With West Coast Beardo Rock in ascendance these days—led by Sub Poppers Fleet Foxes and Band of Horses, with the ranks swelling behind them on a seemingly weekly basis—now is as good a time as any for Seattle-ites the Moondoggies (including at least some bearded members) to conjure the lush, majestic, soundtrack-to-mists-parting-in-the-evergreens rock sound… at least until the time machines are up and running, transporting folks back to 1973. The quartet, led by frontman Kevin Murphy, is certainly eager to join the ranks of bands eternally indebted to the Band, or at least the idea of The Band, which is to say the idea of rock ‘n’ roll community and communion. The ‘Doggies’ 2008 debut, Don’t Be a Stranger lived up to the backwoods charm of its title: content to amble but capable of charging ahead when needed (like, say, on “Changing” or “Ol’ Blackbird”), though the band confessed the album lacked thematic cohesion. To that end, their sophomore offering, Tidelands, (like a lot of band’s second helpings) wants to make a Capital “S” Statement, especially about loneliness, isolation and community, but it’s an instance where reach often exceeds grasp.
That said, Tidelands is certainly not without its charms, and on plenty occasions, the foursome (with their ramshackle Americana, warm organ and rough harmonies) comes damn close to capturing the aforementioned “mists-parting” vibe (see also Tidelands’ jacket cover): Opener “It’s a Shame, It’s a Pity” establishes the languid pace, and with four songs north of five minutes, these guys are in no rush to impart their wisdom. When they do, though, Murphy is capable of showing a fine eye for detail. On the acoustic “Empress of the North”, he muses how sometimes “the light of the moon / stops you in your tracks”. They do “bitter” well, too, on “Lead Me On”; anchored by a keening string section, Murphy spits, “You were only after what’s mine,” in a tune that could pass for de-twanged Sadies.
It’s when the band Thinks Big that they run into trouble. Side A centerpiece “Uncertain” may or may not be ironic given how confident it sounds, but “Down The Well”, despite its insistent organ, isn’t as portentous as the band thinks it is. Meanwhile, the big gospel-tinged move, “We Can’t All Be Blessed,” with its true, if overearnest, chestnuts like “You can’t fill yourself with regret” and a swelling two-minute horn and string-laden fanfare-cum-coda gets outclassed by closer “A Lot of People On My Mind” and that track’s simple acoustic plea for connection in a crazy, noisy world: “Don’t go disappearing / Or losing yourself in your mind.”
Here’s hoping that the Moondoggies heed those lyrics. When they play to their strengths, they’re a welcome addition to the Beardo Rock Club. After all, there are plenty of us out here in the tidelands eager to commune with rock ‘n’ roll.