© 2013 Max Recordings
The Boondogs abide. For almost a decade, the local pop-rock group's been a study of persistence, releasing new albums about every other year and playing out just enough that their shows always feel long-coming. The central dynamic, too, remains largely unchanged: Lead singers and songwriters and husband and wife Indy Grotto and Jason Weinheimer frame songs (each usually anchors songs alone) as if they're having a conversation, and one that often takes dark turns. But don't mistake persistence for creative sameness. With each album, the 'dogs have built on their formula, which has lately meant albums that deeply deserve an audience beyond Little Rock. Their new record, Take Shelter, a sunnier, bigger sounding rumination on love and loss, easily fits that bill. - Lindsey Millar / Arkansas Times (November 2008)
It is the natural course of things that, over time, beloved institutions will be taken for granted.
Boulevard Bread Company.
The sets of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s Mike Nichols.
Charles Portis. The Oyster Bar. Those are the first things that we’d put on our miss-terribly-when-they-are-gone list.
We would also include The Boondogs, the Little Rock band led by husband and wife Jason Weinheimer and Indy Grotto.
The Boondogs new CD is Take Shelter (Max Recordings) and it’s the kind of record that will be appreciated and even loved, but you have to figure it won’t be celebrated - at least not commensurate with the level of the accomplishment.
The reason is that The Boondogs are here to stay.
Weinheimer/Grotto flirted with the big time years back when they won the garage band.com contest, but now they have young kids and have settled down.
Take Shelter will be followed by another album in due course. The Boondogs are as reliable - probably more reliable - than any local business you can name. Lucky us, this smart music outfit is part of our landscape.
Certainly this is part of the story of the disintegration of the old ways in the music business. It’s not New York/L.A.
or bust anymore. There are probably tons of bands who are now choosing to stay close to home and cobble together some kind of business model, some balance between the music and the money that has to be made. But how many can make an album as solid and deft, as achingly beautiful as Take Shelter? Odds are it’s not many.
Our term for the kind of music The Boondogs make has been “bedroom pop.” Weinheimer/Grotto share songwriting duties, trade off on lead vocals and write, asa general rule, relationship songs. But the new album is so lush (though not sickly sweet) that we think we’re going to go with “swoon pop” until further notice.
For Take Shelter, Weinheimer and Grotto have recent regulars around them - Isaac Alexander on drums, Chris Michaels on bass and Charles Wyric on guitar. The title track swells and swells yet never loses its lovely bounce. “Superheroes” is a quirky yet completely engaging take on Bible stories about Jonah, Samson and Goliath. “Tongues of Men and Angels” is as delicate and heart-stopping a love song as can be imagined.
The Boondogs’ sound comes out of standard rock instruments, although there are flashes of strings and other orchestral flourishes.
You don’t have to listen very hard to hear the influence of the Beatles. The melodies are always sturdy yet don’t feel too familiar.
And, sure, there are holes in The Boondogs’ game. The band rarely cuts loose and, if there’s a sense of humor displayed, it’s so dry as to be barely noticeable. (“Superheroes,” which isn’t that funny, is about as close as this band comes.)
Still, this band knows what it’s doing, yet hasn’t worn out its welcome. The group also hasn’t soured on the joy of making its music - there’s nothing jaded in The Boondogs’ approach. There doesn’t seem to be any way for fans in the state not to take this group for granted.
But we don’t have any idea how lucky we are. - Werner Trieschmann / Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (December 2008)
It’s a shame about the Boondogs. It’s a shame because a band that creates sublime slices of dreamy indie pop crossed with just the right amount of rootsy rock ‘n’ roll angst doesn’t have national critical and popular acclaim instead of tons of Little Rock indie cred. A band this good deserves a wider audience. So it goes.
