Upon hearing the term "novelty song," some listeners cringe -- which is understandable given how many truly horrendous novelty songs were recorded back in the late '40s and '50s. But truth be told, there are good novelty songs and bad novelty songs -- and singer/producer/songwriter Murray Weinstock provides some good, well-constructed novelty songs on Tails of the City (as opposed to Tales of the City). The tails that Weinstock and his guest vocalists (who include Dr. John and the great but underexposed Phoebe Snow) is referring to are the tails of dogs; everything on this 47-minute disc is canine-influenced in some respect. But Weinstock's lyrics are full of cute and clever double-entendres, and his dog references are often metaphors that apply to human situations. Stylistically, Tails of the City is not easy to pin down; Weinstock gets into everything from ska on "Big Dogs Need More Food" to New Orleans-style rock on "Dixie Dog" (which features Dr. John) to blues-rock on "Bad Dog." Meanwhile, "My Buddy" (not to be confused with the famous World War I-era standard) hints at '30s jazz in a somewhat Hoagy Carmichael-ish fashion. Overall, Tails of the City is fun and lighthearted, but the disc ends on a very serious and poignant note with "War Dogs" -- which, despite its canine references, is obviously an ode to American servicemen who have experienced the horrors of combat. "War Dogs" favors neither the idiotic, chest-thumping jingoism of far-right buffoons like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Ann Coulter nor the equally buffoonish anti-Americanism of the far left; rather, it is a song that exalts U.S. servicemen as exactly what they are -- heroes -- but doesn't glamorize war in the least. "War Dogs" is patriotism with a brain -- not knee-jerk jingoism -- and it's a memorable way to conclude this enjoyably diverse CD.
Tails of the City Review
by Alex Henderson