'Round the Dial
Wednesday 14 May @ 12:56:19
by Tom Hallett
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I build more sandcastles in one lifetime than there are pyramids in Egypt.” -Arlo Guthrie
SONG OF THE WEEK: “My Dog And Me” -John Hiatt
Welcome to this week’s installment of ‘Round The Dial, folks. With what finally looks like the official arrival of Spring and its attendant activities (outdoor beer parties, concerts, idiots burning rubber in Volvos and 1972 Ford pickups, and general sun-shock), I thought it might be pertinent to dub the week of 5/14-5/21 Minnesota’s Keep An Eye On Yer Dawg Week. Over the years, I’ve personally lost a whole passel of cool lil’ critters during this season to the Great Highway Gods—who are generally represented here on Earth by dirty, stringy white guys with kinky hair and those convertible glasses that turn into shades when they’re in the sun. What they’re doing—besides driving 75 miles an hour through residential neighborhoods, blasting Kansas’ third album on quad stereos, and throwing old steel beer cans at mail boxes—is pretty obvious; they’ve been sent here to thin out the dog population in an effective a manner as they can. The problem with these “Spring Flingers” is that they never thin out the part of the dog population that really deserves it—those nappy, yappy, crappy little lap dogs sitting comfortably on some crabby old bag’s lap in a La-Z-Boy armchair while “As The Stomach Turns” bleats from a big-screen television.
Nossir, it’s only the cool, friendly, fun, happy, rock an’ roll dogs—the ones who love to run up to ya and slobber you to the ground, the ones who stink like three days in the Trend Bar dumpster, the ones whose big, glimmering brown eyes drink you in like you’re John Wayne or Faye Dunaway while they try to force you to do some bizarre dance across the room towards their food dish—it’s only those loveable mutts who meet horrible fates under a killing Spring sunshower. And that’s why I’m dedicating this column to clumsy, wet, funny, happy, overgrown puppies everywhere—maybe it’ll make somebody somewhere think twice about speeding through their neighborhood on the way to a “sporting event” or the nearest 7-11 to pick up ice cream for grandma and Beggin’ Strips for her monstrous, hairless little foreign canine representative with a name like “Nipsy” or “Snuggums.”
Do yourselves—and the world—a favor. Take your big, nice, sloppy, fun dog out to a safe park or field and let ‘em run like the wind this week. Keep ‘em off the streets and out of the alleys and backlots of the city, so they’ll live a little longer, a little freer, a little happier. And for God’s sake, send grandma out for a walk around traffic hour every afternoon with that unnerving, useless little excuse of a rat she calls her dog. In the meantime, here’s a list of the top five horrible dog losses I’ve suffered in the past few decades, and a review of the latest from (who else) local rural/rock outfit Ol’ Yeller. Yeah, it all fits together somehow, but don’t worry, you’ve got the whole week to figure it out...
Tom’s Top Five Tragic Dog Losses:
1) Kiska: A gorgeous, half-wolf/half-Malamute mix, she and her mate were the first dogs I remember owning as a 6-year-old in Alaska. After a classic love affair (between the two dogs, not me, you pervert!) and the birth of several litters of equally beautiful pups, she went out in a blaze of glory, crushed under the wheels of a big green hippie schoolbus while chasing a squirrel the size of a Minnesota racoon across a dirt road. Mercifully, she went quick. Unfortunately, the driver who hit her is probably still in fine fettle.
2) Koyuk: Kiska’s mate was never the same after her untimely death. He never did take to that last batch of pups, and eventually his wandering led him to the deep woods, where bear trappers had 14-inch jaws of death waiting in every holler and field with more than an inch of grass in ‘em. After coming home minus a front paw, which he’d chewed off himself to escape a trap, I thought he’d learned. Then one time he just didn’t come home at all. Bear traps are illegal now, but the guys who used ‘em are still walking around—and I think Traps For Guys Who Used Bear Traps should be freely available in fine shops everywhere.
3) Vern: Vern was the smallest pup from Kiska’s final litter, and I fell for him the minute I saw him. As the runt, he was constantly being sat on, rolled over and bullied. I took it upon myself to see that he ate and was comfy every night, but a week or so into his little life, his mom unwittingly rolled over on him and crushed him. The same morning that I found him still and lifeless on an old blue blanket in the yard, a call came in saying my grandfather (also named Vern) had passed away. Never, ever, ever, name your dogs after relatives—at least ones you like.
