a time.
From now until the end of January, all album download proceeds will go to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
7. 8 out of 10