By Jason Shoff
Remember Rolling Stone’s “Choose the Cover” contest from back in 2011? When readers were able to vote for which band would become the first unsigned act to grace its cover? Now I’m sure that most of you would answer this question with an emphatic “what?” But this is something that actually happened, and that year the winner of the whole kit and caboodle were Canadian classic rock revivalists The Sheepdogs.
Again, a lot of you are probably thinking “the what?” But not only did these guys appear on the cover of arguably the most famous music magazine in the world, but they also managed to milk a gig at Bonnaroo, a performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and a contract with Atlantic Records out of their victory. Hell, they even got The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney to produce their self-titled major label debut. Needless to say this all surprised me, mostly because I never would have guessed that this kind of a band could win the whole thing.
At the time I thought it would be a more mainstream pop band along the lines of Maroon 5, or a commercially accessible pop punk band along the lines of Green Day. And if it were going to be a rock band, I would have guessed it would have been an uber-melodic hard rock band along the lines of Foo Fighters, or perhaps a The Shins or Modest Mouse-esque indie pop band that could have fit right into the Sub Pop catalog at the time. Yet The Sheepdogs were (and still are) unabashedly Canadian, playing a bluesy brand of heartland rock that’s rooted in the classic sounds of their native land (The Guess Who, The Tragically Hip, etc.). It was definitely unexpected, yet, at the same time, it was also a very refreshing, out of the box pick.
Yet just as was the case of Taylor Hicks on American Idol, it’s one thing to vote for these kinds of nostalgic acts and enjoy their music in a contest sort of context; but, in terms of supporting them beyond that and, most importantly, buying their music? Not so much. So that album came and went with barely any impact, the band’s star slowly faded, and now they’re back to being pretty much the same journeyman rockers that they were before. Which is really a shame, because their first album had a lot to recommend, and their just released follow-up, Future Nostalgia, finds the band continuing to hone in and refine their boogie rock sound with highly enjoyable results. In fact, their opening track, “I’m Gonna Be Myself,” practically serves as a mission statement for the record: they’re going to play their brand of Guess Who-by-way-of-Boston classic rock and stay true to themselves no matter what anyone else says. And really, it’s hard to argue when they craft a track this good, sounding like something that could fit comfortably between “Radar Love” and “American Woman” on any classic rock station without any problem.
The rest of the album continues in this vein, sounding like you’ve just stumbled upon a ‘70s FM station from another dimension; “Downtown” and its dueling guitar leads sounds like an outtake from Almost Famous’ Stillwater; “Back Down” is so vintage Faces-sounding you will have sworn you’ve heard it on Ooh La La; “Help Us All” is everything that’s great about Three Dog Night rolled up into one song; and songs like “Bad Lieutenant” (with its tasty Fender Rhodes solo) and “Take a Trip” show that Carney’s influence must have rubbed off on them during the sessions for their self-titled album.
However, the Sheepdogs sound just as good when they turn their amps down as well, a method they use when they want to go deep into the annals of rock mythology. “Jim Gordon” is a perfect example: a prolific and highly-regarded session drummer from the ‘60s and ‘70s who developed schizophrenia and killed his own mother after a voice in his head told him to kill her, his story becomes the basis for a highly melodic mid-tempo acoustic number rooted in Led Zeppelin’s “Hey Hey, What Can I Do.” And they take the mystery of “Jim Sullivan,” an obscure singer-songwriter who released one album, U.F.O., before disappearing without a trace in New Mexico in 1975, and create a perfect sci-fi television show theme, sounding like what you would have gotten if you asked ELO to write the theme to one of the original Star Trek movies. Songs like these not only act as a nice change of pace, but they prove that they’re not just aping the sounds of the past; they have a true understanding and appreciation of the music of the era, which only adds to the authenticity of the record.
Is this the most original album to come out this year? Absolutely not. In fact, come to think of it, there’s also not really anything “future” sounding in Future Nostalgia, either. But it’s definitely one of the most fun, and if you love the sounds of ‘70s rock but are getting tired of hearing the same songs over and over again, this is your album. It’s literally everything great about the genre in a single album, and really, who can complain about that?
The Sheepdogs are also scheduled to play at The Rebel Lounge on October 13th with local (and personal) favorites Huckleberry. So if you want to get your boogie woogie on, this is where you should be.