Its a Dog’s Life (2019)
“The vet folkie/activist is still expressing the popular rage, this time around kicking it out with a German band that sounds just as down home as you’d want. While he might be farming out the vocal work to the Brothers for much of the set, it’s Kahn’s show all the way and Pete Seeger and the rest have got to be smiling. Never pedantic and brow beating, the music is the message and it’s good to see activism is still alive and well in the right hands. Solid stuff.” – Midwest Record Review
It’s A Dog’s Life includes ten previously unrecorded Kahn compositions and features his vocals on three of the thirteen tracks. Those include “Government on Horseback,” the first single, where Kahn revives an unrecorded song from 1981.
“When a human says, ‘It’s a dog’s life,’ they mean that their life is pretty rough, according to Kahn. “But when a dog says ‘It’s a dog’s life,’ and adds examples of how great it is to be a dog, that’s a different matter. I suspect this distinction will be lost on many if not most people.”
The latest CD featuring Si’s songs that have never been recorded:
1) It’s A Dog’s Life: When a human says, “It’s a dog’s life,” they mean that their life is pretty rough. But when a dog says “It’s a dog’s life,” and adds examples of how great it is to be a dog, that’s a different matter. I suspect this distinction will be lost on many if not most people.
2) Rats in a Maze: This is one of the songs that makes this album so contemporary. Despite all the movements to clean up the workplaces, the mills and mines, occupational health and safety is as much a critical issue today as it was 50 years ago. Cancer is an epidemic, and much of it is environmentally caused, asbestos being one of the main culprits. I also like the comparison between work and war:
Daddy worked in the shipyard
The bullets were flying
The dust was flying too
His lungs started hurting
He thought he’d only been to work
But he’s really been to war
3) Old Country Store: This is not a contemporary song, but one that harkens back to a different time and way of life, and how memory deals with the past and with loss:
I left town one day in the heat of the evening
Old Jake came to tell me goodbye
He said while I’m here don’t ever forget me
There’s time for that after I die
4) 44 Years: I originally wrote this for the reunion a couple of years ago for the reunion of the Mountain Musicians Cooperative, the group of musicans who hung out at Appalshop in Whitesburg, Kentucky in the 1970s, some of whom were the band for my first album ever New Wood (John McCutcheon, Rich Kirby, Jack Wright, Jon Sundell, Sonny Houston). I changed the title when I realized that that this new CD is coming out exactly 44 years after New Wood. It’s a hymn to friendship, constancy and music.
5) One Dollar Bill: This song takes on poverty, hardship, unemployment and homelessness, maybe even more serious issues today than they were 50 years ago.
6) Gulf of Mexico: I imagine the shrimp fisherman in this song to be one of the Montagnards, indigenous people from the Central Highlands who fought with U.S. troops during the Vietnam war and had to flee when the U.S. withdrew. More than a few Vietnamese ended up fishing for shrimp in the Gulf. I think the line “My children have never seen my country” can stand for the millions of homeless, stateless people seeking refuge today.
7) Hudson River New York Upstate Waltz: On the surface, this is an exercise in how far a rhyme can go and still be considered a near-rhyme, and a song of lost love. Under the surface, it’s a portrait of working class life in old cities where the factories are closing: “My ma took in boarders,” “Windows of factories stare at me emptily.” Can you find my tribute to Smokey Robinson?
8) Hitchiking On Life’s Highway: I haven’t always had the best luck writing sarcastic parodies, which is what I was really trying to do here. But I wouldn’t be surprised if nonetheless it ends up as a modest gospel standard.
9) Red Haired Becky: Friends, are you tired of all those traditional songs where the woman gets gruesomely murdered? Do you long for a feminist revenge ballad with an air of mystery? Look no further.
10) Baltimore Blues: Like “One Dollar Bill,” this looks at poverty, joblessness, homelessness. In both songs the protagonist ends up sleeping on a park bench.
11) Free: A love song, pure and simple.
12) Hard Times: This and the two next songs have an angry, bitter edge to them, which is how so many feel about the destruction of democracy and the rise of the right wing that’s going on not just in the U.S. but around the world. This one lays it out in no uncertain terms:
It’s hard to watch the people struggle
Rust belt cities, dust bowl towns
Hard to watch the bastards smile
As they tear the Constitution down
But it ends on a hopeful, positive note:
It’s hardly time to take a seat
Hardly time to lose your voice
Hardly fair to just complain
As if we never had a choice
For we are born to work and choose
We are born to rip and mend
We are born to win and lose
We are born to rise again
it’s hard times
It’s OUR time
13) Going Going Gone: Even though this song was written many years ago, I can’t imagine anyone listening to it today and not figuring out who I’m talking about now:
Then the sale grew silent
You could hear a needle drop
He motioned up the White House
Put it on the block
But no one bid a nickle
Just stared so hard and cold
You can’t bid on something
That’s already bought and sold
14) Government On Horseback: Nothing recycles quite as well as a song. I wrote this in 1981 for the “Signs of the Times” tour John McCutcheon and I did for three years to protest the election of Ronald Reagan. When he retired from the Presidency, I retired the song. I’m deeply sorry that I was forced to bring it back.