The Foghorns – . . . on a Dog’s Ass Sometime
(2017, Knick Knack Records)
“Oh, the way you used to look at me / like an old Trans Am on the road” – so begins . . . on a Dog’s Ass Sometime, the latest album from Seattle’s weary hedonists, the Foghorns. It’s a beautifully honest sentiment, one of discarded illusions, reigned-in ambition and sober self-awareness. Like an aging shit-kicker who’s gaining a gut while losing his looks, it’s both proud and resigned, an admirable achievement for a short-story or novel but a revelation for, essentially, a pop song.
Before delving more into the songwriting and subtext of . . . on a Dog’s Ass Sometime, it’s worth noting the sound of the band and the songs. As a band, the Foghorns have a timeless, lived-in sound that seems both effortless and eccentric. The band is loose and confident, maybe even comfortable, a descriptor that’s rarely a compliment for pop, rock, or folk music. But I’ve been to a Foghorns rehearsal – they’re cramped, wildly inefficient, spottily attended and exceedingly rare. This band hasn’t gained confidence from diligent preparation, but it doesn’t sound improvised or “jammy” either. Their sound is a feat that can only be pulled off by top-notch, veteran players with nothing to prove who’ve decided to follow chief Foghorn Bart Cameron’s wandering lead. Recorded by Foghorn choir director Colin J Nelson at his Fremont basement studio, . . . on a Dog’s Ass Sometime has a sonic language all its own. Particular but in no way affected, the album sounds dry and live and happily out of touch with seemingly the complete body of guitar-based music made since the mid 1960s. The stark, cavernous beauty of the Cowboy Junkies’ best work sounds like the Soft Machine compared to the unadorned Americana of the Foghorns; Uncle Tupelo might as well be Grizzly Bear.
While the Foghorns’ 2011 album, To the Stars on the Wings of a Pig reveled in how selfish, funny, horny, and overall shitty people are, 2015’s The Sun’s Gotta Shine took a more judgmental stance on the shambles of human character per the folky brimstone of songs like “Ain’t I A Man” and “Sons and Daughters of the Molly Maguires.” The Sun’s Gotta Shine, which is also a parenthood/fatherhood record, posits a worldview built around good and evil, moral certitude and the virtues of populist (in the Woody Guthrie, not Donald Trump sense) protest. With . . . on a Dog’s Ass Sometime, the Foghorns turn inward, shine an unglamorous florescent light and learn to live with what they find.
Take “Wisconsin Polka” – a song that, by any measure, should peak as novelty. But it’s a treatise for the record, a life-affirming anthem about honest self-assessment, drunken delusions of grandeur and, of course, screwing. But not the screwing of lithe, young sophisticates bathed in the golden glow of possibility. This is a wild celebration of the screwing of fleshy proletariats trapped in the middle of both the country and their lives. Imagine a tangle of cigarette breath, ill-fitting clothing, love handles, and toothy grins, then face the fact that you’re too uptight and self-loathing to live it up like that. Not bad for a polka.
Then again, maybe “Filthy Old Man” is the treatise for the record, all lechery and love notes. And make note of a line in “Leave the Opera to Florence” that straddles the jaded and the profound – “All my genuflections are so boring / . . . man needs so much more in life than love” – that should be the epigraph of a novel written by anyone unsullied by the dull narcissism of the modern Creative Writing MFA cult. “When Your Father Bought That Harley Davidson” is countrified story-telling of the highest order, while “Sleepy Waltz” is a desperate love song built around disappointment and failure that might be the most affecting track on the album. “Spanish Accusations” is a cover of a song I wrote and originally recorded, so my reactions are limited to bemusement and gratitude.
I’ve written a lot about the Foghorns over the years, starting with To the Stars on the Wings of a Pig through The Big F EP and their contributions to various volumes of Ball of Wax. The Foghorns are a band deserving of that kind of thought and (re)consideration – I only wish it could bring them more acclaim. They’ve earned our attention once again with . . . on a Dog’s Ass Sometime, a record as much about acceptance as memory, with songs that touch upon nostalgia couched in a kind of moral exhaustion. Lullabies and rave-ups stripped of all illusion. Songs about desire stripped of ambition, inebriation, erections, humiliations and joy.
Get this album, people, and listen to it. Listen to it a lot. If you’re young it will make you feel older and tested and free and alive. If you’re middle-aged or old, it will make you feel at home in the world and at peace with your vices, your awkward lusts and your lingering love of beauty. And if you’re in the Puget Sound region, be sure to go to Conor Byrne this Saturday, April 1st for the release show with Tekla Waterfield and Quiet Oaks.