Mount Karma


OK! Good Records, 2013

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


The thing about swagger is, when it doesn’t work—when there isn’t enough substance behind it to make it credible—it’s a recipe for disaster. But when it does—when the songs and arrangements and performances deliver the goods and draw you in—a little swagger becomes the cherry on top, a knowing smile shared between performer and audience.

Texas natives Dovetail—the brother duo of Philip Creamer (lead vocals/guitar) and Daniel Creamer (keys/harmony vocals) with Aaron Haynes (drums) and Scott Lee (bass)—are rock and roll classicists of the first order, borrowing flavors from the Beatles, the Byrds, the Band, and Big Star to create their clever, intoxicating songs. (The former influence is accentuated by the band’s having won the 2012 John Lennon Songwriting Contest in the “Rock Song of the Year” category.)

This dynamic and very impressive debut album kicks off with the contest-winning song, “Julie,” an alternately woozy and apocalyptic little gem that manages to move through three or four distinct moods in under four minutes, deploying acoustic rhythm guitar, piano and organ, bass, drums and newest member Tucker Cauble on lead guitar. What pushes the song from good to great, though, is that little bit of swagger, the confidence with which the band propels the song through its changes.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Vocally, Philip Creamer has a bit of the, well, keening quality of Keane’s Tom Chaplin, but the influence I hear even more—not in the songwriting, but in the performance—is Jeff Buckley. As a vocalist, Creamer seems fearless, swerving, diving and soaring through these songs, extending syllables, building drama and leaving you guessing about how he’s going to play off the melody next. (He also sounds a bit like Monterey’s very own Casey Frazier [link], though it seems unlikely they’ve ever crossed paths…)

As a band, one of the things Dovetail do best is understand how to break a song down to the essentials and build it back up, as they do on “Big City,” highlighting how the lead and harmony vocals, lead and rhythm guitars, keyboards and rhythm section fit together. The arrangements always feel loose and organic, yet they’re consistently detailed and layered.

Classic rock influences are all over “Hey Hey Mama,” whose playful arrangement behind Creamer’s unpredictable lead vocal suggests nothing so much as the aforementioned Jeff Buckley fronting the Black Crowes. Album highlight “Heavy” is a potent, inching-toward-psychedelic power-pop number that Creamer propels into the stratosphere on the choruses, turning the song’s one-word title into a four-syllable mini-aria as little fullisades of acoustic guitar punctuate the lines.

And so it goes through the gauzy, off-kilter ballad “See The Sun,” the vintage echo of “Can’t Feel You,” and the slithery, powerful “Hurricane.” As you move into the latter third of the album, the boys throw a wider range of ideas and influences into the pot and stir, with “Story” sometimes feeling like a lost U2 ballad with its dreamy, echoey guitar and unsettling vibe, while “Get Down” features a melancholy, hitching melody at the core of a dense, greasy arrangement that’s punctuated by sharp squalls of electric guitar. The closing title track ventures briefly into Tin Pan Alley territory with a playfulness and bravado suggesting Queen.

For a listener of a certain age, Dovetail sounds like a memory of summer nights by the water, sitting on the trunk with the car stereo turned up and all the doors open. It’s a classic sound, affectionately rendered, but what really makes it work is how thoroughly the band inhabits it. There is not a false note here, just pure passion and considerable talent and, yes, a little bit of swagger that carries this album to the promised land.

Rating: A-

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