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Give The Dog A Bone

PAUL GROSS AND DAVID KEELEY

[Editor's note: This limited edition Gross and Keeley CD was released in January 2001. The commercial version came out later the same year and was retitled Songs of Love and Carnage. Flyer, October 2001]

by Mary Beth Brown

Give the Dog a BoneThis review contains the personal opinions of the writer, developed with discussion buddies and list sibs, and through endless listening to the CD. I don't claim to be a music critic, just one woman with opinions.

Overall, Give The Dog A Bone is a strong album - more assured than Two Houses, and several songs longer, which is not a bad thing. Gross and Keeley have grown as songwriters; lyrically this album is more creative, though a couple of songs don't quite work for me. They have strong players around them, and good back-up singers.

From interviews with Paul Gross and David Keeley, it is on the record that they both write the songs, and the singing of the song depends on whose voice is better suited to it. I like this Lennon-McCartney approach; because we listen as fans, I've noticed a tendency to think that because Paul sings song 'A' he must have written it, and vice versa. This lets a particular favorite "off the hook" if the listener dislikes a song, and that isn't fair to either writer.

This album is (once again) difficult to categorize; I don't see it as either 'folk' or 'country' or any other category. I also appreciate a certain timelessness to the songs; there isn't much beyond a couple of lyrics and a few studio tricks that could "date" this album to a particular period.

Give The Dog A Bone

This is a rocking, down and dirty sound, and gets the album off to a strong start. It's the kind of song you might wish your local garage band could come up with! A driving beat and accent from the horn section enhance the sly humor of the lyrics (which are fairly down and dirty too!); the sax playing in the bridge is terrific. A real bar band, get 'em on the dance floor tune. Great fun.

Cherry Beach

A showcase for David's voice; he has a good range and a real way with a ballad. Strong, evocative lyrics here, including the line "Then the angels call your name / They call you hunger / They call you beautiful" - I like the writing and structure. A ringing rock guitar in the bridge strengthens the emotion of the song.

No Business

Paul's voice really works here, in a country-tinged song. The lyrics tell of lost opportunities, mistakes made and misplaced desires. While I can't quite figure out the "bears that run free", the change in the final chorus makes all the difference:

You can take it all out on all them summers by the sea
You can take it all out on all those lost October dreams
Or you can take it all out on me.

A beautiful song.

If Heaven Had A Back Door

Another song with a backing horn section, this time with a Tower of Power sound by way of Stax/Memphis. David's voice is strong here; a hint of this song came at the PAL benefit in Stratford (Autumn 2000) when he sang a couple of songs with a full horn section. I'm glad to hear it carried over on the album. Well written and well performed; I particularly like the line "I haven't been the nicest man / In fact I've done some harm."

Secret In Your Eyes

Hands down, the best song on the album. It must be heard to be fully appreciated; words aren't enough to describe its impact. Paul is heartfelt and a little raspy singing a beautiful lyric; a very sexy and wonderful sound.

"I swear this ain't a love song" he begins, and ends with "Just a song about your eyes" - like hell! This is the love song we all wish, at some point, someone would sing to us, for us, about us. (Or maybe I'm just projecting.)

More lovely imagery; on first hearing "I'll walk you through the corridors / Where the wounded poets drink / … can't lose you again", it called to mind the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Family Matters

While this has been previously recorded (flip side of the UK version of 32 Down on the Robert MacKensie), this was my first encounter - I'd be interested to know if it was re-recorded, or if this is the 'original' version.

I find this an intensely moving song, heartbreaking really. Lovely images like "a barn that kneels with every rain" enhance the desolation and sense of loss. Paul's voice is at once plaintive and strong, and the story is told clearly. The dreamy backing vocal and light fiddle on the chorus complete the emotional pull. This is one song that really does fall into the folk or country category.

Other Side of Life

Give the Dog a Bone track listWhile there are things I appreciate about this song, it is my least favorite. David has a beautiful voice, and seems emotionally connected, but it falls flat for me. I think because (to my ear) it is too "new" country, the sort of song that Garth Brooks sings which gets too mawkish and overblown for my taste. I felt the same way about Papa's Front Porch from Two Houses.

And yet ... I like the melody, the mandolin accents are nice, as is the sax line at the end. Maybe with other lyrics, I'd like it better.

Jerusalem

With the boy choir intro, my first thought was "How rock opera!" Then the rocking country sound kicked in and I was hooked. More good writing, lots of humor, another intense guitar bridge, and Paul moving from straight singing into the yelps at the end of some lines - this is a fun song to sing along with, but not where anyone else could hear me!

