Listen Up! Music
I’ve never been a dog owner, but I’ve always loved songs about dogs, because they’re a safe space for macho rock stars to express unconditional love. Paul McCartney was worried Martha would forget him. Neil Young wore widow’s black for Old King. Randy Newman sang with heartbreaking sincerity about the “meanest dog in Alabam’.” Now I have another to add to the list: “The Dog Song,” by folksinger Dan Woodman, from Lebanon, Maine. Like every track on Woodman’s debut LP, Earthdog (released by Listen Up! Music, a Portland nonprofit that supports musicians with “intellectual uniqueness”), “The Dog Song” is a traditional folk arrangement, just three chords of acoustic strumming, with a dash of banjo and chirping harmonica. It’s the ideal foundation for a disarmingly sincere ode to man’s best friend.
My ugly doofus dog / He is loyal to the end
You can keep your pedigree / All I’m wantin’ is a friend
He’s as hideous as me / I enjoy his company
My beloved ugly dumb and stinky dog
Delivered in Woodman’s earnest, friendly warble, this unvarnished tune really hits its mark. There’s more folksy wisdom peppered throughout Earthdog, from the farmer’s anthem “Salt of the Earth” to “Back to the Country,” in which a city dweller pines for home.
Well, I tried to make it in the city
But there was something mean in the air
I was chasing someone else’s dream
And I wrongly thought that I would find it there
The album ends with Woodman’s most effective bit of storytelling, a dreamy, Dylan-esque ballad called “Jason and Leah” that follows a mortally ill autistic man in search of companionship. The songwriting manages to both normalize autism and dignify sex workers while telling a compellingly sad tale. Woodman approaches all his subjects the way he treated that dumb, mangy dog: with empathy and love. That’s a lesson we should all relearn.