What do you mean you’ve never heard of Tymon Dogg? The man’s only been playing and creating music for longer than most of you have been alive. Hell, he played with The Clash, for whatever sake you want to insert – on Sandinista, lead vocals and violin on “Lose This Skin”. He also played with Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros. If, by some chance you’ve not heard this mad man play, now’s your chance, as his first solo album in more than 20 years, Made of Light, was just released October 20, 2015 on the Thin Man Music label.
One of the first things you have to know about Dogg is that while he’s one of those folks who seems to be able to play any and every stringed instrument invented, the violin is his weapon of choice. When he plays on the violin he creates a storm of passion in his listeners.
He can break your heart or raise your ire to the extent you’ll march off to war. His dragging the bow across the strings can create a banshee wail that will cut a path through any opposition or drag a note from its depths that would wring a tear from a rock.
Then there’s his singing chops. It isn’t what you’d call dulcet – in fact, some might call it a high-pitched screech. However, you can’t be listening properly if you say that. Yes, his voice is much higher than you’d expect – the first time I heard “Lose This Skin” I thought it was a woman singing – but oh is it compelling. It reaches out and grabs you by the throat and forces you to listen to what Dogg is saying. No one is going to claim that Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen or Woody Guthrie have or had great voices, but that’s never stopped anyone from listening to them.
Musically, Dogg’s influences range far and wide. As you’d expect from his previous associations with Strummer, there’s plenty of the raw energy associated with punk. However, you can also hear everything from traditional British Isles folk to the most avant-garde of jazz in his music. While there’s some studio tricks and effects used on the recording, the majority of what you hear on the disc comes from what he is able to accomplish with his voice and instruments.
All of which makes for a perfect underpinning of his lyrics. There’s the sarcastic and biting “Conscience Money”, track one, which makes fun of those who give a pittance in charity to ease their guilt about their accumulated wealth: “Conscience money, conscience money/I made a million, I’ll throw a penny back/I’ll give them a crumb from a bursting sack/When I drink Champagne I offer them the fizz/Conscience money, we all know it is”. The wealthy aren’t his only targets though. He also takes aim at society’s eating habits in general, specifically the way we produce the meat that we eat – via the third song on the album, “Pound of Grain”.
What’s good about this one is the fact he doesn’t condemn the eating of meat or act all sanctimonious about being a vegetarian – I have no idea if Dogg is or isn’t one. Rather, he’s simply attacking the waste and cruelty involved with its manufacture. “The hunter doesn’t hunt anymore/He gets his meat like a vulture from a corner store/He must feel brave as he goes in for the kill and gets out his credit card and approaches the till”.
He’s not just a satirist, however. The songwriter also writes beautiful and hopeful songs like track seven, “As I Make My Way”. As with all the best folk music, it’s deceptively simple both musically and lyrically, which makes its message all the clearer. “When I was a young man my friend said to me/Remember you’re just a part of all humanity/Well I forgot, I strayed, in ego games I played/Now I recall that simple truth as I make my way”. Throughout the course of the song Dogg shows how there are plenty of opportunities along the way for all of us to remember this simple lesson of compassion. We just have to listen.
With Dogg you need to rid yourself of any expectations when it comes to what you’re going to hear, because he’s going to defy them. He keeps you off balance with both his lyrics and his music as he explores new motifs in both from song to song. What’s even better is while he definitely has something to say, he’s also a gifted enough musician to blend the music and the message into a seamless package.
Some people may not be overly thrilled with what he has to say or how he says it. But the world needs voices like Dogg’s to keep us on our toes and to remind us of how much better we could all be as people. Without preaching or being overbearing, and with a great deal of humour at times, Made of Light does all of those things. If you’ve never listened to Dogg before, or you just haven’t heard him in a long time, now’s the time – you won’t ever forget the experience.
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