You wouldn’t accuse The Sheepdogs of being dangerous. In fact, the Canuck songsmiths’ southern rock drawl is so serene and Lebowskian that their opening salvo is a beery, arms-linked pub singalong called Laid Back. It sets the bong-toking pace of this Doobie Brothers-lovin’ collection of ditties, the likes of which won the beardy Saskatchewan four-piece a reader-voted Rolling Stone cover last year to the tune of 1.5 million votes.
That isn’t to say their friendly, cruising-with-the-top-down grooves lack any real credentials. Feeling Good is a Norman Greenbaum tribute with a chorus so catchy it should carry a warning label, Alright OK is a mid-tempo ballad that’s one part Van Morrison’s Sailed Into The Mystic, two parts Skynyrd at their finest.
Yes, they’re a product of their record collection, but if The Sheepdogs’ major-label debut is a fresh-faced homage to the giants of yore, at least the references are all present and correct – Creedence, The Band, Allman Brothers… the list goes on. But while the twang and soul of The Sheepdogs is wholly 70s and unabashedly southern, these 14 tracks are strictly 21st century, courtesy of Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney’s slick production work.
And yes, there can be too much of a good thing. Sure, the subtle Santana swagger of the instrumental Javelina, with its gorgeous twin leads and jam-while-the-singer-smokes sojourns is made for sweaty clubs and chin-stroking beret aficionados; and the sitar tinkling of In My Mind teeters just on the right side of the psychedelic. But singer Ewan Currie – all sweaty-browed and earnest – lacks the range to break the tunes free of their all-too-polite confines, and the infectious stomp of penultimate track While We’re Young comes too late to pull it back from the brink of saminess.
Subsumed by such moseying tempos and gentle melodies, you wonder whether it’s really the live stage where these hopefuls shine, because their obvious inspirations also made you want to fight and fuck, to flip the bird and knock back whiskey. This is holding hands on the beach; a night on the porch with a nice Cab Sav. Without enough fire to match their momentum, this major-label debut is just enough bark, but not enough bite.
Make no mistake: The Sheepdogs are gloriously mismatched to the times – a throwback to innocence and gleefully adept musicianship. Maybe next time they’ll grow some teeth.