4) Lanky: This mongrel/mutt mix wasn’t technically my dog, but every afternoon as I walked home from school, he’d run up to the edge of his fenced-in yard and follow me along the sidewalk, grinning like an idiot and begging treats. I took to carrying a packet of beef jerky with me, and by mid-year, he and I were old chums. The day I walked by and he didn’t join me, I was so thrown off that I strode into the yard and knocked on the door. An old guy with tired eyes and a yellowing T-shirt answered, and without waiting for my question, told me that Lanky had slipped through the gate the night before and had been immediately taken out by a woman in a Blazer who’d been too busy putting makeup on to notice him loping across the avenue. To this day, when I see women putting makeup on behind the wheel, I pray that their faces are the first thing to go. Damn Max Factor to hell!
5) Lobo: Lobo was my pride and joy, another wolf/Malamute mix, and the one I actually witnessed meeting his death. It was a hot spring day, and Lobo’d found a local girlfriend, a svelte white babe named Matty, who, unfortunately, lived across the road and through a stand of mighty Alaskan timber. Their affair was like Running Bear and Little White Dove, their river an endless ribbon of black tar highway, and looking back, I guess it was only eventual that one of ‘em would die for their love. I was home alone, playing some outdoor, imaginary game (the kind kids don’t play since the advent of video games) when I noticed Lobo running willy-nilly down the long dirt driveway. I yelled for him, but his eyes were firmly fixed on his true love, who sat across the road waiting impatiently for her King Of Hearts.
Almost in slow motion, like a stomach-churning scene from a horror movie, I saw an El Camino racing towards him, heard what was surely a Kansas riff (“...how long, do do do do do do do dooo...”) saw the wild, kinky hair, shaded glasses, and too-white face of the driver as he tossed an old steel beer can out the window. The can bounced once on the shiny blacktop, and then the machine met Lobo’s side square-on, throwing him fifteen feet in the air. He didn’t bounce. And the bastard driving didn’t stop. I screamed and ran down to where my dog lay, barely breathing and covered in blood. Two high school girls on horseback came by, and told me that he’d never make it. They made me turn away while they put Lobo out of his misery with a large rock to the head. As I walked away crying, I noticed Matty sitting in the same spot she’d been, frozen in grief and fear, and I swear there were tears in her big, lonesome northern eyes too. Years later, the guy who’d hit Lobo was killed in a horrible auto accident himself. That time I didn’t cry.
Guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Rich Mattson and his merry band of travelin’ riverside rockers (bassist Dale Kallman and drummer Keely Lane, along with special guest percussionist Andy Deckart and the musical spirits of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Echo & The Bunnymen, and Webb Pierce) return with a fresh batch of countrified pop, rock, and blues riffs on Penance, their strongest effort to date. Mattson, who was born on the Iron Range and has spent the past few years criss-crossing the country in a smaller-scale version of Dylan’s Never Ending Tour, lyrically captures the essence of places geographical, seasonal, and of the heart with an almost unnerving accuracy. Kicking off with the bright blast of “The Peaceful One,” the band immediately makes it clear that they’re not planning on taking any prisoners this time ‘round, and lines like “So the summer regrets that you felt so much heat...” establish Rich’s keen sense of his surroundings. “Share It” is more wistful, conjuring images of road life as seen from both sides of a relationship: “And I’ll bet she’s sleeping alone tonight...she don’t need some stranger’s affection...”
The album’s title track is, musically, a pure-dee love song—the timeless kind, like “Only You” or “A Lover’s Question”— yet a closer listen reveals Mattson using the heart-stopping riffs and soothing backbeats as a springboard to unleash his disdain for the empty trappings of “the scene,” and its various pitfalls: “You’re from a town of fakers/No one owns their right mind/All they own is anger/Ain’t no friends of mine...” and then explaining it with a shrug, “Noone in my chatroom/They kicked me off the team/Didn’t have the eye of the tiger...” Sublime. “Reading Katie’s Diary” slips outta the gate with a wink and a nod, greasy guitars and throbbing bass upholding the accusatory lines: “Need you know more?/What’d you think, she was a whore?/Well, now that you know the truth/That oughta even the score/She’ll never love you...”
