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Dr. Dog, ‘Do the Trick’ – Song Review

'Be the Void'

Philadelphia’s Dr. Dog have always been known for two things: their cathartic live shows and their knack for distilling the best of ’60s and ’70s rock into a retro potion that’s short on originality but big on fun. To their modest but fiercely loyal legion of hardcore fans, they’re also known for their somewhat frustrating inability to consistently translate the irresistible energy of said live shows onto tape. Seven albums into their career, and much like the Grateful Dead, Dr. Dog have established themselves as a premiere live act but have only managed moments of brilliance in the studio.

‘Shame, Shame,’ which dropped in 2010, was the closest they’ve come to a complete statement, and partial credit there goes to longtime Elliott Smith collaborator Rob Schnapf, the first outside producer let into their insular world. Their latest, ‘Be the Void,’ finds Dr. Dog returning to the self-production route, and with it comes a tendency to lose focus as they spiral away from crisp composition and once again wander into jam land and explore grooves for grooves sake.

That said, there is the occasional taut nugget that showcases their strongest attributes — a strong sense of melody, expertly crafted hooks — and latest single ‘Do the Trick’ is one of them. ‘Trick’ starts off grooving, opening with a solid back beat (with cowbell!), funky bass plucks and a bed of piano stabs, leaving room for the singer — bassist Toby Leaman or guitarist Scott McMicken, we can never tell which one it is — to establish a simple melody that gradually builds as it is reinforced with a Beatles-esque harmonizing of “oohs” and “aahs.”

Like Dr. Dog themselves, it’s not exactly innovative, but it’s a sturdy number that holds up on tape and likely on occasion even expands to anthemic proportions when performed live.

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7 out of 10 rating

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