CD Review: Straw Dogs “Love And Then Hope”

The Seattle-based Straw Dogs came together when musicians Dave von Beck and Darren Smith combined their talents to compose original songs. Their music becomes a reality when bassist Eric Bryson and drummer Casey Miller add their parts to the compositions. Together, the four musicians that make up Straw Dogs create a sound that is acoustic in nature. Their sound becomes deeper when studio musicians are added to help expand that sound.

The sound of the band Straw Dogs exists somewhere between folk and rock, where the songs created by the band are equal parts melody and carefully written lyrics that help to tell a story or describe a situation. The resulting mixture of these elements came together on the band’s 2009 release entitled Love And Then Hope.

Love And Then Hope, the current release from Straw Dogs, is an album that brings together influences from both rock artists and folk artists. Add in the occasional steel guitar and/or banjo, and you have a sound that fans of The Eagles will find very familiar. Of course, that’s only part of the band’s sound. As they incorporate other influences, the band’s style alternates between tracks that are rather low-key and laidback and tracks that have a little more Rock to the Folk-Rock. 

Love And Then Hope from Straw Dogs starts with one of the strongest compositions on the release- “Lie Awake”. The song begins with a drum loop that includes not only drums, but also the bass, which was used more for a percussive effect than for musical effect. To make up for the missing bass lines, Phil Hirsch’s cello playing was used to fill in the sound where the bass should have been. Eventually, the rest of the band is incorporated into the music to create a track that is heavy on the folk influence but still has a Rock and Roll sound. Together as a whole, the four main musicians plus Hirsch create a track that starts the album off in the right direction. And the track’s message of desperately wanting someone even while they sleep is inspiring.

As with a lot of Folk music artists, Straw Dogs create songs that have a basis in reality. That is more than evident on the track “Down My Hall”. The track’s lyrics deal with all the sort of things that can and do happen when you live in an apartment building. Like with some of the “Lie Awake” track, the music “Down My Hall” combines elements of Folk music with Rock and Roll. This time, however, the track is stronger with the Folk influence. With the track’s lyrical content, the listener will most likely find themselves thinking about the people who live around them, whether in an apartment building or in a neighborhood.   

With Straw Dogs being a folk rock group, some of the songs on Love And Then Hope are obviously heavy in the folk mindset. One such song that fits in that mindset is “Fire Outside”. As Dave von Beck is a Southern California native, the song “Fire Outside” was written in response to the wildfires that happened in California back in 2007. In the song, von Beck wrote the ballad while using the love he felt towards a lover and combined it with the idea of the fire that was burning not that far away from him.

While some of the songs on Love And Then Hope from Straw Dogs venture into the folk genre, many of the songs on the release were written more in the vein of ballads. The majority of the tracks have some sort of romantic theme to them. The aforementioned “Lie Awake” finds the singer longing for the chance to spend time with the person currently slumbering next to him. Other tracks on the release deal with instances of pleasure or pain when dealing with love.

The song “Waiting By The Gate” is one of the saddest moments on the release. Part of the reason for that sad feeling is because of the sadness found in the music of the track. The other reason for the sadness is the feeling that is found in the lyrics in the song. “Waiting By The Gate” is a song about someone who finds himself now living with regret. The regret is duo to the feeling of loss after a relationship ended too soon with the passing of his love interest. It is his decision that upon reaching his end as well, he will wait by the gate of Heaven for the chance to reunite with his true love.

By contrast, the song “Sure of Goodbye” is about finding a letter that leaves no hope of reconciliation. The song about finding a “Dear John” letter once again finds Straw Dogs falling into the Folk-Rock genre. The track feels like something that would have been right at home on AM radio back in the seventies. It would also fit on today’s radio formats that feature Lite Rock. While there are heavier tunes on the Love And Then Hope release from Straw Dogs, this is easily one of the tracks that stands out on the album.  

Every once-in-a-while, it is good to step away from bands that use electric guitars and amplifiers to create their music. And while you will still find electric guitars and amplifiers in the folk-rock created by Straw Dogs, the gentler feel of their music has just as much energy as anything from the harder groups.

The fourteen tracks that make up the Love And Then Hope release from Straw Dogs give the listener a nice indication of what writers Dave von Beck and Darren Smith can do when they combine their efforts. And with the songs on the release containing many different elements, the resulting tracks make for a solid and entertaining release.