Every so often, a record comes along that simply refuses to define itself. So it is with Salute, the debut CD from five Wisconsin guys known as The Sled Dogs. Complex acoustic arrangements and dominant keyboard lines give the band a progressive flavor, but multiple harmonies, the use of congas and the like, and a drummer named Dunes add lots of dimension to the sound spectrum. Not surprisingly, The Sled Dogs' live gigs include covers by artists as diverse as The Beatles, John Hiatt, Peter Gabriel and Pink Floyd.
Singer, guitarist, percussionist and harmonica player Bill Laufenberg's high voice sounds slightly heartbroken, at times recalling Neil Young. Factor in the other players - guitarist and singer Rick Tvedt; guitarist, percussionist, guitar player and singer Matt Underwood; bass player Regis D. White; and Dunes - and comparisons can be made to The Moody Blues, Van Morrison, Jethro Tull and even the KBC Band (the oft-overlooked, mid-Eighties Jefferson Airplane offshoot).
A pair of instrumentals (the bass-heavy and world-beat "Five Four" and the psychedelic "Distant Origin") bookend moving and melodic ballads ("Winter Solstice"), upbeat classic rock ditties ("Ace") and moody epics ("The Stream"). But it is album opener "Just Away" that encapsulates The Sled Dogs' musical mission with catchy harmonies, a powerful piano riff, snappy acoustic melodies, a lazy-summer-day tempo and love-and-friendship lyrics. And, like most of the nine songs on Salute, "Just Away" sounds vaguely familiar. Indeed, listening to this album brings to mind snippets of several artists - other critics have mentioned Kansas and even Journey - but none of those influences are so overwhelming that they detract from The Sled Dogs' distinct sound. In this case, the beauty of Salute really is in the ears of the beholder.