Sam Shain and the Scolded Dogs won’t mind

You can dance if you want to
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  February 27, 2013

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No, seriously, have you been up to Hallowell? The little burgh on the Kennebec may put out as many records this year as Portland (hyperbole is fun), and it's easy to have a good time when everyone else is happy just to be out with friends, drinking, and listening to live music. You should consider one of those staycation thingees.

Sam Shain and the Scolded Dogs are a presence there, Shain hosting music trivia at Higher Grounds even. And they might be the closest thing going to an embodiment of the town itself. They're fun, a little goofy, easy to dance to, but serious when they want to be. After a fair bit of live gigging, they released this winter their first record, A Song We Know, with heavy doses of life in the bars and being single.

They certainly aren't shy. Right out of the gate, "If You Can Call that Dancin'" isn't far from the Bee Gees, with a paired falsetto and bass delivery in the chorus that's silly on purpose (I'm pretty sure) and an implied threat they could break into "we got the funk, gotta have that funk" at any moment.

Steve Guilmet's keyboard sound, captured again by Bob Colwell at the Root Cellar (that's three albums so far this year in this space), has a ton of body and helps them pull the song off without it seeming like a costume.

Later, in "The Riverbank" Guilmet travels as far as you can go to the right on the keyboard with a crisp tone that keeps even the highest notes musical. The open here is downright uplifting, with major chords that seem to provide an actual light source, then Shain undercuts it with a narrative about backwoods sex: "He gets his lovin' by riverbank." There's plenty of "Feelin' Alright" Traffic, too.

That jazzy undertone comes from a light hand on the high hat from Josh Shain, especially on a tune like "Great Recession," which recalls Medeski Martin and Wood, Shain's voice like a wicka-wicka guitar part. It's well done to make it timely and pointed, but grounded and forthright: "Because I got nowhere to bring you home baby/Yeah I live somewhere, but I gotta stay away."

Dan Corbett's bass is active there and throughout the disc. They have a recurring feature where the bass and often another instrument run through seven-note (or so) riffs that climb up and crest and repeat for measures at a time. It may be more fun to play than to listen to, but it's better if you're stoned, I'm sure. "A Song We Know" has it, too, along with a nicely delivered quick repetition of "do you know this, do you know that, do you know anything?" and a ton of headbob. And "Talk to You," where that bass riff is joined by a pick up line ("let's make this a private party") and a weighty sax part from Adam Soosman.

You'll hear similarities with the likes of Lyle Divinsky and Model Airplane and Sly-Chi, but when Shain and his Dogs are going best, there's a frenetic quality to what they're doing, keeping the energy bright. It can get manic, but that's better than the alternative. Disco that drags seems beside the point.

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  Topics: Music Features , Medeski Martin, Hallowell
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