It was the summer of 1994. It feels like yesterday, yet it feels like so long ago. One of my best friends had just opened a record store. I met new people, some of whom I still think about now, some of whom have been forgotten. It was there I met my girlfriend (I don’t remember that though; and she wouldn’t become my girlfriend until over a decade later). And it was there, I first heard this monster album by Dag. It became an in-store favourite for a long time.
So, why is that relevant? It’s relevant since this is one of those albums which always makes me think back to the first time I heard it…
Looking like Pearl Jam, replete with plaid shirts, Dag found themselves signed to Sony at the tail-end of the alternative rock boom. At that record store, we thought we knew what to expect as we put the disc in the player. We were very wrong. Instead of retro riffing, we got funk. Lots of funk.
Although featuring a few harder edges than than the 70s funk played by black musicians for largely purist funk audiences, the Parliament-Funkadelic influences are still very much there on this album – and not too sugary. In that respect, Dag went against the then current mainstream and opted for retro of another kind…and they were heroes for doing it – at least in that record store. As far as I know though, the album buying public remained apathetic.
Two of the album’s highest points, ‘Sweet Little Lass’ and ‘Your Mother’s Eyes’, feature a swagger and grubbiness on loan from Prince and George Clinton. Throughout the album, bassist/vocalist Bobby Pattison performs like a hero, but his brilliance is particularly evident during these two songs: his vocals are soulful; his bass playing has a solid groove and strong presence. ‘Sweet Little Lass’ is driven by a slightly distorted, dirty rhythm. Its grinding heaviness is instantly captivating and should appeal to listeners who enjoy the pre-disco vibes of Parliament and Funkadelic. ‘Your Mother’s Eyes’ is a little lighter, although still heavy on the funk. Pattison’s vocals are lighter too and the end result provides a decent snapshot of Dag’s best traits – even with a keyboard making odd squonking noises throughout.
There are moments when I’ve been reminded of Maggie’s Dream (another favourite which somehow fell through the cracks), especially on tracks like the wah-wah drenched ‘Home’ where the funk is still very much at the fore, but rather more subdued than the Clinton-isms displayed elsewhere. ‘Lovely Jane’ is closest in spirit to Jamiroquai (who, of course, were million sellers in the UK with their Stevie Wonder obsessed acid-jazz-funk grooves), but even Jamiroquai, in turn, would have been at odds with the then-current musical scene. Dag employ more guitar work in the overall mix than you’re likely to find on an early Jamiroquai or early Brand New Heavies disc. In fact, the track features a blistering guitar solo, which is surely another aspect culled from Parliament and ‘Maggot Brain’ era Funkadelic…after all, they were never shy of using a guitar to add some serious chops where necessary.
The title track has a wah-wah cop show style guitar played against parping horns (making their first obvious appearance) and it’s hard to hear it without imagining seventies blaxploitation movies about coke-fuelled law-enforcers with huge facial hair. The funkiest thing on the album (and possibly one of the funkiest things ever recorded) is ‘Plow’, which revisits a dirty bass and solid groove – but the real star is Doug Jervey, whose clavinet work really carries the song and gives an obvious nod of approval to Stevie Wonder. Fantastic stuff. ‘As’ features a James Brown horn sound and a groove he might have enjoyed during his Popcorn years, although far looser and not carrying the intensity he may have managed. Throw in an edgy horn solo and you’ve got Dag at their most sassy. Play this before or after ‘Plow’, then repeat as often as is necessary for best results.
The album only carries one dud and even then it’s only the high standard of the other stuff which makes it so. ‘You Can Lick It (If You Try)’ is more Prince meets Morris Day than anything. Although solid, if there’s a contender for “most likely to get skipped track”, this is the one. The music is straight out of one of Prince’s “romantic scenarios”, and although the lyrics aren’t anywhere near as suggestive as his one-time dirty mind (pun intended) could muster without trying, it’s the high vocals which make this one a little grating if you’re not fully prepared.
In short, though, you need ‘Righteous’ as it’s, uh, righteous. It should be cheap somewhere by the time you’ve finished reading this.
September 2007/July 2010