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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Doghouse Flowers Revisits Country Rock

Milwaukee band releases debut album, ‘Chasing the Sun’

Doghouse Flowers
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Jon Ziegler is a musician with deep roots. He’s played early-’60s surf instrumentals with The Exotics and fronted the ’50s R&B-infused Uptown Savages. Both bands continue to perform, but in 2012 he co-founded Doghouse Flowers. Grounded in a slightly more recent decade, Doghouse Flowers harkens back to the country rock that emerged by the start of the ’70s in an early wave of what would one day be called Americana. Forget about the banjos and tweed vests of Mumford and Sons. Doghouse Flowers’ debut album, Chasing the Sun, is the real deal, growing form the soil first turned by the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Pure Prairie League, The Outlaws and The Marshall Tucker Band.

Ziegler was so enthusiastic over the songs of Doghouse Flowers’ co-founder, vocalist-guitarist Justin Reuther, he decided to take a backseat, play bass and let his new partner write all the material. “The songs were that good,” Ziegler says. Reuther came to Milwaukee from New Orleans, which explains the reference in the album’s title number to “the parish line” (rather than the usual county line). Something of a musical outsider in the city of Mardi Gras Indians and The Neville Brothers, Reuther finds Milwaukee more congenial. “New Orleans doesn’t have much of an audience for original music. Milwaukee is much more receptive,” he says.

Ziegler and drummer Mike Budde are carpenters of rhythm, building a strong wooden framework for the songs. Lead guitarist Brian Scheehle lays down a soft, sharp crunch. Guest stars play a prominent role on some of Chasing the Sun’s tracks, including Chrissy Dzioba, who shares a lead vocal, pedal steel player Leroy Deuster, who infuses the more countryish material with the sound of tear drops, and keyboardist Matt Meixner, whose mighty Hammond B3 organ puts the accent on rock in country rock.

Although Ziegler is credited as Chasing the Sun’s producer, he concedes the importance of the man in the recording booth, engineer-musician Jeff Hamilton. The album was knocked out in classic ’60s style, 13 songs recorded in three days—plus a few sessions for overdubbing keyboards and pedal steel. The white-hot intensity of a band-in-the-moment-of-a-song is audible throughout, yet Hamilton’s well-tuned ears guided the process toward the end result. “He was great to work with,” Ziegler says. “We had good ideas for vocals. He told us when we were doing dumb stuff.

“I’ve been playing rockabilly and blues all my life,” he concludes. “I had to up my game for this band. The arrangements are a lot more involved. I wouldn’t say Doghouse Flowers are breaking new ground but for me—it’s been learning to play a different ballgame.”

Doghouse Flowers perform Saturday, May 17 at 9 p.m. at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn.