Tidelands perfectly expands boot-grass boogie

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Artist: Moondoggies
Album: Tidelands
Hometown: Seattle
Label: Hardly Art
Score: 8.5/10

The Moondoggies are a band poised to do something big.

Don’t Be A Stranger, the Seattle folk group’s 2008 Hardly Art debut, was as perfect as a local release can get, with nary a scratch or dent in its rollicking sing-a-longs and tender rain-soaked ballads. With such a fantastic entrance into the modern musical landscape, The Moondoggies had slightly more than a sliver of a chance to break out from the scene band label and into something more established with their second effort.

After repeated listens to that sophomore album Tidelands a song title from the record’s track list answers the “break out” question: Uncertain.

Tidelands expands ever so slightly in the boot-grass boogie the band perfected on Don’t Be A Stranger, but it sits on the border of good and great. Like Stranger, it is a true album, with all the songs flowing together like blocks of mini suites. The sing-a-longs are still there (brain-hogging melodies come at ease for frontman Kevin Murphy), the arrangements still wring out every last bit of each hook, and the more up-tempo tunes (“What Took So Long,” “Tidelands”) are as playlist worthy as Stranger standout “Changing.”

The Moondoggies even take a step forward by embracing both more country sounds on “Lead Me On” (with weeping pedal steel and help from Maldives violinist Seth Warren) and a darker, heavier side on album stealers “Down the Well” (brings the riff and the hook) and “Can’t Be in the Middle” (featuring fantastic spacey organ by Caleb Quick).

But where Tidelands falls short is in the acoustic tracks. Obviously the band can’t be expected to duplicate the magic that created Stranger’s “Night & Day” and “Old Hound,” but the soft-spoken “Empress of the North” and the slow album closer “A Lot of People on My Mind” don’t hold up amongst the rest of Tidelands’ standout tracks.

The Moondoggies should be commended, however. Two albums in the group has built a crowd-pleasing catalog that is all theirs — churning guitars, rock steady bass, tight harmonies, and the best Fender Rhodes playing of this generation. Tidelands may not be Don’t Be A Stranger, but it’s about as good as it gets ‘round these parts.

Brent Stecker

About Brent Stecker

Brent is a journalist and small-time musician based in Wenatchee, Wash. His passion for music wasn’t discovered until his teenage years, however, when he first got his hands on a Rage Against the Machine CD. He spent the rest of his adolescence broadening his musical tastes, obsessively learning guitar, and harnessing his writing abilities in journalism classes.