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The Hangdogs 

Beware of Dog (Shanachie)

New York City's Hangdogs, a roots-rock band with a prairie-sized dose of country twang, have won over many denizens of the urban jungle -- no small task, when you consider that music with such a down-home feel is usually greeted with ridicule in the big city (see their song "They Don't Play No Country on the East Side of New York" as a reference point). Like its predecessor, last year's East of Yesterday, Beware of Dog is a solid example of Americana driven not only by strong compositions (penned by the band's mastermind, singer-guitarist Matthew "Banger" Grimm), but also by alternately poignant and witty lyrics. Beware of Dog carries the weight on the musical end as well; there are catchy hooks galore and not a single dog (pun intended) among the album's 12 songs.

What makes the Hangdogs stand out among the many Americana acts fighting for recognition is Grimm's subject matter. Grimm, who was raised in Iowa but didn't form the band until the early '90s, after he had moved to upstate New York to attend Syracuse University, demystifies the U.S. economy ("Out There"), American history ("Anacostia"), military strength ("The World Is Yours"), and handgun culture ("The Gun Song"). That's not to say that this is soapbox rock -- Grimm tells plenty of stories that don't become didactic. "St. Claire of Cedar Rapids" compares favorably to quintessential Americana artists such as Steve Earle, the Beat Farmers, and Jason & the Scorchers. Their urban roots notwithstanding, Beware solidifies the Hangdogs' place as one of the leading lights of the contemporary Americana movement.

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