Mark Jungers Album Review

Mark Jungers *  More Like a Good Dog Than a Bad Cat * American Rural Records

Released in 2011, More Like a Good Dog Than a Bad Cat is the sixth CD from Mark Jungers since the fabled Year 2000.  That whole Y2K thing seemed to barrel in on us with a sense of trepidation, particularly as the computer geeks told us the world was gonna end.  Now in 2012 it’s the Maya who are calling out from their graves, warning us of either impending doom or an ancient alien invasion, depending on which History Channel show you watch when you’re bored.  Those prophetic declarations of cataclysm serve as interesting bookends for Jungers’ career thus far; his music has historically mined many a vein of solemn, destructive, at times eviscerating fool’s gold.  This record follows suit, chock full of tales of doubt and loss and the sometimes brutal death of love.  Take these lines from “Wasn’t Thinking:”

When I finally woke up in the middle of my dream

I was thinking ‘bout the way that some people scream

In the middle of the night when you’re holding them tight

And you can’t figure out what’s wrong or what’s right

What was I thinking

I wasn’t thinking too much

And I finally wasn’t thinking of you

Ouch. But another Jungers trademark is the ability to maintain some level of bubbling (if at times misplaced) optimism in the face of Fate’s wrath.  As an example, the lyrics above are delivered in a flowing, funky, rolling melody with a driving backbeat reminiscent of the most saccharine and friendly of ‘50s doo-wop.  It’s a weird combination of substance and sound, but somehow it works, makes you think it’s all gonna be alright anyway.  So light up and enjoy the ride.

Mark’s an interesting songwriter as a result of his ability to seamlessly incorporate all of the above.  His music in many instances seems rooted in familiar sounds, and his lyrics often cover well-trod ground.  “Riverdown,” for instance, is close both lyrically and stylistically to Springsteen’s chestnut “The River.”  Both songs center a challenging lifecycle around a river’s healing power, although Bruce’s protagonist struggles with choices he made himself while Jungers’ attempts to face a life built in the void of a father who left.  But in the end, the resonant sax of the late Clarence Clemons notwithstanding, the Boss’s song is fatalistic and teetering on the edge of defeatist.  Jungers takes a different tack, however.  In the early verses, there’s a need to run from the darkness and just drive until the fuel runs out.  Later on, after some hard-won maturity sets in and some tough accountabilities are owned up to, there’s this:

Everything that seemed so important back then

Is lost like it never meant a thing

But sometimes late at night when I get to hold you tight

I remember running out of gasoline

If it’s true that there ain’t no future living in the past, it’s also true that there’s no smart future without a bone-deep understanding of what we screwed up along the way.  The trick is to find a place where we can be honest with ourselves about the past and the screwups, the all-star fuckups, without beating our souls to death with a stick carved from the cold, dark heart of guilt.  Jungers throughout his career seems to recognize this truth, and with this latest record reminds us once again that yes, sometimes it sucks.  Sometimes it sucks because we’re dumb and made it suck, and sometimes it’s just the way it is.  But there’s still a reason to hope, and there are still the wonderful seemingly small but ultimately timeless things to treasure.  “Daisy,” a song about a loved and now lost dog, makes that case superbly.

We buried her last fall ‘neath the shade tree in the back

I talk to her from time to time she never hollers back

Yeah she’s just a dog no one knows it more than me

But she thought I was the hero that I always want to be

Lyrics like those are a key part of Jungers’ longstanding and growing reputation as a songwriter possessed of skill, nuance, and passion.  There’s a reason people like Adam Carroll, Owen Temple, and Susan Gibson often collaborate with Mark.

You can find all the lyrics for More Like a Good Dog Than a Bad Cat at www.markjungers.com, along with plenty of other good information.

There are also some song previews and CDs available HERE.

~ Dave Pilot

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Dave Pilot lives in north Texas with his first good wife (don’t ask about the other one), seven horses, and five dogs.  When his wife’s not looking, he tries to figure out ways to feed the 987 or so cats to the coyotes out behind the fenceline.  When he’s not trying to raise his kids to turn out better than he did, he’s hitting historical sites on his way to honky-tonks from Denton to Port Aransas.

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