“Secrets” glides in on a sly riff, a moaning blast of harp, and Mattson matter-of-factly stating: “I’m still learning things about girls and boys/And if you’re the deceiver and she’s the believer/She’s got the faith of a golden retriever...” and goes on to indict wayward, deceptive hearts with an angry bark: “It ain’t harmless/Because you’re living in the dark/Nobody knows anything about you no more...you shut the whole gang out/Just hiding from that woman, even though she can’t tell/You’re just mystical enough to keep her under your spell...”
“Fireflies And Bugs” takes you back to simpler places and times with a strum and a sigh, the magical mix of Mattson’s ringing strings and dreamy lines like “Go to a movie and they’ll show you a show/Tonight we’re out walking in the day’s afterglow/Now for a show-show you a show...” coming together in an orgasmic whirl. An absolutely drop-dead, spot-on evocation of nature’s glory, this song was simply meant to be played, heard, and enjoyed in the Great Outdoors—preferably with your partner and your dog close by. As tasty as the season’s first backyard barbeque, and as satisfyin’ as a plate of ribs, potato salad, and smoked ears of corn. Mmm-mm!
“Out In The Sticks” (co-written by Mattson cohort Dan Haeg) is the perfect follow-up—self-explanatory by its title, and yet as deep and timeless as Hank’s “Settin’ The Woods On Fire”—the song lies on a soft bed of harmonica and sleepy bass as Mattson describes how a childhood memory of a simple country home can live forever: “And where there once was a home/Is dead and buried or disowned/Scattered like ashes from an airplane/Where the deer and wolfpacks roam/So desolate and quiet/But still there ain’t no denyin’/A place that does exist/Way out in the sticks...”
“Centerstage” is a jumpy, beat-heavy expose’ of betrayal and passion between two starcrossed lovers, with a tricky ending: “So he took to finding more love on the side/Little secrets/A secret—that’s not a lie/’Til he ran out/Of excuses for getting home at 5AM/She’d be sleeping/There were questions/But she didn’t want to know/Because she loved him/But she was doing the same thing...” Penance’s final two tracks, “Catacombs” and “That Attitude’ll Get You Nowhere,” are trippy, almost psychedelic in their musical difference from the record’s first 10 cuts. The former slams into gear after a brief hoodoo rhythm intro (courtesy of Mammy Nuns drummer Andy Deckart), then frenetically tells the gruesome tale of one “poor old Philbert Aspairt,” who got lost and starved to death in the catacombs beneath Paris, a place where, “nobles used to have parties,” and where, Rich tells his true love, he’ll, “...make love to you, but I can’t wash off the smell...” He ends this little musical slice of The Twilight Zone with: “So in this ossuary that’s now here for the tourists/Down where the bones are stacked so dense/It’s hard for me to make any connections/Unless you speak French...”
Not exactly the sweet little tale one might expect after hearing a whole album’s worth of shimmering love ditties, but then describing the warped life of some Phantom Of The Opera type who lives in catacombs because he likes to “make designs out of these skulls...” isn’t that big of a stretch for a cat who grew up in the mined-out, dredged-up country of the Iron Range. The album goes out on a triumphant note, with Rich, Dale, and Keely pounding out a positively uplifting pop groove over a message to those folks who just don’t ever seem to be happy (especially on the music scene): “And I know there’s just too many choices out there/We’re all fighting for your entertainment dollar/And it’s too bad, tough shit, you can’t ditch in a cab/And your girlfriend’s taking you home/Why don’t you just kick back and let the music roll/Cuz man it’s gonna roll all night...” Rich howls out his final word on the subject with almost palpable glee: “That attitude’ll get you nowhere/It’s my town, I get around it/And I live in a friendly place...”
All in all, Penance is a tough, sexy, honest slice of modern life—and another giant leap forward for what just might be the best fucking band in the Twin Cities these days. Kudos, boys! Check ‘em out at http://www.olyellerband.com. Ol’ Yeller will play their CD release party for Penance @ The Turf Club this Friday, May 16, at 10PM. In addition to the brand new album, they’ll have a few copies of the Country CD available on a first come/first serve basis, so get there early! They also have some really cool T-shirts now—(in the words of the immortal Dale Kallman—rhymes with Mallman)—“...great summer wear, fer only 10 bucks!” Sally forth! That’s it for this week, boys and girls. Tune in again for more, more, more! Until next time—make yer own damn news.