The O’s – Thunderdog
The O’s are a Dallas-proud duo whose folk-rock marries the fervent joy of Polyphonic Spree (of which they were once members), the dually-sung testimonial uplift of the Proclaimers, and the guitar and banjo of a string band that brought along a kick drum to keep the beat. Their third album shows what a potent sound less can be, framing the duo’s vocals powerfully with guitar on one side, banjo on the other, and a kick drum (the eponymous “Thunderdog”) in the middle. Fans of the Avetts will know this balance of strings and voices from the brothers’ Gleam EPs, and Taylor Young (guitar, drum) and John Pedigo (banjo, Lowebro) sing and play with the sort of foot-stomping fervor that draws a street-corner crowd. Producing themselves for the first time, the duo brings the energy and spontaneity of their stage act to the studio. Pedigo’s voice is loaded with youthful verve, while Young sings lower and more reserved. Together they relish the sound of their paired voices, holding onto notes as their timbres bounce and interlace. With only a few additions to their basic lineup – a harmonica on the foot-stomping “Cicerone” and a fuzz banjo solo on “Kitty” – the pair makes a surprisingly large sound for such a portable band. Pedigo’s banjo can play lonely, as on the introduction of “You are the Light” and “Levee Breaks,” but it’s more often complemented by Young’s guitar strums. Pedigo adds twang with a dobro-like guitar called a Lowebro, but even as the lyrics lean to earnest folk, the hooks have the ready familiarity of pop songs. The combination mixes immediate familiarity with an unusual sparse-but-loud instrumental mix that gives the vocals a boost. This is an album that’s very easy to like from its first notes, but one that reveals additional depths as your ears roll through to the end.