Over the last couple years or so every time Dr. Dog have released a new album I’ve worried it would be the last album of theirs I’d like. While every record they’ve put out has had three or four real gems, there seems to have been a good number of songs that seem to just fill up space. They aren’t moving me like say the whole of We All Belong, Fate, or Shame, Shame did. Those records, along with their Park The Van debut Easy Beat all felt like these beautifully home-crafted records by some long lost ghostly band of drifters, nomads, poets, and musical gypsies. Each record built upon the last one, adding a bit more fidelity in the recording process but never losing that patched together and heartfelt vibe. 2012s Be The Void seemed to reach back a bit for those earlier, crustier records and it worked rather well, albeit with a few kind of average tracks as filler. 2013s B-Room seemed to embrace their hometown’s soul spirit and the guys mixed their bluesy and woozy rock with some serious blue-eyed soul vibe. While there were some standouts, the record was hard to really dig into. Last year’s Live At The Flamingo Hotel was a great way to hear the band at their tightest, as they are a force to be reckoned with live. So that brings us to The Psychedelic Swamp, the newest record from Philly’s psychedelic sons. This is Dr. Dog’s most consistent record since Shame, Shame. They’re not breaking new ground by any means, but they don’t need to.
I remember the first time I heard Dr. Dog. It was September of 2007 at Louisville Slugger Field and they were opening for Wilco. Dr. Dog came out onto the stage and opened their set with a five-part harmony rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. It wasn’t perfect. In fact it was a little shaky at times, but that’s what made me love it and them so much. From there I began buying up all their records(well, everything that was available in 2007.) They had won me over by being this ramshackle group of guys that seemed to love a lot of different music, as it came through in their songs. With The Psychedelic Swamp Dr. Dog seem to be reaching back into their ramshackle past. Back into a time when things were okay shaky and ramshackle. And really weird. “Golden Hind” is a great example of that. The album opener is a woozy, psychedelic number, all laid back and slightly off-center. The vocals sound like a cross between Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley on quaaludes. It put me in mind a bit of the Kinks’ “Willesden Green”, with a Big Star-ish chorus thrown in for good measure. “Dead Record Player” is all junkyard harmonies and bluesy swagger thanks to Toby Leaman’s always great vocals. “Swampedelic Pop” feels like some twisted, hallucinogenic sock hop track. Like “Palisades Park” through the broken looking glass. “Bring My Baby Back” is a wonderful song and one you’d send the Dr. Dog-less to in order to make them fall in love with these Philly guys. A Fate-era sound is here and it’s wonderful.
There’s very little here not to love, as it’s Dr. Dog at their most lovable, sincere, and creative. “Holes In My Back”, “Fire On My Back”, and “Badvertise” all encapsulate that scrappy strangeness and melody rich vibe the guys won us over with in the first place. “Engineer Says” and “In Love” have that old-timey, barroom beauty, while album closer “Swamp Is on” is this dreamy and breezy track that feels like the perfect way to leave The Psychedelic Swamp.
The Psychedelic Swamp is a strange trip, but a most pleasant one.