CD Review of New Dog-Old Tricks by Michael Carpenter & the Cuban Heels
Recommended if you like
Tom Petty, the Byrds,
Flying Burrito Brothers
Label
Linear Recording
Michael Carpenter &
the Cuban Heels:
New Dog-Old Tricks

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

M
ichael Carpenter has always embraced his roots. Known as an astute purveyor of melodically endowed, instantly accessible power pop, this able Aussie has devoted entire albums -- specifically the two volumes in his SOOP (AKA “Songs of Other People”) series – to the music of revered forebears like the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Kinks, the Zombies and equally esteemed elders. Duly influenced and obviously inspired, his albums of self-penned material ring just as true, finding Carpenter a willing recruit when it comes to continuing pop’s ongoing trajectory.

Not surprisingly then, Carpenter’s latest – recorded in the company of a group inexplicably dubbed the Cuban Heels – also takes a backwards view. But this time around, the aptly-billed New Dog-Old Tricks takes a different tact, segueing from Down Under to Down Home. Tastefully embossed with a rich overlay of pedal steel guitar and sparkling honkytonk piano, it recalls the roots rock embrace of bands like the Byrds, the Burrito Brothers and the various other denizens of late ‘60s/early ‘70s Southern California who found themselves at the forefront of country’s original crossover. There’s a keynote cover to be sure, a rollicking take on the Hank Williams standard “Jambalaya” that effectively seals the deal, but Carpenter and company’s originals offer an air of authenticity that enables them to stand on their own.

Carpenter’s talent is such that he’s doesn’t merely ape his retro references, but rather opts instead to add some panache of his own. Opening track “The Ballad of Ambivalence” translates as a perfect ode to apathy, an unabashed, tongue-in-cheek homage that turns on the attributes of indecision. The Chuck Berry-inspired “Working for a Living” takes a similarly cynical stance; voicing a working stiff’s assertion that employment accumulates more cost than it’s worth, it boasts more than a grain of truth when one considers the cost of commuting these days. That’s not to say New Dog-Old Tricks is pervasively pessimistic. Far from it in fact. While “Oh No, Not You Again” and “Some Days Are Worse Than Others” may imply a negative perspective, the music’s back-porch ambiance and jaunty stride underscore their lyrics with an easy, breezy demeanor.

Carpenter bills New Dog-Old Tricks as a rehearsal of sorts, and a run-up to his next full-length album. Recorded live with between-song banter, they’re ideal demos in finished form. Yet even though these seven tracks are try-outs that may – or may not -- make the final cut, Carpenter proves that even his excess is as good as it gets.

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