And the winner for cutesiest band around is…awwww, you guessed! But quick, let’s give Poi Dog Pondering credit for not only being cute. Point at random to a spot on a world map, and no doubt this band can play its own version of that spot’s native music. The musicians must have mastered every known instrument; every few moments one of the eight people who currently make up the band seems to jump in with something new, maybe adding an exuberant banjo lick to the general swirl of musical color, or else something fetching on Jew’s harp, accordion, or trombone.
Poi Dog Pondering also has a philosophy, a kind of happy-go-lucky pantheism that animates everything with good cheer throughout Wishing Like a Mountain and Thinking Like the Sea. Love (in ”Spending the Day in the Shirt You Wore”) is all ”bare feet, new sprouts, garden hoses.” Even death is rhapsodized (in ”Bury Me Deep”) as a chance to return to the earth everything you’ve eaten in your life, all ”the carrots, the apples and potatoes, the chickens and the cows, the fish and tomatoes.”
At least the band can shelve the good cheer and once in a while (as in its quasi-hard rock song, ”Fruitless”) sound almost abrasive. But I just don’t buy the act, even though Poi Dog Pondering caused a minor sensation when they burst upon the national scene from Austin, Tex., two years ago.
In ”The Ancient Egyptians,” they seem to be telling us that people from ancient civilizations didn’t have roads. Therefore (or so we’re supposed to conclude), those folk lived their lives more easily than we do: ”People would walk wherever they had to go.” But the Egyptians did have roads; they had chariots; they had wars, plagues, and armies of slaves building pyramids. Wouldn’t you like to have lived in those easygoing times? The members of Poi Dog Pondering may well be smart, but only up to a point. They seem to accept their favorite assumptions much too easily. Long before the end of the album, their music has started to sound just as facile. C+