The One With, Uh, What’s It… The Dog on the Cover is the debut release from Why Lions? a New Jersey-based rock quartet. John Hull is the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist; Mark Coniticchio handles lead guitar and the occasional keyboard. The bottom end is held down by Martin Czajkowski (bass) and Zack Papianni (drums) with both Papianni and Czajkowski helping with backing vocals.
All ten tracks here are originals. With their instrumentation, you’d expect a guitar-based rock record, and that’s what they’ve delivered. Why Lions? cites Queens of the Stone Age, Green Day and Stevie Ray Vaughn, among others, as influences. These are bits of funk (the 7#9 chords in “Broken Skin”), some early ‘90s Blues Traveller-like grooves (“Can’t Change”/“Little Smile”), and some fast punk too (“Hindsight”/“Heaven Up There”).
There are some strong moments on the album. The ending vocal stacks on “Little Smile” and the a cappella bits of “Hindsight” are solid. Coniticchio snaps off a Joe Perry-esque guitar solo on “Broken Skin.” Be sure to check out the middle section and rapid-fire lyrics on “Since You Asked…”.
The band have been a working live act for a number of years, and they try to capture that live-gig energy. Some of that works, and some of that doesn’t fully translate to the studio setting. On “Little Smile,” for instance, the band has written a nice bridge, shifting to heavier ‘70s riff-rock. While it’s challenging to switch guitars live, in the studio it’s an opportunity to punch in a different guitar tone and make the song sparkle, instead of keeping the same axe and amp settings.
In addition, the album mixing doesn’t always support the band’s performance. It almost feels like a soundboard recording of a live gig. There’s not a lot of variation in the levels; while we can hear everything, the dynamics suffer. For instance, on the “Don’t Talk To Me” instrumental breaks, the guitars should come up front-and-center, and then move to the background once the vocals come back in. While “set and forget” sliders can work in a small club with musicians handling their own levels onstage, in a studio setting the mixer needs to perform, too. This is all part of the growth process as a band transitions between live act and recording artist; I’m confident the band (and their studio partners) will bolster this area in future releases.
The One With, Uh, What’s It… The Dog on the Cover is a good foundation for Why Lions? The album showcases a live band learning about the studio. I look forward to following their development as recording artists, and watching them adapt their songs and performances to fit this medium.
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