The Boondogs might have had a chance, and it might have passed them. Signed to former Talking Head turned producer Jerry Harrison’s Garageband Records during the heady days of the dot-com bubble, the band was tossed a small fortune and directed to record a follow-up to its 1997 debut album Smarter Than Some with legendary producer Jim Dickinson at Memphis’ Ardent Records. Of course, the dot-com bubble burst, Garageband Records went belly up, and the Boondogs entered record label limbo purgatory. The only output during this period: the 2001 EP Roots Pop for Now People.
What followed was a full album — 2002’s This Is the Way the World Ends — and a self-titled EP. Luckily, for both the Boondogs and the Little Rock music scene, Max Recordings started up around the time the Boondogs were searching for a record-label home. And since the band signed with the label, the Boondogs have released two gleaming indie pop albums — 2005’s Fever Dreams and 2007’s A Thousand Ships. The newly released Take Shelter is the Boondogs third offering on Max Recordings.
Produced by Andre Moran and Boondogs at Lucky Dog Audio in Little Rock, Take Shelter is the Boondogs — with members Indy Grotto (vocals, acoustic guitar and Wurlitzer), Jason Weinheimer (vocals, guitar and keyboards), Chris Michaels (bass and cello), Charles Wyrick (guitar and omnichord), Isaac Alexander (drums) and Dylan Turner (tambourine and shakers) — constructing roughly 32 minutes of shimmering indie pop merged with rowdy, rollicking rock ‘n’ roll.
The contrasting styles are the outgrowth of the band’s two singers/songwriters: the husband and wife team of Weinheimer and Grotto. Weinheimer mostly sings the rough roots rockers, and Grotto balances it with her melodic lo-fi pop. It’s the perfect music marriage.
Grotto possesses one of those angelic, sugary sweet voices comparable to Aimee Mann or The Cardigans’ Nina Persson that smiles while it stabs your heart out with lyrics like “Everybody needs a saviour/But your price is too high, way too high” (on the rolling and rumbling rock ‘n’ roll treat “Cronies”).
And Weinheimer’s voice is weary but warm, even when delivering the melancholic “Chasing the Moon” (co-written with Arkansas blues rocker Jim Mize) and lines such as “So I’ve made it hard on you/Well, you’ve hardly made a move” (the chugging country rocker “Don’t Tell Me No”).
But Take Shelter is not just the Grotto/Weinheimer show. Michaels’ bass propels the jaunty step of “Talking in Your Sleep” while his cello on “Heaven” adds to the avant-pop interlude. Alexander’s powerhouse drumming is the driving force on the harder, rootsier rock ‘n’ roll moments of Take Shelter (Have I mentioned the excellent “Cronies” yet?), and Turner’s tambourine is ever present, adding to the crashing cymbal rhythms of “Talking in Your Sleep” and elsewhere. And Wyrick’s guitar? Whether it’s a jangling pop-rock ditty (the title track) or the raucous rocker — for Take Shelter at least — “Let’s Talk Again,” Wyrick’s guitar grinds, growls, drifts and chimes throughout.
And Take Shelter’s secret weapon is the Hammond organ playing of Al Gamble of Memphis’ Gamble Brothers Band. More soulful than his usual funky self on Take Shelter, Gamble’s organ pumps provide the canvas for the rest of the band to paint upon on four tracks.
The first four songs of Take Shelter are 15 minutes of the best music of 2008, filled with sing-along choruses (the title track) and soundtracks for a long drive through winter nights (“Chasing the Moon”).
It sounds like a small pittance, but on an album of only 10 tunes in less than 33 minutes, one misstep can trip up the flow of the album. Take Shelter’s blunder is the biblical-infused “Superheroes,” a lazy, depressing-sounding number that references Jonah, Samson and Goliath. It’s Take Shelter’s one slip. - Shea Steward / Sync Weekly (November 2008)
"Consider the Little Rock curse. With the exception of Evanescence, which seems to be ever-spiraling towards self-implosion, no Little Rock group has managed, over the last couple of decades, to break through nationally in any sort of demonstrable or prolonged way. The Gunbunnies, Greg Spradlin, Ashtray Babyhead/the Kicks, Jason Morphew, Go Fast, Ho-Hum — near dozens have flirted with national success, only to get mired in the major-record-label quagmire. All have their own unique horror stories, but perhaps none can rival the Boondogs’.
