If you intend to sit and listen to Laney Lou and the Bird Dogs’ first studio album, it won’t work unless you’re driving. The Bozeman-based group is a self-described “relentlessly energetic folk-rock band.” Duh! Most songs are propelled by lightning-fast tempos, supersonic breaks and killer harmonies, interspersed with a few calmer ones. Songs have dashes of gospel, blues, spooky swamp music, country/folk, and the ever-present bluegrass feel.
Laney Lou is Lena Schiffer on vocals, guitar and percussion. The Bird Dogs are brothers Matt Demarais, banjo, and Ethan, bass and percussion; Brian Kassay on fiddle, mandolin, harmonica and tambourine; and Josh Moore, guitar. All the fellas sing except Ethan.
Schiffer wrote three songs, Kassay wrote one (“Carolina”), Moore authored two, and Matt Demarais, the rest. Mostly, whoever wrote the song sings it.
Moore’s “Black Train,” with its clickety-clack rhythm and chain-gang ambience, is riveting. It’s eerie, with a stylish, bent-note instrumental riff and mournful fiddle. A train collects the dead for a trip to the beyond; the southern-born Moore growls out the lyrics in great storytelling fashion.
Schiffer’s mid-tempo bluegrasser, “Time or Tears,” is a bittersweet love song with soaring fiddle and harmony a cappella “oohs.” Love it!
Matt Demarais’s bluesy “Gamblin’ Man” might be a hit. He tears up the vocals, and everyone kicks in with an infectious refrain, “never put your money down on a gamblin’ man.” A blistering guitar riff makes for a great ending.
Schiffer’s wistful “House of Burdens” could be a monster hit as well. Her clear, light voice on the lead is joined on the refrain by Moore and Kassay. “Built our house of burdens just to watch it fall …” they sing. The soft, layered harmonies create a chorale effect. Stunning. This talented group can do it all.
– Mariss McTucker