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Sunday, November 11, 2018

Go Dog Go: Old Enough and Good Enough!

Go Dog Go
Old Enough
(GDG Music, 2018)

Go Dog Go - Old Enough (GDG Music 74718, 2018). Cover and all GDG graphics by Smith Design (smithdesignbalto.com)

On their debut album, Baltimore garage rock quartet Go Dog Go take a page from Stuart Smiley and prove not only that they are Old Enough, but good enough, smart enough and - doggone it - people like them! Though their social media tagline is "This is not your parent's garage rock," in a way this mostly middle-aged band really is "your dad's garage band" - at least as far as bassist Greg Breazeale and guitarist Tom Cohan are concerned. Both are "cool dads" and, in Greg's case, his son Brandon is the band's drummer. And that's what makes this totally unpretentious band so good; they look forward into the past (or as one song puts it: they "Take It All Back.") These are Songs of Experience - not tales of innocence, passing fancy or this month's flavor.

Julie Smith, Greg Breazeale, Tom Cohan, Brandon Breazeale 

With the exception of young Brandon (a Joe Flacco lookalike who is clearly the band's heart-throb and a drummer of effortless stamina, not to mention precision timing), Go Dog Go is a Who's Who of seasoned rockers who've learned to "walk the dog" of various genres, treading the bumpy Nuggets and Pebbles-strewn pathways of 1960s Garage Rock, cutting their teeth on the Raspberries-flavored sugar rush of Powerpop and Glam, and riding the crest of the New Wave and all the backwater Punk/Post-Punk grunge that washed up at the Marble Bar and other venues in the '70s and '80s.

Go Dog Go perform at the 2018 Hampden Festival
Go Dog Go play the 2017 Hampden Festival

Greg Breazeale (Beaver's Cleavers, Pennyless & The Loafers), Tom Cohan (Zehn Archar, Square One, Big As a House) and keyboardist Julie Smith (Elements of Design, Social Skill, DelMarvas) have seen it all, heard it all and played it all. And they have come full circle back to their roots, to the music they were weaned on: classic 3-minute pop songs with clever lyrics, pleasing melodies and solid guitar and keyboard-driven riffs (the latter combo recalling the glory days of The Zombies, Doors, Animals, Dave Clark Five, Spencer Davis Group, Vanilla Fudge, ELP, et al, when piano ticklers and organ grinders were front and center on the bandstand).

This is not "message" rock. There are no mentions of the #MeToo Movement, the political divide or race relations. This is irreverent, fun-filled rock that takes your mind away from the pressing concerns of adulthood, work and children. It name-checks the kind of ordinary, everyday, universally-relatable issues that everyone experiences: boys, girls, infatuation, love, loss, even encroaching middle-age (the downward spiral that is a "Slippery Slope"). And rock and roll, the great savior. (We all got a home in dat dere Rock!) Don't forget, the band takes its name from P.D. Eastman's playful 1961 children's book Go Dog Go!, whose grand finale features all the dogs going to a party.

Though Greg Breazeale is the main songwriter (he wrote nine of the 12 originals on the album, with Julie Smith penning the title track "Old Enough," "Dig You," and "Take It All Back"), the vocals are equally divided. Everyone sings, and sings well. Greg has the greatest range and sings the higher octaves, Julie hits the lower registers with her pleasing (shades of Julie London?) smoky timbre, and Tom handles the down-and-dirty screamers (he could easily be in The Hives - whose "Hate To Say I Told You So" routinely graces Go Dog Go's live set), augmented by his equally gritty guitar chords and blistering solos.

Speaking of guitarists, Go Dog Go initially planned to have a two-guitar line-up, with Greg and Tom plucking the 6-strings and Dave Cawley on bass, but Dave (already playing in Garage Sale) opted out and Greg switched over to bass. (Later still another Tom, former Boy Meets Girl guitarist Tom McNickle, jammed with the band, but he too dropped out after a few practices, spoiling a potential reunion with Cohan, his one-time bandmate in The Flip 5, aka The Retrievers.)

Guitarist Tom Cohan embarks on another blistering solo

Probably GDG's vocals are so evenly distributed because this is a fairly laid-back, ego-less group of musicians who tend to shy away from the spotlight. They've certainly been there before, but this is far from their first rodeo and - meh - it's no big deal to them. Affable and unflappable, Greg Breazeale is only the frontman because, as he once said, "No one else wanted to be." There are no I's in team Go Dog Go.
  • Go Baby Go (Lead vocal: Greg)
  • Old Enough (Lead vocal: Julie)
  • Long Way Home (Lead vocal: Tom) 
  • I Dig You (Lead  vocal: Julie)
  • I Tried (To Get Over You) (Lead vocal: Tom)
  • We Threw It All Away (Lead vocal: Greg)
  • No Looking Back (Lead vocal: Greg)
  • Stop and Think It Over (Lead vocal: Julie)
  • Slippery Slope (Lead vocal: Tom)
  • Take It All Back (Lead vocal: Julie)
  • Get Up! (Lead vocal: Greg)
  • There Is Something We Can Hold Onto (Lead vocal: Greg)
  • Time Is Running Out (Lead vocal: Greg)
  • Don't Look Back (Lead vocal: Tom)

Greg Breazeale: "Ego? We Threw It All Away!"

