Monday, November 26, 2012

Sheepdogs: The Sheepdogs

When I listen to the Sheepdogs' music, I often think of the movie Dazed & Confused. Set in the mid-70s, one of its major characters is Randall "Pink" Floyd, a star quarterback for his high school team outside Austin, TX, who has to choose between signing a waiver to abstain from sex, drugs and alcohol for the season, or quitting the game. His fellow jocks plan on signing and worrying about getting around the waiver later, but Floyd has a dual identity: moreso than his teammates, he's equal parts jock and burnout. He doesn't look too athletic, wears his hair long, doesn't like the hazing rituals as much as everybody else. He basically has to choose between living up to his coaches' and teammates' expectations or embracing freedom and a worry-free lifestyle.

Not only does the Sheepdogs' music evoke that era, it calls up that same feeling, that same mood of the time, the idea that rock and roll should be something easy and fun. Not cheap, mind you, but that if you have to work hard at it you aren't going to end up with a result that feels natural. I'm sure the boys in the the Sheepdogs work hard at their craft, but it certainly feels, from my outsider, listening perspective, that they're just naturals, that they've absorbed their music so much that they picked up their guitars one day and a fully-formed set of 14 tracks suddenly manifested out of thin air. That's a bit naive, but the trick is not to make a show of it. The guitars twang very nonchalantly, the songs roll by in a solid groove, the lyrics very openly preach of a relaxed, let-it-be lifestyle. Some of the tracks are pretty fiery: "While We're Young" is a fist-pumping anthem, and "Is Your Dream Worth Dying For" is certainly a standout, the way its dreamy, neo-hippy chorus contrasts with the muscle-rock verses. But mostly the music is very loose and casual. Look at the titles: "Laid Back," "Feeling Good," "Alright OK," "The Way It Is." Even "I Need Help" is just a lot more of a shrug-of-the-shoulders than an outward cry for change. They approach this idea, or overall sound, from enough different directions that they make the album a treat to listen to.

Retro-classic rockers have it easy, in a sense, because they're working in a millieu with certain expectations and well-worn song forms. They're not far at all from their roots in the Allmans and Skynyrds and CCRs on the past. But the trick is in creating something that appeals to classic rock fans without merely being a cover band. And I think that, on their debut as they do here, the Sheepdogs manage to sound both faithful and fresh, bringing their own righteous energy to the set.

They come out on this CD, in case there was any doubt after Learn & Burn, proving that they are a genuine article rather than cheap knockoffs. It should be enough to say that they are extremely good at playing a type of music that most would agree is inherently pleasurable to listen to. They bring a lot to the table and ultimately, create a fantasy land version of classic rock, rebuilding out of memory and practice a version of the past that never really existed. All their skill, then, is in making sure it never becomes a shallow imitation. Cream rises to the top, and they're just very, very good at what they do.

Buy This Album Now: iTunes Canada // iTunes USA // //

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