David Arn is a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in Virginia. His music is mostly acoustic and strongly lyric driven, allowing his words to be clearly delivered with an authentic, gravelly voice that sounds full of life experience.
You can hear the influences of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan as well as the sophisticated lyrical style of Van Dyke Parks and Randy Newman, though his style is very much his own. He has so far released two full length albums, Postmodern Days and Walking To Dreamland (which I reviewed very favourably in 2015).
This song, Black Dog (A Photographer’s Tale) is taken from his forthcoming album Traveler Tales, which is a concept album featuring fourteen first-person narratives from fourteen travelers on a common journey.
This is an idea based on Chaucer’s classic Canterbury Tales, and this particular narrative is about an older photographer reflecting on his favourite model through their past photo shoots together. This becomes the main theme of the excellent accompanying video, featuring the model and actress Kimberly Bowie and the photography work of Angela Holmyard and David Swift.
The song is a haunting country ballad with a poignant, intimate lead vocal from David Arn. As with his previous work, his lyrics have a strongly poetic quality akin to great songwriters like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan.
The “black dog” referred to in the title is a reference to the phrase Winston Churchill used to describe his battles with depression. It begins in a gentle manner, with the delicate, finely crafted lead guitar work of Toby Wilson helping to set a melancholy tone.
The first verse finds the song’s character feeling neglected from his family (“My children fear I’m getting old, from my advice they seem estranged…”) and longing for happier times (“I want to wake in different sunlight, change the shadow of my past…”).
After the relatively sparse verse, it breaks into a powerful chorus featuring the female backing vocals of Tyra Juliette and Kerri Hardwick. The chorus lyrics succintly capture the essence of the song, trying to overcome depression: “Oh black dog, your head sleeping on my knee, the window is wide open, surely by now you’d fly free…”.
The second verse sees the song’s protagonist reflecting on his past relationship with his favourite model, captured in emotive and moving lines like, “I can still feel the warmth of her soft hands, the glances I wasn’t sure were mine.…”.
The third verse is subtly augmented with a pulsing synth which adds a little momentum to the music as well as a slightly modern edge to the sound. The final lines of this last verse capture the song’s contemplative essence: “All these years and I still can’t believe things I cannot touch or see….”.
Overall, this is another extremely well crafted country ballad from David Arn that packs an emotional punch owing to its themes of aging, depression and unrequited love. Arn writes about the timeless aspects of the human condition in a distinct way while also seeming to belong to a lineage of the classic troubadours. His authentic and intimate vocal style is perfect for the sensitive subject matter and the music is fully realized with the help of his talented cohorts. A gem for all discerning music lovers.
VERDICT = 9 out of 10