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L.S. UNDERGROUND - DOGFISH JONES (*NEW-CD, 2005, Retroactive Records) Mike Knott

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L.S. UNDERGROUND - DOGFISH JONES (*NEW-CD, 2005, Retroactive Records)

UPC: 734923080527 / Retroactive Records – RAR 7806

1 Dogfish Jones
2 Storm At Sea
3 Let Me Out
4 Barnacle Bob
5 Down
6 Greensea Island
7 Hated Souls
8 Tell Of The Well
9 Mercy Maid
10 Magical Rainbow Door
11 Seashell Sally
12 Edge
13 Shanghai Overdrive
14 The Boyos

REVIEW (of Light Records original issue)
Michael Knott: mayhem magnet or mostly misunderstood? Maybe to some extent both, but the former by circumstance not choice. He does seem to crave both attention and acceptance. Wild rumors abound, most of which are historically unfounded, especially if careful attention is paid to his honest albums full of ironic wit, faith-filled encouragements, and stark observations of life at once joyous and cruel. Too tawdry for the church-minded? Too tame for the mainstream? A boundary pushing pioneer? A prolific musical genius? And worse yet (gasp), an imbiber of alcohol! Blame him if you want for being a wild rock and rolling, attention-grabbing sinner--but please don't make the mistake of dismissing him as a saint. His considerable body of work as the front man and principle songwriter for the Lifesavers, LSU, Aunt Bettys, Brow Beat compilations, and a handful of solo albums all testify to his desire to serve God both truly and artfully. Yet in spite of this ample evidence, Michael Knott still swims a sea of controversy. How appropriate that his latest concept album features a seafaring soul in search of redemption.

Although the lyrics are not always easy to make out, the plot clearly centers around a weathered seaman alternately referred to as both Dogfish Jones and Barnacle Bob. This poor sailor is then shipwrecked, swallowed whole by a whale, swamped by personal struggles, shot at by killer mermaids but rescued by a sexy one, and later subjected to skirmishes with scurvy pirates. If that wasn't enough, he also falls in love with Seashell Sally--plus learns a little something about himself. Not bad for a boy by the name of Barnacle who just "can't seem to get it right." Thematically, the album explores envy and relational difficulties using the Greensea Island as an appropriate metaphor. Could this be Knott's own personal story? It not only seems very likely, but a strong case could be made. Nevertheless, some of the surprises are best left unexamined in a review. Why spoil your personal exploration of the album? Lyrics are not included, but you'll get the gist after repeated listens. It might take that long for your overall appreciation to grow on you--not like an unwanted algae but more like a worthy fondness for rich, hearty seafood. The more you eat, the more you will be satisfied.

In the past, Michael Knott under his various monikers has explored everything from aggressive acoustic to surf-pop, neo-classic rock to modern hard rock. Same story with Dogfish Jones, which owes some passing similarities to other LSU projects, as well as the expected divergences and other assorted weirdness. One of the most pleasant of these is Gene Eugene's keyboard bits--which sound like spooky, bubbling, undersea organs. His inspired playing is one of the most noticeable sonic effects on the album, especially on the stand-out cut "Let Me Out." The rest of the band is basically the Aunt Bettys with Farewell to Juliet's guitarist, Jeff Elbel, replacing Brian Doidge. Together they create a sound that invokes everyone from Bowie to The Who, The Beatles to the Beach Boys, even Floyd and The Stones, without stealing any unwanted seaweed. Knott uses his entire vocal range here, from higher-pitched caterwauling to lower brooding. At times the vocals are layered rather thickly, but don't fear that Knott has turned into Enya. Not quite. The overall effect is a unique one to a Knott album, and makes for compelling listening. Howard Knott, Michael's father, appropriately embodies an old sea dog himself on two tracks of a traditional sea-faring folk nature. Musically, these two chanties are at odds with the capricious classic/modern rock blend of the rest of the album; however, they provide an appropriate thematic fit and sound delightful raucous--the kind of song that will make you forget you're swabbing the deck.

There is plenty to admire here: a creative plot, fun concept, interesting arrangements, and a profusion of fish stories worth sharing. As a concept album it appears to be more personal in nature, but not quite as compelling or energetic as The Grape Prophet. Perhaps the story lacks high enough stakes or is just too much of struggle to make out at times, but this one may not grab you quite as speedily or solidly. It verges on, but doesn't quite reach, his best work like Shaded Pain, The Grape Prophet, Grace Shaker, and the quintessential Aunt Bettys. Regardless, it is still a considerable, creative, and ambitious artistic statement from one of our resident geniuses. And recommended.

One of the better-produced LSU albums, with a boatload of fun songs and great new album artwork by Knott himself, Dogfish Jones is seaworthy for inspection. Don't be caught out in the waves without it! Drop anchor at your local music store, and pull this one in before the sea swells and the seashore sinks out of sight.

By Steven Stuart Baldwin (9/2/98)

After the uninspired, unsuccessful stint with The Aunt Bettys, Knott reclaimed the L.S.U. mantle for another rock opera, the sea fable Dogfish Jones. Initially, the record was more talked about than heard: Flying Tart, the label for which it was recorded, had gone bankrupt, leaving Dogfish Jones in temporary limbo. When it was finally released by Light after a several month delay, it suffered from limited distribution and scant availability. Which is a shame, because Dogfish Jones is a step back toward the inspired psychosis of early L.S.U. Though there are occasional pauses for acoustic-based ballads like "Sea Shell Sally", the bulk of Dogfish Jones is given over to wild-eyed, manic numbers like "Magical Rainbow Door" and the grim, Peter Murphyish "Greensea Island". "Tell of the Well" boasts the same sort of jabbering verses as "The House of Love". Though the story line is considerably more muddled than The Grape Prophet, Dogfish Jones displays a daring and recklessness that hasn't been evident in Knott's work since Cash in Chaos World Tour. The record is dominated by Gene Eugene's haunting, funereal organ and Knott's loose-stringed acoustic. Its minimal production recalls Wakin' Up The Dead, and it's two-verse songs have a droning, mantra-like quality that is distinctly unsettling. Most bizarrely, the record features Knott's father Howard giving creaky voice to two Irish sea ballads that seem the product of Ween's The Mollusk. The songs rely heavily on Knott's acoustic guitar, layering several electric guitar lines over his plaintive strum. If it were released after This is the Healing, Dogfish Jones would sound like the logical bridge between that record and The Grape Prophet. But coming as it does under the radar and almost as an afterthought, Dogfish Jones is L.S.U.'s least prestigious release, and their most undeservedly ignored.  All Music Review