On its new album When the Whiskey Kicks In, Missoula's Three-Eared Dog doesn't get too mired in the traditional 12-bar blues structure that sometimes makes blues rock such a bore in lesser hands. All the songs on here are originals, balancing between themes and sounds that pay tribute to jazz, rockabilly, country and blues, but without feeling anything like copycat rehashes.
Bassist and singer Jordan "J.R." Smith has a divine voice that's smooth and honeyed when it needs to be, agitated and suggestive when he's going for a little more careless passion. He's written about a third of the songs, including one of the best, "Sweet Stuff," which has a fantastic alt-country flair, but with horns. He and guitarist Sam Ore and drummer Aaron Johnson split songwriting duties, and it's delightful to find that they're all equally capable. Ore's "Drinking About You" is as close as you can get to the blues progression songs you've heard a million times, but it's still crafted well and that makes the difference.
There's a warmth and liveliness to this record that makes even the most tragic lines"strangle me slow, if I can't have you I'd rather be dead"feel upbeat. Listening, you feel like you're at the best party in town with a whole night ahead of you.
Three-Eared Dog plays an album release show at the Top Hat Sat., April 19, at 10 PM. $3.