In the past, Baltimore-based singer/songwriter Jason Dove’s music never quite clicked with me, despite encouraging signs like his classic power pop influences, and the sense of humor in display in his entertaining Jason Dove Diaries YouTube series. But the click has definitely at least started to happen with Illegal Activities, his third solo album and first with a new backing band, Vacation Face. That sense of humor is still more restrained on Dove’s records, though; even when some laughter rises up in the mix on the song “Each And Every One Of Us,” it’s directly following the droll lyric “information doesn’t make advertisers any money.”
Recorded by local rock mainstays J Robbins (formerly of Jawbox) and Chris Freeland (formerly of Oxes) and released by The Beechfields, the sound of Illegal Activities is dominated more by keyboards than Dove’s previous releases thanks to Vacation Face’s Mike Ward on piano and organ, but the sound isn’t actually any softer. Christopher Demeo, of Dove’s previous backing band the Magic Whip, plays drums on one song on Illegal Activities, and the right amount of Keith Moon-style bombast that he brings to the piano-driven rocker “If You Think We Don’t Care” helps make it one of the album’s best tracks, as well as its shortest at only 2 minutes 22 seconds. That song, along with the peppy “Song For Neil,” the ballad “Hallelujah,” and the twangy closer “Be Free,” make up the strong quartet of songs that end Illegal Activities on a high note, to the point that you almost wish Dove had instead frontloaded the best stuff to grab your attention earlier in the album.