In 1999, the Little Rock pop-rock act, fronted by husband and wife Jason Weinheimer and Indy Grotto, beat out scores of entrants to win an online battle-of-the-bands on GarageBand.com. The contest netted the band a $250,000 record contract; allowed them to work with former Talking Head Jerry Harrison (who headed up GarageBand Records) and producer Jim Dickinson; and granted the group recording time at the legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis.
But the label pushed the band to change its sound, and in the end, the Boondogs made, by their own estimation, a quarter-million-dollar coaster. Shortly after they completed the album, GarageBand went kaput, but the Boondogs remained financially entangled with the label until 2002.
Since then, they’ve released albums just about biannually, recording and performing when and how they’ve seen fit. Perhaps more than any other local act, they represent the tendency of national-level talent to live and play in Little Rock without grander ambition.
Just about all of the band’s members are married with children (Weinheimer and Grotto have two kids), which naturally tempers dreams of nationwide touring and all the other accompanying rigors associated with “making it.” In the documentary film “Towncraft,” Grotto, then pregnant with her second child, speaks to her priorities: “My son is more important than the music. I want to leave a legacy for him, so he can look back one day, and say, ‘Those are my parents, and they did something really cool,’ but not at his expense.”
“In our mind, we’ve made it,” Weinheimer said. “We’ve been in a different place where we made this really expensive record and ‘making it’ was a completely different thing. Now it means making a record that we’re proud of, that speaks to us and that people respond to. And that’s it. Yes, I want people to hear it. But I don’t have to do anything stupid to make that happen.”
Earlier this month, the Boondogs released “A Thousand Ships” on Max Recordings, their second with the label and sixth release overall. Much like the group’s previous material, the new record is pop-rock par excellence, a dreamy, often melancholy meditation on love and loss that delights even in its darkest moments." - Lindsey Millar / Arkansas Times (June 2007)
"Those poor Boondogs. Still struggling to build a career beyond their day jobs in Little Rock, Ark., and still reeling from their golden opportunity that turned out to be a pyrite pain in the ass (they got the first Garageband.com record deal, right before that much-hyped Web site fell apart and the record was never released), but here they are releasing another under-the-radar set of spare, supple alt-country-rock-'n'-everything tunes.
Core couple Jason Weinheimer and Indy Grotto seesaw between each other's songs, and this time out Weinheimer is the clear winner. Previous outings saw Grotto standing out as a more confident, sweet-voiced singer, and while here she turns in a couple of gems (the melodic "Stranger Inside," the pretty drone of "I Don't Belong"), it's Weinheimer's weary rock that makes these "Fever Dreams" really burn.
His first offering, "Up for Days," sets the tone: Ol' Jason sounds exhausted, hoarse, completely fried, and his tunes bear the weight of his weariness. "Bad Ideas" has that sleepy stomp of an old Teenage Fanclub B-side, and by the time he gets his turn to "Show My Hand," he's barely with us, croaking and scratching at his strings as he nods off like Elvis Costello on the porch at Veronica's Assisted Living Home. The result is creepy and cool -- the kind of music the rock 'n' roll spirit inspires at 4 a.m. (Or the 4 a.m. feedings of the new baby he and Grotto had recently, but what's the fountainhead of rock 'n' roll now, anyway?) This is adult music for the lo-fi kids. But then, we did finally grow up, didn't we?" - Thomas Conner / Chicago Sun-Times (August 2005)
"The record doesn't swerve far from the band's signature dreampopscape even as you can hear deeper colors and textures that betray the ambition of the project. Grotto still sounds like a dead ringer for Aimee Mann, and her "I Don't Belong" and "Can I Count On You" are the strongest here among a dozen jewels." - Werner Trieschmann / Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (August 2005)