*"Dog Years" is a DVD/CD set. The DVD is a well-shot, well-played concert that shows The Winery Dogs are a great live band. However, while the show is good, and certainly worth it for any fan of the band, this review will focus on what I found more interesting; five new songs.
The Winery Dogs are busy guys. At any moment, there's no telling where in the world, and with whom any of the three will be playing. So it comes as no surprise that the band is taking a bit of a break right now to explore their other projects. In the meantime, however, they're not leaving us hanging. A new package is being released that includes a DVD recorded on their tour supporting "Hot Streak", as well as an EP of tracks that didn't make it onto the record. If the dogs are going to be sleeping for a little while, this is a nice treat to keep us from getting restless.
First up on the EP is "Criminal", which depending on exactly when and where you bought their debut album, you might have already heard. It fits in seamlessly with that record (it's the song in the track listing I usually assume is there, not "Time Machine"), and it remains as good as it sounded back then. It's the band doing what they do best, delivering groovy and sophisticated hard rock with plenty of great melody.
"The Game" fits in with "Hot Streak", pulling back a bit on the hard rock for some other influences. Billy Sheehan's bass funks through the verses, while Richie's guitar swirls around in the background. Over the course of just two records, the band has evolved into more of a pure power trio, with fewer layers of guitars, and more space in the compositions for everyone to do their own thing. There were times on "Hot Streak" where I thought they took that a hair too far, but this song has enough anchor points to keep it tethered to the comfort zone.
"Solid Ground" is an acoustic ballad that will draw comparisons to "To Be With You" and "More Than Words". The band's harmonies are on full display, with all three voices blending together and standing out beautifully. It's the kind of song that might benefit from the slightest push of the energy, but the harmonies are so engaging that you don't mind.
The closing two tracks, "Love Is Alive" and "Moonage Daydream" are more standard-fare Winery Dogs music. The latter, in particular, is interesting for the sharp blues solo Richie pulls out. It's a sound I'm not sure I've heard from the Dogs before, and it might hint at future developments. The song itself is one that isn't as immediate as some of their other material, but when you take a step back, it certainly comes into focus as something wholly worthwhile.
So what to make of this EP? I think these songs find a nice middle ground between the two albums, which might be why they didn't quite fit with the tone of "Hot Streak". I liked that album, but I didn't like it as much as the debut. If these songs had been switched out for some of the ones I wasn't keen on, that might not have been the case. This is a great little package of music from The Winery Dogs, and is absolutely worth hearing for anyone who enjoyed either album.