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Moondoggies: Don't Be A Stranger

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Roots rock can be a dicey proposition. A lot of good bands work in that vein, but it's too easy to slide into cornpone and half-baked delivery of country cliches. I tend to approach such music with caution since I'm not into jug music or smoking bales of pot with the refuse certain jam bands leave, or have left, in their wake. Still, when it's done right, roots rock—or Americana, if you prefer a broader term—is a vital genre, and Seattle band The Moondoggies (with a name like that, the disc ought to come with roach clips and rolling papers) prove their worth with their debut album, Don't Be A Stranger. Over the course of 13 tracks, this quartet manages to pull off a feat I've never heard any band do before: deliver a collection of songs that manages to flow together as a seamless whole without ever sounding derivative or repetitive. From the mournful Ralph Stanley vibe of "Undertaker" to the barrelhouse piano joy of "Bogachiel Rain Blues," the crisply recorded album sounds like a primer in American music styles, yet doesn't belabor the point. Glancing at the liner notes reveals a surprise. Other than "Jesus on the Mainline," given a spare and spooky piano-and-handclaps arrangement here, every song was written by the band, who manages to make every song sound like they lifted it from the National Recording Registry. Making a song sound traditional yet new takes a helluva lot of skill, and judging from this debut, The Moondoggies are loaded with it. Even if you only sort of like bands like Wilco, Iron and Wine and the fabled Grateful Dead, Don't Be A Stranger is worth every thin dime you pay for it wherever you buy your music.