Dr. Dog, ‘B-Room’

“B-Room” earns four out of five stars.



Mack Hayden , Writer

Cars need tune-ups, schools need education reform and you need a checkup with the Doctor. Pick your clinician as to your ailment, but if you’re worried your ears may not be able to enjoy good music anymore, there’s no better set of medical men than Dr. Dog. It’s only been a little over a year and a half since their last album, “Be the Void,” but since then they’ve built a new studio and renovated their sound into “B-Room.”


For longtime Dr. Dog fans, "B-Room" sounds like a return to their most basic ancestry as well as a leap into the future. The album has a quieter sound reminiscent of records like “Toothbrush” and “Easy Beat,” but gone is the lo-fi, ‘90s indie recording equipment. The barrel rolling pianos and lilting organs are back, but they come through more clearly now. Since their start, Dr. Dog has been a band who hopes to bring the past to the present. They are a modernized and Americanized version of The Beatles, The Stones and other sixties rock groups. But "B-Room" shows they’ve been around long enough now to become nostalgic in their own sound, which was already nostalgic to begin with.

As Philadelphia natives, the band behind "B-Room" encourages the spirit of brotherly love — a spirit the band’s always been about. Every band member contributes harmonies, and vocal duties are still split up evenly between Scott McMicken’s delightful tinny-ness and Toby Leaman’s primal growl.


Lyrically, the band’s always been comfortable in their rocking chair handling of bigger themes like love, truth and life on the road. Dr. Dog has never really been one for propagating or propagandizing their vision of reality; instead, they’re more comfortable with just calling results as they see them. What the truth is, they don’t let you know, but they’re certain “The truth don’t stop, it’s falling hard.” When it comes to heartbreak, “Broken Heart” spins a yarn whose weave is indiscernible as either denial or further truth-telling. “I never really had a broken heart / Such a shock to me / What looks to me like people going through the motions / But when it’s over their hearts are broken,” so the song says.

The minimalism in “B-Room” is deceptive. At first, it isn’t as ear-catching as past efforts. After a couple listens, it becomes apparent they’ve still kept up the trajectory of their past albums. The instrumentation is still vast, but they’ve managed to seal it up in a much smaller, more intimate package. It really is a return to the sound they first cultivated, but with banjo picking on “Phenomenon” or a horn section added on “Long Way Down.”

One highlight is Toby Leaman’s acoustic and simple “Too Weak to Ramble,” in which he sings, “Bitter the fruit / Withered the vine / Long gone the virgin who danced till she died / I’m here in the valley, hidden from light / Now I’m too weak, too weak, too weak to ramble.” The rasp in Leaman’s voice sells this weakness to perfection. He’s always sounded battle-torn but never as vulnerable as he does here. He shines on “Cuckoo” too, a dark and stormy, carnival style ‘70s rocker, and on the Dylanesque “Rock & Roll.” The album closer, “Nellie,” is a delicate, heartfelt ballad which brings the album to a fitting end. As for McMicken, his vocals on “Twilight” are hauntingly high for a music box song which would sound as comfortable on a Magnetic Fields record as it does here. The dancey “Love” also keeps him on admirable display. It’s hard to pick which of the two men is the better vocalist, but as a whole, this album goes to Leaman just as “Fate” and “Easy Beat” rest in the hands of McMicken.

Dr. Dog hasn’t really disappointed since “Easy Beat.” If there’s one critique that can be leveled their way, it’s that their sound has always existed on the same playground. They’ll always be doing tricks on the same monkey bars, but who says that’s a bad thing? When you go to the doctor, you want to be comforted by the familiar.

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