Paw: Dragline (1993)


–PAW: Dragline (1993)

Everyone has those favorite albums from their teenage years that live eternally in our hearts and minds, even if the music is long-forgotten by the general public. Most of us have one or a few cherished records that, despite maybe not exactly conforming to the confines of our primary musical tastes, struck a chord exactly because of their unique beauty and charms. Those rare recordings are the ones that truly stand the test of time, that keep us coming back for just one more listen, one more glorious reminiscence of special music that healed us as it rocked our buttocks off. I believe that everyone has their own Dragline.

I can still remember when I first heard the now-obscure Kansas hard rockers Paw. It was sometime in 1993, I was 17 years old and sitting in my room watching Headbangers Ball on a Saturday night, just like every weekend. At one point, the always strident and annoying host, Ricky Rachman, introduced a video by a brand new band, “Jessie” by Paw. Sandwiched between the omnipresent Anthrax and Danzig videos, this crunch-rocking, gorgeously melodic ode to a boy’s lost dog immediately left me transfixed. This music could not be accurately categorized or labeled. It had this crushingly metallic main riff, a charmingly catchy, crooning vocal line in the chorus and a PEDAL STEEL guitar solo atop pounding, distorted guitar chords. Yes, this was sorta like metal, but yet it was also pop-rock, and a little country, and a fair dose of grunge. It was, well, I think “Paw” sums it all up pretty well.

Needless to say, I purchased Paw’s debut Dragline CD pretty quickly thereafter at my local Denver-area Best Buy store. The musical enigma that is Dragline struck me immediately like a runaway freight train, especially the glorious first five tracks. The rest of the album eventually grew on me too, though that infestation took a bit longer to ferment in my metal-obsessed ear. Paw was hitting its full stride at that time, spawning five singles and receiving moderately-heavy airplay on rock radio from their A&M Records debut. This quartet from Lawrence, Kansas was being lumped in with the whole “grunge” movement that had reached its peak by that time, but to me Dragline was a whole bunch more. It was a ferocious headbanging session under the headphones; it was a quiet stroll through the woods surrounding grandpa’s Northern Michigan farm; it was being a four-year-old city boy again steering the tractor while sitting on grandpa’s lap; it was driving a speeding pickup truck through middle America while downing cans of Bud Lite and blasting Neil Young & Crazy Horse tapes on the stereo–I never did this, but I imagine Paw probably did.=)

Dragline invoked all these all these images and more. It is metal, or rock, or country-metal, or hillbilly psycho-metallo-grunge. It is the soundtrack for a displaced Midwesterner who likes his country music rocking, not twanging. It is raw love and passion. The original Paw lineup of Mark Hennessy (vocals), brothers Grant Fitch (guitar) and Peter Fitch (drums), and Charles Bryan (bass) created one fine dynamic slab of countrified metallic grunge (okay, I kinda like that one). Chock full of aggressive palm-muted riffs, cascading waves of crashing wall-of-sound guitar chords and Hennessy’s raspy, somewhat Eddie Vedder-like vocals, Dragline is a consistently powerful and rollicking affair. But it’s also loaded with sentimental and melodically tender moments, such as the acoustic guitar interlude in “Sleeping Bag,” the timeless chorus and hauntingly-gorgeous pedal steel solo in “Jessie,” and the dynamic use of clean arpeggios throughout to set a brief mellow mood.

Now, I’m not one to normally make a huge fuss over lyrics, but Dragline’s are especially varied, passionate and, oftentimes, tender. They are words that resonate with you for a lifetime. In “Sleeping Bag,” Hennessy is in mourning and worrying about his out-of-control “only brother” who is severely injured in an auto accident: “Why’d you go and do that to your head? Are you so goddamned miserable/You’d feel better off if you were dead?” In the end, the narrator hates his brother’s recklessness even as he mourns his imminent loss, “Someone call a doctor!/Hey, you’re dying and you don’t know/Hey, you make me hate myself/’Cause you’re my only brother/And I can’t say, ‘I love you’/And this is pretty hard/Aww, you’re not around, so I can’t hold your hand/So I crawl/I crawl inside your sleeping bag/Oh and I, don’t think he’s gonna make it/Make it home alive/Please, make it home alive.”

“Jessie,” the band’s biggest single and the album’s centerpiece, seems to simply denote a boy’s straight-forward love for his lost dog: “I lost the dog/ It broke my heart/Please stay with me, and play with me, stay with me.” But the chorus reveals a deeper sense of sorrow and loss, for the boy is a runaway who wants Jessie to stay home and protect himself from the impending life of hardship and pain on the streets. “Aw, but Jessie/It’s cold outside/And I’m not coming home/I don’t know where I’ll be/Oh, when the mornin’ comes/And Jessie, you’re a good dog/Please don’t follow me/Just go on home.” This infectious tune is as moving and sad as it is catchy, and this thread of sweet pain runs throughout the album.

“The Bridge” describes small-town love gone wrong in an ironic manner: “So kiss me again/Oh, before you lie to me,” while “Lolita” seems to follow the plotline of incest and jailbait from Vladimir Nobokov’s iconic 1955 novel of the same name. The rest of the album runs the topical gamut of insatiable lust (“Veronica”), alcoholism (“One More Bottle”), and drug-addicted young women in “Sugarcane”: “I’m just so sick Of watching pretty girls/Doin’ ugly things.” But perhaps the most touching lyrical moment of all occurs in the title track, when Hennessy sings about a boy relishing his most cherished moments with his beloved father: “Hey Papa, ‘Dairy Queen sounds good to me.’”

Indeed. And so does Dragline.

–Tracklisting: 1.) Gasoline 2.) Sleeping Bag 3.) Jessie 4.) The Bridge 5.) Couldn’t Know 6.) Pansy 7.) Lolita 8.) Dragline 9.) Veronica 10.) One More Bottle 11.) Sugarcane 12.) Hard Pig

~ by jonnyboyrocker on October 15, 2009.

2 Responses to “Paw: Dragline (1993)”

  1. Check out a podcast review of Paw’s Dragline here:

  2. I love PAW, theye were great. I know it’s Hungarian, but maybe you could make a translation with Google, so here is my post about them:

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