In the past two years, Philadelphia's Dr. Dog, has managed to dig themselves into the hearts of fans and critics alike with their revival of an optimistic and joyful pastime. 60's Pop. With 2007's We All Belong and its uplifting tour they made many a 'best of' list and shook the floorboards of many a dancehall. It is with July's fifth offering from the group, Fate, that they seem hell-bent on maintaining everything they've built for themselves thus far. Good news is they've succeeded.
Fate is one of those listens where you're not ready for it to end, and by the final chords of the closer, "My Friend," you're ready to hit the repeat button. That first listen is simply a summer's day, a weekend trip to the waterhole, an afternoon in the sun. The second listen is a reunion with old friends at that dive bar down the block, a night at the pool hall, a kick-start of the warmly lit jukebox. The third listen is fireworks over the lake, roman-candle wars in the dark, bottle rockets on the blacktop. If you're sensing a common theme here that's good. Dr. Dog's fifth movement cements them as impossibly and comfortably classic.
The lovely comparisons to the likes of The Beatles and Beach Boys are all here, and the image of Scorsese directing his lens toward Dr. Dog instead of The Band also come to mind when they are at their funky & soulful best. Tracks like "The Breeze" and "From" stand out with 60's pop sensibilities, as vocalist/guitarist Scott McMicken manages to sound like Neil Young fronting the Beatles (also "The Rabbit, The Bat & The Reindeer"). The heavy hitters of the album though, benefit greatly from the growl of bassist Toby Leaman. The two trade off lead vocal duties throughout the album, but it's hard to find the Leaman fronted tracks inferior. With "Hang On" his voice is exasperated with hope, pleading with world-weariness over a George Harrison-inspired lead guitar to "hang on just a little while more."
Leaman's howl also adds to Fate what its predecessor lacked, a dark edge. On "The Ark" the boys from Philly question the blind assumptions of the apostle, the lover and the patriot over an orchestration that sounds like Peter Tosh sold his soul to the devil. With "The Beach" that same cynical swagger is applied to a dark track about fate and its coincidental irony. Both feel as though they could have been taken as B-Side hits to The Beatles', "I Want You" or "Because." But I think it is "Army of Ancients" that benefits most from this bassist's croon. Mixed with its optimistically romantic lyrics and lounge orchestration, Dr. Dog create an instant classic.
A lovely step forward, but still full of what makes Dr. Dog tick, Fate is a welcome companion to this summer... and this fall, and this winter, and so on.