Two of Old Enough's 14 tracks are covers: The Remains' hard-driving 1966 single "Don't Look Back" (sung with appropriately raucous energy by Tom Cohan) and "Stop and Think It Over," an early '90s song by Memphis-based garage band The Compulsive Gamblers that Julie Smith makes sound like a classic '60s Girl Group hit.

OK, here's a track-by-track breakdown:

1. Opener "Go Baby Go" is GDG's "Monkees Theme," their signature song that typically opens their live shows and here sets the tone for what's to follow. When I hear the exhortation "Go, baby, go!" it instantly makes me think of the Swinging '60s (specifically, for me, the opening go-go bar scene in Russ Meyers' Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!), which I don't think is coincidental. The irresistable beat and Julie's flying keyboard runs capture a long-lost era of ring-a-ding swingdom.

2. "Old Enough" finds Julie lamenting lapses of judgment at a party (hmmm, kegger?) and lamenting that while her choices (and senses) should be better, she's "old enough to know better." Yes I got an invitation and there is an explanation/Some things are better left unsaid and there's a thousand voices racing through my head now...Yes my my choices should be better, it's not my fault she took a header, ha!" This was the first song Julie wrote for Go Dog Go and its quality more than justifies its status as the album's title track.

Julie Smith: Old Enough to know better (Photo by David A. Wright)

3. "Long Way Home" opens with a grungy guitar riff before sequeing into a delightful Love American Style chorus of Pa...Pa-pa-pa-pa-pa's reminiscent of The Cowsills (or by entension, The Partridge Family) as Tom sings "I've said it before and I'll say it again/I wish you were my friend." Sick and tired of being alone, he resolves to meet up with the object of his heart's desire, taking the long way home (like Supertramp!) for some quality time. There are no shortcuts on the road to true love - but there will be pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa's!

4. "I Dig You" - Julie Smith's lyrics are quite brilliant in a finger-snapping tune that could have fit nicely in a Combustible Edison setlist or on the soundtrack of a Swinging '60s movie. The song addresses the single gal's plight in the dating world, one in which, once again, she realizes she's "Old Enough" to know better about acting on an infatuation.

"Fell in a well, under a spell, I gotta hope you are, too/Don't overthink, don't oversell/Try not to yell, oh what the hell...This is all so scary and new/What do I wear? Where do I stand?"

The song concludes with Julie realizing the guy's a jerk: "Why did I say I dig you?/I'm in dismay, please go away/Nothing you said rings true now."

Hey, we've all been there: love is a rose and, when you pick it, you sometimes cut yourself on a thorn.

5. "I Tried (To Get Over You)" - This funky blues-rocker set to a "Stepping Stone" beat sounds like a lost Standells tune, with Greg Breazeale's bass slithering along like a coiled cobra alongside Tom's crunchy power chords and Julie's keyboard flavorings.

6. "We Threw It All Away" finds Greg himself auditioning for a place in The Hives in this break-neck rocker about youthful folly and moving on to the next good thang.

"Hey, we had a good thing now/But you, you wanted a ring now/Time they say will tell, but that's just a wishing well/All this talk, talk, talk, with nothing to say/And so we threw it all away....Time they say will tell/But damned we're better off today/Everything is so much better today because we threw it all away."

7. "No Looking Back" - Time out for a downbeat ballad, nice and smooth, that finds Greg alone in his tower, moping that nothing lasts in his hour of darkness: "Am I afraid of the shadows out of the past? Am I finally turning the corner? Is there no looking back?" Maybe not, but "leaning forward" (in today's MSNBC parlance) he catches up with a new friend. They talk all night, and he finds someone who finally "brights the night." Acoustic guitar and Julie's stately keyboard accompaniment carry the song and lend it poignancy.

8. "Stop and Think It Over" (written by Greg Cartwright) - Originally sung by guitarist Greg Cartwright of The Compulsive Gamblers, here Julie Smith flips the pronouns (gender fluidity - how contemporary!) to make it her own, plus Tom takes a slick little solo (short and sweet) on the bridge. Classic and transcendent!

Fave lines: "Now all your friends, they say I'm bad/I ain't no different from any other girl you've had before/Except I'll love you more/You'd better stop and think it over...Think it over boy - you've got a big decision..."...and, as Julie's vocals advise, you'd better be "all in," boy!

