The never-ending string of roster changes that has plagued BR5-49 for the entirety of their decade-long career—seriously, Destiny’s Child has nothing on these guys—finally catches up to the band, now a quartet, on Dog Days. What was so interesting about the earlier incarnations of BR5-49 was that they were able to retain a distinctive, rambunctious artistic identity regardless of who was playing on their very good to great records. Dog Days, which certainly isn’t a bad album by any stretch, loses that identity for much of its length. Frontman Chuck Mead is still a charismatic singer and multi-instrumentalist Don Herron is still given a handful of opportunities to show off, but the band’s arrangements—the fearlessness of which have always been BR5-49’s selling point—on songs like “Leave It Alone” and “I’m Going Down” are so reigned-in as to border on being bland. Even on the riskier numbers, such as the wonderfully oddball album closer, “Let Jesus Make You Breakfast,” and a cover of Tim Carroll’s “After The Hurricane” that’s given serious heft post-Katrina, there’s this safety and simplicity to John Keane’s production that does little to distinguish a band that’s built its reputation on its go-for-broke combination of traditional country forms with rock-star swagger. Mead’s songwriting is occasionally inspired (“Bottom Of Priority” is a heady, confrontational story-song about Native American activist Leonard Peltier), which is hardly a surprise but which makes it all the more disappointing that so much of Dog Days sounds like a better-than-average Brooks & Dunn album. Here’s hoping that the current roster of BR5-49 simply needed to get one album out of the way to get the mojo back.
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