Letters from Round O
First Appeared at The Music Box, March 2000, Volume 7, #3
Written by John Metzger
These days, Hootie and the Blowfish is hanging onto its commercial success and popularity by a thread. Sure, sales of its albums are still quite respectable, but the group has been unable to match the numbers posted by its debut — Cracked Rear View. Regardless of what many think of the band, there’s little doubt it had a huge influence upon the music business.
Blue Dogs is just the latest group to capitalize on the Hootie-fied, folk-rock sound. Not only does the band hail from the same music scene as Hootie (Charleston, South Carolina), but it has nabbed Hootie guitarist Mark Bryan to perform on its latest disc Letters from Round O.
Quite frankly, there isn’t anything here that moves very far beyond the sound of Blue Dogs’ predecessors. Yet, the group performs with such a professional air, it’s simply too hard to resist getting caught up in its Americana roots rock grooves. The Blue Dogs’ tuneful melodies rest on a soupy bed of Hammond organ and rich, blues- and country-infused instrumentation. Its songs yearn for, and occasionally reach, the anthem-like temperaments of those that often rattle the seats in the summer’s outdoor amphitheaters.
Here’s a case in point: What I Want is a funked-up rocker that draws quite heavily from The Eagles — right down to the Don Henley-like vocals, but just try to stop your toes from tapping along to the beat or your head from spinning during the onslaught of guitar and organ. Likewise, Pay the Man shimmies along a finger-picked guitar melody straight from the songbooks of Ry Cooder and John Sebastian. Again, though, the way that the Blue Dogs bring it all together is definitely worth a listen.
Each song, in fact, is an example of just this. Many familiar pieces are pulled together in just such a way as to draw you into the song, and before you know it, you’re hooked. The question, then, becomes: Just where do the Blue Dogs go from here? The group can be content to professionally, competently, and accurately replicate the myriad of Americana roots groups by which it is obviously influenced, or it can take a note from Wilco’s "everything but the kitchen sink" approach to transcendence, which worked so brilliantly on Summerteeth. The choice is Blue Dogs, of course, but for now Letters from Round O is definitely a step in the right direction.
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2000 The Music Box