Who could forget the lurching opening bass-line to Salty Dog's 1990 semi-hit, "Come Along?" I know that's what I remember most about that song, aside from the singer shrieking "WHOOOOOOOOOOOOO, BAAAAY-BAAAAY!" But man, that bass-line. I bet you've spent many a lonely night thinking to yourself "Goddamn, whatever happened to the guy that did that?" Come on, you know you have ... What? You haven't? Well, fuck you and your blatant disregard for the abiding mysteries of rock 'n' roll! In fact, just for that, I'm going to go ahead and TELL you what happened to the guy that laid down that bass-line.
Michael Hannon is his name, and he re-emerged a couple years ago with American Dog, a scruffy, bar-ready three-piece from Columbus, Ohio. I actually have a promo-single for a song from their first album, 2000's Last of a Dying Breed. The song was called "Barely Half Alive," and at the time, I remember thinking, "heh! For being barely half alive, they sure are playing pretty good. And fast. And loud." When next we met the Dog, they were putting out a live EP called "Six-Pack: Songs About Drinkin' and Fuckin'." Ah yes, two of the best popular (and best) topics for rock songs, am I right? I mean, sure, the rain-forest is very important and all, and we all probably should feel bad for Tibet, and Uncle Ronnie's fairy-tales sure are interesting, right? I mean, how 'bout them elves? ... See? I didn't figure you gave a shit either.
It's no surprise that these two themes (drinking and fucking, I mean, not all that other shit) figure prominently in American Dog's latest offering, Red, White, Black n' Blue. Especially drinkin'. Good God, can these boys put away the alcohol! At certain points during the album, you wonder how many Hannon and Co. have tied on before picking up their instruments. Not that there's anything wrong with that, as the man said. Any guitarist would be proud to play like the Dog's Steve Theado. The man is simply an undiscovered wizard, lacing his revved-up Nugent-style riffing with lots of lead licks and almost Van Halen-esque solos and bluesy whoops and howls that would make Billy Gibbons so happy he'd lose his dentures.
The CD kicks off with the self-revelatory "Shitkicker," all about the joys of propelling excrement with one's foot. Figuratively of course. This, like many other songs here, is a romping, uptempo number that, despite its quick pace, should NOT be misconstrued as having punk stylings. "Shitkicker" also features some of Hannon's best singing.
Next in line is "Train." Ah, but it wouldn't be a redneck-rock album without a song about trains or train references, now would it? Here ya go, Schmookie: a stomping tune with a big sing-along chorus. Theado again dominates. His distortion is too sharp for me to make another remark about "twangy open-A chords," so I won't do that here, even though there ARE plenty of songs set in the key of A, the best key for this type of music. In fact, Theado is actually the loudest thing about this band, and as noted earlier, not without good reason.
"Can't Throw Stones" follows, and this one is slow enough (relatively speaking) that you could conceivably sway back and forth to it without looking like a retard. Hannon's wry lyrics include the following wink-and-nudge: "You've found a girl, she's lots of fun, too bad for you, she weighs a ton." Just for the record, American Dog want you to know they don't discriminate, and neither should you. It just ain't nice. Anyway, "Can't Throw Stones" would probably be my choice for first single, if there was to be one. But alas, it ain't gonna happen. How could Mr. Program Director possibly make room for this, when he's already accepted the payoff for all that prefab "active rock" he's decided you're going to hear until you puke. (This is an actual radio term, and it roughly translates to "HYPER-active rock," which can be expanded to "hyperactive seventh-grade boy rock.")
We get the obligatory canine reference next, with "Dog Will Hunt." Hannon, with his loud, rattly bass, and drummer Keith Pickens lay down a tight boogie rhythm while Theado busts out a positively evil riff that makes you feel like breaking a few traffic laws or small appliances.
We get a few more fast, Motorhead-on-moonshine rockers: "Blame It On the Booze" (nice drumming from Pickens), and "Swallow My Pride" (blistering riff from Steve Theado, but then are you surprised at this point?). A couple more would-be singles show up in the form of "Motors Down," with an insanely catchy chorus hook, and "I Keep Drinkin' (You're Still Ugly," in which Hannon cites his mama as an influence (another requisite for classification as redneck-rock), and reminds us that sometimes, beer goggles just don't cut it.
But the true gem of the album is the final track. Most bands would've done this as a joke and then hidden it safely away after a long period of silence, figuring that if it WAS a bad idea after all, then half their audiences would be too dumb to find it anyway. Not so with American Dog. What we have here is the drunkenly brilliant "Bullshit (Goddammit)." The band, obviously bombed out of their gourds, offers up a REAL country song. It's a silly, short, acoustic anthem of defiance. Hannon slurs his way through the belligerent lyrics, exaggerating his accent and displaying true satisfaction when he gleefully proclaims "And frankly, your opinions don't mean dick!" And then it's time for the harmonica solo, initiated by Hannon hollering something to his bandmates, who chortle in delight. And in case you''e ever wondered, yes you CAN be too drunk to play the harmonica. Even so, toward the end, as the song starts to spiral out of control and Hannon lets out a mighty cackle, you can't help but cackle along with him. That's how convincing it is. Other bands, even in the narrow confines of redneck-rock (including the often-intentionally campy Nashville Pussy) would do this as a joke.But with American Dog, you get the sneaking suspicion they just might be serious.
So we've got ourselves a handful of "good' to "damn good" rockers, an unknown guitar madman, a hell of a drummer who's often buried in the mix, a singer who sends out most of his lyrics by way of his nose, and we'll throw in a healthy dose of humor, pour in a bunch of alcohol, shake it up and drink it fast. It's American Dog! Great for biker rallies (they're becoming staples at Sturgis), barbecues, joyrides through the rich section of town, and telling that pesky coffee-shop girl who won't leave you alone that she don't know you near as good as she thinks she does. Or anything else that involves fun, alcohol, or not having to think too hard.