The Shadowdogs are rocking alt-country band that started out in 1998, put out a CD in 2003, Somewhere South of the Clef, that snagged an SDMA award. The front man, multi-instrumentalist and chief songwriter is Bruce Fitzsimmons, and the band also includes a basic core quartet, including bassist/ co-lead vocalist Jon Scarantino, Dan Lehner on guitar/backing vocals, and drummer Kevin Glassel. Their new CD, Tangerine, is the gathering, after a decade-long absence by Fitzsimmons, of “almost” everybody involved in previous incarnations of the band in a 15-track disc. Personnel on the new album are numerous, and include Jeff Ballew’s guitar and Rick Schmidt’s pedal steel. Fitzsimmons wrote or co-wrote and sings ten of the tunes, plays guitars and keys on at least that many, and there are backing vocals on almost everything. The packed-solid, guitar-heavy sound is compelling, and it just pulled down a nomination from SDMA for Best Country or Americana Album.
“Number Nine” kicks off the set with a no-holds-barred rocker that blasts out of the gate with sharp–and uncredited–harp dueling with some tasty slide guitar by Fitzsimmons. It settles into “Mona Lisa,” a mid-tempo tune that works organ accents and harmonies, and nice guitar licks from Ballew, effectively into a tune that laments the loss of a special woman. The title tune, by Sean Fitzsimmons and sung by Scarantino, hits all its marks as a slower country ballad with acoustic guitar and pedal steel framework behind the vocal, “Baby I’m on empty, diving in this airplane/ By the cemetery, driving light has lost its wing.” There is an aching quality that really clicks on this highlight.
Like many modern country bands, there is a lot of rock in the Dogs’ sound, the anti-politics “Sympathy” is straight ahead, bluesy, and loaded with guitars, including the old-fashioned, snarling duel during the solo break between Ballew and Lehner (guessing here, the roster is a challenge). “Sword of Damocles” is by Richard Maiorano, and pulls out fiddle, a lurching beat, and more of a country throwback feel–a good change of pace. The soft spot in the lengthy program comes with “Deep Blue Sea” and “She Don’t Need Me,” both rather innocuous pop offerings that seem to lack a country or rock edge.
Scarantino wrote and sings “Is It Sane?” an interesting song that develops a hook, keeps hitting power chords at the right time, and lyrically asks, “Is it sane to follow pain?/ Isn’t it plain to see what it does to me?” Sax (Kenny Rice) gives “Drink It Up” a different spin, as Fitzsimmons’ organ is also prominent in a song about how a drinker is “the walking embodiment of overcompensation,” who doesn’t deserve empathy. Maiorano’s “Katie” is a late-program tune that goes for a different approach, fingerpicked soft with strings; it is rendered with sweet harmonies and soaring pedal steel and fiddle, it works on all levels. The disc wraps with the live “Rolling Away,” with yeoman licks from Schmidt and nice guitar work from co-writer and veteran local musician Jerry McCann.
The Shadowdogs’ Tangerine is a bold statement by veteran players, to be heard and enjoyed.