The Sheepdogs' first big break came in the summer of 2011, when the hard-touring Canadian band won a contest that put them on the cover of Rolling Stone, the first time the magazine had put an unsigned act on the front page. That's more than fitting, since the band's music and style harken back to a time when most rock groups dreamed of someday gracing that magazine's cover; the Sheepdogs' self-titled major-label debut is an easygoing but hard-grooving set of boogie rock that would have sounded fine pouring out of dorm room stereos and/or 8-track tape decks in 1974. The Sheepdogs are unapologetic in their love of vintage Southern rock and party-hearty barroom boogie, and that's one of the reasons why this album works so well -- these guys don't come off as revivalists, but rather four dudes who play this stuff because it comes naturally to them, and though their influences are clear, they've synthesized them into a personality of their own that's organic and genuinely likable. There's a winning modesty to Ewan Currie's lead vocals that's devoid of a preening attitude while still sounding passionate and forceful, and Currie and Leot Hanson's guitars lock in tight on their dueling lead lines, while bassist Ryan Gullen and drummer Sam Corbett push this music forward with the funky, dependable insistence of a VW microbus. The closest kin the Sheepdogs have in contemporary music would be some of the shaggier acts on the jam band scene, but thankfully, this act understands the value of songcraft (only two songs here crack the four-minute mark), and the tunes have a warm, midtempo pulse and a melodic warmth that doesn't wander off the track or overstay its welcome. The Sheepdogs often sounds like the album Stillwater (the fictive band in Cameron Crowe's film Almost Famous) never got to make, and if none of these songs sound quite as anthemic as "Fever Dog," "While We're Young" sure comes close, and all in all, this LP is an unpretentious delight. With any luck, this will keep the Sheepdogs in the honorable occupation of playing North America's better roadhouses for the next few years; if ever there was music made to accompany a few cold ones on a Saturday night out with the guys, this is it.
The Sheepdogs Review
by Mark Deming