Studio tricks - the filtering on "Just above the headlights ... " reminded me of something U2 did on Zoo Station about eight years ago. This is one of the few things that "date" the song.

Gone With The Wind

A beautiful sounding ballad sung by David, and the recorder gives an ethereal quality. I'm not wild about the lyrics, though there are some really good images such as, "I stand on the shore / A crippled ship, nothing more". But after hearing a few too many "She's gone with the wind" lines, I just wanted him to get over it. I'd put it down to a bad mood, but I react the same way each time.

Crime Of The Mind

This seems to be the least favorite song among people I've talked to, but I like it. Paul has a good, growl-y voice for the character, but he doesn't serve the story because he garbles too many of the lyrics. The listener is put in the position of trying to translate unintelligible words, instead of enjoying the story.

Here's my best guess: The singer and Len(ny) are bank robbers. Their wanted pictures are "taped to the mirror" of the bar they go into while waiting to be arrested. The bartender makes the connection, stares and is "kinda uneasy". Len blows the dust off the jukebox, the singer looks into the back mirror and sees the lawmen coming - time for one more dance. He offers the bag of money to Pedro (the bartender?) and delivers his message about freedom.

Now, I'll grant that the message overall is pretty simplistic - money won't make anyone happy by itself, no one is ever really free, something inside is always holding us back. But it is put rather better than I have here, and I really like the twangy guitar. The back-up singers put me in mind of the old Ray Charles "country" recordings; they have that same sweet sound.

Kickin' His Shadow

From the synthesizer/organ intro, to the wailing horn section, this song rocks. Get on your feet and dance! What does it mean? I guess it depends on whether you're a Jungian or a Freudian, but ... who cares! Just dance and have some fun with it. David gets his chance to play with a faster paced tune, and he runs with it. Another bar band song, if your bar band is Gross and Keeley, or maybe Huey Lewis and the News.

Paris

This ranks as my second favorite song on the album. It has an intriguing structure, beginning with the spoken introduction, and the instrumental voices are as important as the sung and spoken ones.

Paul begins in a slightly broad accent as the narrator, then into a more nasal voice for the American tourist and his wife. Though they seem to live up to the stereotype of "ugly American", I think a valid point is made that one often loses an appreciation for the familiar, whether that is art, or other "tourist" aspects of a home city or region.

Where this song becomes daring is giving voice to both the city and the internal voice of the man. The city becomes as much a character, telling what it is and giving meaning to being on her sidewalks and so on. The counterpoint of the chorus and clarinet here is simply beautiful. The internal voice says all the things the man can't verbalize, either in his everyday life or here in Paris. At heart, he's a romantic and passionate man who feels the inadequacies of language to express himself. This is aided by the free, non-rhyming verse; a very brave set of verses, which are only slightly marred by a lack of enunciation on Paul's part. A very sexy, romantic and yearning song, beautifully served by musicians and singer alike.

Blame It All On Nashville

A strong intro and bridge, with a ringing guitar reminiscent of U2's The Edge. Wins my vote for best use of lines from Hamlet in a song. While the lyrics don't bear close scrutiny (what does regicide have to do with needing a lover anyway?!), it is a thoroughly enjoyable song. Paul seems to take on the wilder songs that are rougher on the voice; he does another good job here.

Winspear Concert flyerClouds

I like the dreamy sound of this, enhanced by the rich saxophone and strong, simple piano lines. At least one critic I've read complained about the "profane" chorus. But admit it, haven't we all felt that way about love, or not being in love? The second verse, with its Elian Gonzalez reference, is the only thing that places the song at the very end of the 20th century. The sax lines place it about thirty years earlier, to my ears.

This song echoes some of the sentiments on Blind Man from Two Houses - a man alone, apart from his lover, in need and wanting to get back to her. Paul can sing a slow, quiet song, and here he is dreamy and tired, a bit angry, and completely gorgeous.

Holy Love

I understand this was introduced at the Winspear Centre concert as the "ropes and razorblades" song. And yes, on the face of it, a very depressing song. Yet I hear it in a more hopeful way - this couple has come to the end of their relationship and they could do themselves in, but they won't. They won't because doing so would betray their "holy love." I think the "Make me a ... " pairings are prayer, pleas for forgiveness, something other than an intent to suicide. The structure calls to mind the Prayer of St Francis, though not the sentiments.

David's voice is showcased to gorgeous advantage here, and his range is wonderful. When he hits the lower note on "I could read your body like Braille" you can feel it - chills down the spine, just lovely and very sexy.