Dr. Dog’s initial project for the Anti label after a string of releases on Park the Van that, along with their infectious live shows, has helped the Philadelphia group redefine grassroots appeal, Shame, Shame is also the first project on which Dog has collaborated with an outside producer. Rob Schnapf, who’s worked with Beck, The Vines and Elliott Smith among others, helps bring a clarity to the sound (preserved, no doubt, by the mastering of Greg Calbi), most obvious in the impact of the rhythm section, as on the opening "Stranger". The density of the music hasn’t decreased, compared to 2008’s Fate, but the components of the arrangements are rendered more distinct.
Background vocals, as impeccably rendered as ever on "Shadow People," for instance, stand out in greater relief to the bass and drums, as do the lead vocals of guitarist Scott McMicken or bassist Toby Leaman. And this contrast is in keeping with the increasingly direct emotional expression in a number like "Station," where echoes of The Band’s Rick Danko echo throughout the lead vocal: this is virtually the only vestige of musical influences that once ran rampant through Dog songs.
Compositions such as "Where’d All the Time Go?," are now more than ever, entities unto themselves, and less derived from the production process. Never much less than infectious, but often laboriously so, Dr. Dog tunes sound more charming than ever here, as on "I Only Wear Blue;" thankfully, the quintet never sound cute to a fault. This group’s direct and open connection to its audience derives from their own bond as a band and it’s stronger, even with (or perhaps because of) the outside influence of Snapf.
Not overtly presented as a concept album, the sequence of this album’s tracks, particularly through the increasingly rousing concluding cuts "Mirror Mirror," "Jackie Wants A Black Eye" and the titlesong (where My Morning Jacket’s Jim James croons in the background), generate a cumulative sensation akin to awakening from a deep vivid dream. Dr. Dog has made some excellent albums in their short, sweet history, but Shame, Shame is the first truly great one.