By: Dennis Cook
Imagine stumbling across an album as glorious and organically perfect as Neil Young's After The Gold Rush or Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, but arrived at without warning or hype, only the music's innate virtue to win ya over. Well, meet The Moondoggies and their flucking fantastic debut, Don't Be A Stranger (Hardly Art). Touched by more than a little gospel spirit but still saloon rugged and amplifier rattling, Stranger has all the makings of a classic. Only time can afford it that status but once opener "Ain't No Lord" grabs hold of you, stirring a cracked heathen's prayer from your throat as they ask, "Tell me boy, what's been bothering your mind? Is it all those clouds rolling in?," you may join me in wondering, "Where the hell has this band been hiding?"
Led by 22-year-old Kevin Murphy (vocals, guitar), The Moondoggies are a highway honed, three-part harmony rich jewel. Murphy, Caleb Quick (keys), Carl Dahlen (drums) and Robert Terreberry (bass) shake with organic fervor, offering up dirt road hallelujahs and bangin' boogie to uplift the working man. After woodshedding at The Blue Moon Tavern in Seattle, they've set down as grand a slab as any rock band has offered up in, well, a blue moon. Folks jokingly suggest sometimes "rock 'n' roll gonna save our souls" but Stranger actually feels like a hymnal that might do the job. They tap great traditional "Jesus on the Mainline" (not unlike young Ry Cooder) but then surround it with their own equally heaven leaning fare, particularly "Long Time Coming," which has the joyful, barroom spin of Neil's "Come On Baby Let's Go Downtown" in the first half and then morphs seamlessly into the grounded angel's cry of Young's "Down By The River" whole "over the rainbow" section. Boppin' to the near Oak Ridge Boys twang of "Black Shoe," one doesn't see the ferocious, head snapping, 'lectric piano fueled blues-boogie waiting just around the corner in "'ol Blackbird."
Simply put, you're cheating yourself to miss Don't Be A Stranger. I can't say it any more plain, kids. All the searching, all the listening, all the false starts and empty, over hyped dead ends endured, well, this is why real music lovers keep questing. Every now and again one comes across a band that sits right down in their soul and feeds them home cooked nourishment. This is the sound of young men chasing salvation and you'd be a plum fool not to catch their sweeping wake and ride it out for all it's worth, singing, "Jesus gonna save my soul" with the same skipping bravado as Murphy and his gang.
Here's the band playing acoustic on a ferry outside Seattle.
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