9. "Slippery Slope" - This is my favorite GDG song because it's about being middle-aged, something me and GDG can certainly relate to! Tom Cohan sings that there's a party on the corner where everyone is packed into the kitchen..."The veggie platter is delivered/Moms are pounding their white wine/We are all in bed by 9/I've been down this road before/That slippery slope that leads to BORED. Welcome to my life, at 54!" He flashes back to a "TBT" (Throwback Thursday, in Facebook Speak) moment from 1983, back when "our family were all free." But it's a slippery slope down going Memory Lane because that was then, and 54 is now. Or, as author Tana French says, "Nostalgia is laziness with prettier accessories."

10. "Take It All Back" - Julie's third poppy GDG tune uses the metaphor of a speeding train to chronicle a bumpy relationship that's gotten "off  track" and looks like it may derail.

"I know what you're thinking/Not the words that you're speaking/That train is rolling faster, heading straight for disaster/You've gotten my attention, with the things you didn't mention/It's really not too late/The choice is yours, don't hesitate." 

Slowing down, the singer hits the brakes -  and a note of reconciliation - to add:

We're done with all the fighting/Our story we'll just be writing
I'd take it all back/Everything's been said
I took it all back/Full steam ahead

The optimistic change in outlook is mirrored by Tom's extended soloing that takes the song into the station, where it expertly stops on a dime.

11. "Get Up!" - In a serious toe-tapper, Greg and sonny boy Brandon implore listeners to "Get up, we're knocking you down!" Is it a call to resistance or to hit the dance floor? The lyrics are simplistic, like a fist-pumping Slade stadium rocker - We're still spinning around, get up we're knocking you down - making it a perfect crowd-pleaser. A highlight of their live set, needless to say.

Brandon says: "Get up! We're knocking you down!"

Joe says: "Now that's a good-looking kid!"

12. "There Is Something We Can Hold Onto" -  In a radical change of pace, Greg starkly intones over Julie's eerie synth fills and Tom's dark minor chording in this moody ballad from the '80s New Wave playbook. A little bit Goth, a little bit neo-psychedlic, all-brooding.

13. "Time Is Running Out" - Not to be confused with the Steve Winwood song, here the foursome gets back on the pop bandwagon in a rollicking toe-tapper as time, and the album's tracks, are running out. An over-the-hill, there's-no-turning-the-clock-back middle-aged reality check, Greg nevertheless is resigned to it because, as Larry Vega puts it: What the Hell Ya Gonna Do (WTHYGD)? "Time is running out/I'll see you on the other side/I don't think there's another side/Time is running out, over and out...Good luck and goodbye!

14. "Don't Look Back" (written by Billy Vera) - Get your kicks on U.S. Nostalgia Route '66! Tom Cohan, a veteran of American Garage Rock (from his days playing with R&B Roots master Richard Taylor and Zehn Archar), is firmly in his element essaying this 1966 Billy Vera classic Nugget from The Remains' back catalog. Chunky bad-ass guitar riffs, Julie's swirling organ runs, Tom's snarling lead and the band's call-and-response chorus do Vera's original verily well. Props to Tops of the Garage Pops!

Two years since forming, Go Dog Go have already recorded 14 songs and Greg and Julie have even more in store, so stayed tuned to the usual social media sites for updates.

Good enough as Old Enough is, it's still no substitute for seeing the band live, where the energy is infectious and you never know what cover song will grace that night's set, like garage revivalists Jarvis Humby's "We Say Yeah," which opened their set at the 2017 Hampdenfest. (See Richard Taylor's video for "We Say Yeah" here.) Besides the Hives, I also recall hearing some Sonics and even a Replacements tune - the latter no doubt at 'Mats fanatic Cohan's prompting! - at GDG shows. But if you can't catch a show around town, Old is more than Enough to start with!

Go Fetch!: Old Enough is available for download, streaming or old-school CD purchase (for those of us who still like to fill rubbish dumps with our detritus) at bandcamp.com. You can also stream the album on Spotify. Additionally, "I Tried (To Get Over You" and "I Dig You" are available for free listening at SoundCloud. The album was recorded at Reggie Bladder Studios (aka Greg's basement) in Ellicott City, where it was produced by Greg Breazeale and mixed by Brandon Breazeale.

Go Dog Go are:
Greg Breazeale (bass &vocals)
Brandon Breazeale (drums & vocals)
Tom Cohan (guitar & vocals)
Julie Smith (keyboards & vocals)

Related Links:
Go Dog Go official site (godog-go.com)
Go Dog Go (Facebook)
Go Dog Go (Bandcamp)
Go Dog Go (YouTube)