David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 315: Mark Olson And The Creekdippers (One Eyed Black Dog Moses)

January 6, 2024

Songs about great dogs are not infrequent in rock and roll. Not songs with dogs as metaphor, but songs actually about our constant loving, often irritating, companions. So, not Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog," but instead "Old Shep," to which "Old Shep" can cavort about in the same dog shelter with Neil Young's "Old King" and, of course, Lobo's "Boo," the kind of place where The Monkees can hang around trying to find the dog they wanna buy. I bet they'd pass on Mark Olson and The Creekdippers' "One Eyed Black Dog Moses."

Poor Moses. He may be the coolest dog at the Rock & Roll Shelter, but his owners are really, really weird. On December's Child, Olson (founder of The Jayhawks), his wife, Victoria Williams (noted singer-songwriter of her own regard), and the rest of The Creekdippers give us 10 lovely songs steeped in the tradition of country rock and folk rock. From the opening track, "How Can I Send Tonight," with a lovely piano and a crisp guitar, Williams' backing vocals helping to elevate the recurring line "I thought a tear might dry your eyes/was it wrong for me to say," to the rollicking piano accompanying "Back To The Old Home Place," to "Say You'll Be Mine," Olson partnering with former Jayhawk partner, Gary Louris, replete with banjo and harmonies that could have come from Hollywood Town Hall, there is nothing to suggest that the final track about a dog will be anything but lovely, sweet, and down-home goodness.

Oh my, you would be so wrong.  Our friend Moses is cloaked in some voodoo-inspired midnight romp in the garden of evil. Featuring fuzzy guitar, bizarre lyrics, bluesy harmonica, piercing trumpet and multiple maniac voices, the one eyed black dog Moses is the least freaky creature in the entourage, refusing to even discount that he only has just one eye; he also has only "three legs left to walk." Williams' vocals are the most eerie, sounding like a swamp witch, especially when she channels her best crazy-old-woman voice to counter the deep baritone of someone besides Olson, the guitar, harmonica, trumpet, random banjo pickings, and percussion conjuring up a 6-minute Cujo-inspired nightmare.

For the majority of those last 3-4 minutes of the nightmare, Williams' tortured vocals hold court, Olson, who even with The Jayhawks, had a pretty nasally vocal, is the voice of comfort, not that we are to seek much comfort. Williams had become somewhat famous when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, just a couple of albums into her solo career, leading a bunch of artists, including Pearl Jam, Lou Reed, Lucinda Williams, Soul Asylum and The Jayhawks to contribute to a tribute album covering her songs. With December's Child, released 10 years after the MS diagnosis, her vocal contributions are fairly minimal. I certainly didn't plan to run out and buy any of her solo albums after hearing this. Even on the "normal" songs, her vocals are interesting, even plaintive, but a little screechy.  It's probably no wonder that some reviews compared her to Yoko Ono (not favorably, which I hope is always obvious).

It's not for everyone's tastes, and even if most reviews of December's Child criticize "One Eyed Black Dog Moses," that seems apropos for a song whose first line is "No one wants to tell you your coat looks the best." It is easy to throw Moses out the back door and leave him "standing at the backdoor sniffing at the screen," but he will "be your best friend till the very end." 20 years later, "One Eyed Black Dog Moses" is the only song from December's Child that I seek out, providing the kind of attraction that most black dogs do at the local pound. And since my first three dogs were pretty much all-black mutts likely to never be adopted, I have to have a soft spot for "One Eyed Black Dog Moses."

I think more importantly, I have the feeling that Olson, Williams, and the rest of the Creekdippers had their most fun recording this song versus the other ten less cacophonous tracks off of December's Child. I can be the first one to attack artists' self-indulgence, but "One Eyed Black Dog Moses" is no "Revolution #9" (speaking of Yoko Ono).

In the end, I still feel sorry for Moses. The cover to December's Child shows Olson and Williams sitting next to a golden retriever. Now that's just downright wrong. Who is this Moses, that dog must wonder, while Moses, I guess still penned up in the backyard, must be wondering why he couldn't make the CD cover? Trot out the beauty, I guess, and keep the beast behind the scene.

Mark Olson & The Creekdippers. "One Eyed Black Dog Moses." December's Child. Dualtone, 2002. Live link here.

Day 314: Icehouse "Crazy"

Day 316: Dire Straits "Lions"

see complete list here.