Monday, September 6, 2010

Dog Weather - Baby Eagle

Dog Weather

Baby Eagle
You’ve Changed Records.

SCQ Rating: 68%

On a track called ‘Me Vs. the Devil’, Steven Lambke (the man behind Baby Eagle) returns home dragging mud and the devil into the kitchen. If Dog Weather held the blueprint for a good-time, roots-rock record, Lambke has muddied it beyond recognition with half-muttered lyrics and a backing-band (featuring Shotgun Jimmie, Daniel Romano, Colleen Collins and David Trenaman) that can best be described as cantankerous. Distortion pierces through guitar figures like waves between the rocks, sometimes growling convincingly beneath (as on ‘Haybale Song’), other times colliding messily (yep, that's ‘Me Vs. the Devil’). Thank God for all this mud; without Baby Eagle’s stormy disposition, Dog Weather might’ve felt tame or, worse, conventional.

Lambke’s intimidating use of feedback might flag a few division-points, but it hardly compares to Baby Eagle’s polarizing approach to songwriting. Consider how the first few songs play off each other with ‘Day Of Our Departing’, which shuffles along an avenue of electric guitars into the heavy-handed gutter of ‘Fisherman Or Fish’ before resurfacing with the garage-rock flavour of ‘Haybale Song’. It’s a tumultuous patchwork that feels organically sequenced, as if these tracks were following a singular, shifting mood. Makes sense, when you take into account that Dog Weather’s recording stretched a meager two days, but Lambke saddles the album’s second-half with a rollercoaster of relaxed ponderings (‘Man Of My Time’) and confrontational rockers (‘American Drum’) that feel motion-sick tossed together.

The problem with Dog Weather’s harder-edged material should actually be its merit-badge; standing by all of their frayed notes and broken strings may give a song like ‘River Bank Sitter’ its authenticity, but it can’t add dimensions to undercooked songs. By rocking out with their hearts, this talented group of musicians forgot to brainstorm where these songs were heading, and Dog Weather’s biggest divide lies between the quality of folky arrangements (as on the excellent ‘Child Of the Weather’) and the aimlessness of blistering dry-runs. Lambke’s vocal-delivery rarely eases this separation, opting to chatter through verses and occasionally pull himself together for a chorus. He’s a visceral lyricist capable of painting strong imagery, but whether he's doing a conversational Craig Finn impression or a mumbling Matt Mays one, Lambke’s vocals sink many details that distinguish these songs.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that Baby Eagle doesn’t seem like the type of band who’d care about these criticisms and that confidence repels a lot of the record’s glaring missteps. Sure it’s challenging and those hurdles make it feel a lot longer than it is, but Dog Weather is a dustbowl of manic energy restrained to dense, acoustic revelry. He may be difficult but we need artists like Baby Eagle to combat all the substandard roots-rock records out there. Maybe the devil should stay in Lambke's details.

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