Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Jeff Plankenhorn: “Sleeping Dogs” (2018) CD Review

Jeff Plankenhorn is reportedly focusing on his solo career these days, especially after the success of his 2016 release, SoulSlide. And that works just fine for us, because it means the release of new material like that on Sleeping Dogs, which is due out in May. This new album features original material, written or co-written by Jeff Plankenhorn, on which he plays a fairly wide variety of instruments – acoustic guitar, electric guitar, lap slide, pedal steel, bass, glockenspiel, melodica, piano and organ. He is backed by Scrappy Jud Newcomb on guitar, bass and piano; and Pat Manske on drums and percussion. Other musicians join him on certain tracks, including Ray Wylie Hubbard (who also co-wrote a song with him) and Patty Griffin.

The album begins with its title track, “Sleeping Dogs,” which has a certain kind of charm, sort of in the way of some of Tom Petty’s work. This is a good pop song with some undeniably catchy elements. And I love the way Jeff Plankenhorn delivers certain lines, like “You say some things behind my back/Well, I’m not so very concerned with that/Your problem has never been mine.” Plus, those are great lines. I seem to find new things to like about this track each time I listen to this album. That’s followed by “Love Is Love,” which has more of a folk sound, and is – as you might have guessed – a song about love. Hurrah for correct grammar; I appreciate the use of “with whom” in the line “You can’t choose with whom you fall.” This is ultimately a positive song, with lines like “Love don’t mind your religion/Love don’t know about race/Love don’t care where you may come from/Love doesn’t need to explain” (and, yes, I’m aware that the correct grammar kind of went out the window with the repetition of “Love don’t” – oh well) and “We are born knowing love/Have to be taught how to hate/To let go of all your preconceived notions/You only need to relate.”  

“Tooth And Nail” has a meaner, kind of darker sound, but also a sense of humor in lines like “Like an old cat having kittens/You just crawl under the porch and do it” and “It’s a Baptist church on a Sunday morning with a hungover choir.” Ray Wylie Hubbard, who co-wrote the song with Jeff Plankenhorn, joins him on acoustic guitar and vocals. The line “Coming off the rail” feels so apt these days. Doesn’t it feel like we’ve all gone off the rails? Then Patty Griffin joins Jeff Plankenhorn on vocals on “Holy Lightning,” which has kind of a sweet vibe, and is a bit of country, with the presence of pedal steel. Their voices sound beautiful and sad together while singing “I keep on driving/But I don’t know why/And I don’t know where I’m going tonight.” And Jeff’s line “Do you still think of me when you turn out the light?” is heartbreaking. “Holy Lightning” was written by Jeff Plankenhorn, Miles Zuniga and Scrappy Jud Newcomb. That’s followed by “Never Again,” which begins with a rough, raw thumping beat. “Yeah, and you tell yourself you’ll leave come midnight/But it’s two in the morning before you start feeling right.” We can all relate to those lines, eh? “Never Again” was written by Jeff Plankenhorn, Jon Dee Graham and Scrappy Jud Newcomb.

“This Guitar” is a really good folk tune in honor of the instrument that brings the music to the crowd, and Jeff Plankenhorn delivers it without other musicians accompanying him. That is, without other instruments. Just acoustic guitar and vocals. It’s almost a love song to the instrument. “This guitar don’t belong to me/It’s for all to hear and see/I never claimed to be the star/When I owe it all to this guitar.” When I first picked up this CD and glanced at the song titles, “I Don’t Know Anything” was the track I was most excited to hear, based solely on its title. That title seems to capture how a lot of us feel these days, when everything is completely fucked up. Anyway, it’s a fun, cheerful-sounding pop song.  Everybody wants to roll the dice/Everybody wants to take a swing/Don’t ask me for my advice/I don’t know anything.” “I Don’t Know Anything” ends up being one of my favorite tracks. It was written by Jeff Plankenhorn and Miles Zuniga. Miles also joins him on this track, playing acoustic guitar and providing vocals. The album then concludes with “Heaven On Earth,” which has an easygoing rhythm and vibe. On this one, Emily Gimble joins Jeff on vocals. “Take a walk with your love through the woodlands/You will see what this life’s truly worth/There’s no need to wait for untold futures/Today you can have heaven on earth/If only for a moment, heaven on earth.”

CD Track List
  1. Sleeping Dogs
  2. Love Is Love
  3. Tooth And Nail
  4. Homecoming
  5. Holy Lightning
  6. Never Again
  7. Further To Fall
  8. Piece Of Cake
  9. This Guitar
  10. I Don’t Know Anything
  11. Heaven On Earth 
Sleeping Dogs is scheduled to be released on May 4, 2018 on Spike Steel Records.

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