Paw was one of those bands that should have broke through to the mainstream but never did.
It’s hard to figure out why they didn’t, especially after one hears their 1993 album Dragline.
The music on Dragline is not easy to classify. You could call it grunge or metal.
Considering they’re from Lawrence, Kansas, you could maybe call them “Heartland Grunge.”
Paw were in a lot of ways like a rural Pearl Jam. Like Pearl Jam, a good part of their appeal were their lyrics. Their songs were like short stories told from a first person point of view. Kind of like little slices of life. Whether it be about a dog or a teenage boy’s preference between two of Archie Comics’ female leads. No matter the topic, Paw’s songs carried an emotional resonance which lifted them a head above the countless other grunge-era bands out there in the early-to-mid 1990s.
But, the lyrics are only half the formula when it comes to songs.
Lucky for the listener, Paw’s music matches the emotional power of the lyrics. The music doesn’t only increase the impact, but motivates repeated listens and creates memorable tunes that stick with the listener long afterward.
Paw’s lineup on Dragline is led by vocalist Mark Hennessy, whose vocals are front and center on the album. Hennessy isn’t what I’d really call a “singer.” That’s not a bad thing though. His voice ranges from a gravelly rasp to a melancholic roar chock full of emotional power that hits harder than Eddie Vedder’s — in my opinion at least. Hennessy does what a front man should do, build upon the foundation set by the instruments and demands the audience’s attention.
The rest of Paw doesn’t slouch either, particularly guitarist Grant Fitch whose riffs rely less on aural assaults as they do supplying gut punches that complement Hennessy’s vocal barrage.
Bassist Charles Bryan and drummer Peter Fitch don’t bother trying to match Hennessy or Fitch, nor should they. Self-indulgent bass and drum solos that always seemed obligatory to many other heavy albums at the time just wouldn’t fit in on Dragline. That isn’t to say they don’t have their standout moments, they’re just sprinkled throughout and don’t stand out from the songs themselves.
All in all, you have a band that clicks. That’s why Dragline is probably the best grunge album you never bought back in the 90s.
It’s very difficult picking standouts for Dragline. Most of these songs could stand on their own and be a single. So, I’m just going to touch on the few individual ones I tend to seek out just to listen to.
Dragline kicks off with the appropriately titled “Gasoline.” This song kicks things off like setting a match to some spilled petrol. It’s both aggressive and subdued, showcasing Paw’s ability to change tempo and shift from heavy grinds to light melodies seamlessly. It does the job of what I think a first track should do, gives you a taste of what’s to come and makes you want to hear more.
This aggressive-subdued dichotomy is prevalent throughout the album, especially the second track “Sleeping Bag.”
Of course, the track that stands out above all the others is that song about a dog — “Jessie.” Now, everyone has heard some variation of country music trope that all the songs are about getting drunk, your wife leaving you or your dog dying. Well, “Jessie” is sort of along those lines, though I’m not sure the dog is dying as much as being left at home by his owner. One thing it is, though, is the song that made me go out and buy this album. It’s the heaviest song on the album, and in my opinion the best. It tempers its heaviness with some steel guitar, which gives it a country twang, toward the end. It’s just awesome and should’ve been the title track.
As for the title song, “Dragline,” it’s a great song on its own, but it’s just not as unique as “Jessie.” That’s not detracting from it though. The band definitely pushes their boundaries here, starting with a chest-shredding riff and eventually building to an acoustic guitar, which goes back and forth with some heavy distortion.
Another favorite of mine is the song “Veronica.” “Veronica” is about the classic conundrum that all boys, and some girls, who’ve read Archie comics have been faced with: tomboy Betty or rich girl Veronica. This song is about a guy who goes with Veronica. I’m actually surprised the album didn’t get an “explicit lyrics” sticker for this song. But, I guess those are only reserved for albums that use some of those bad words. Musically, it’s a standout too, having sort of that “alternative” guitar sound throughout and is pretty restrained compared to many of the other songs.
Other standouts include “The Bridge,” a song you’ll find on video game soundtracks. It’s mostly fast pace throughout until the end and makes good use of guitar tone, which makes you want to hum along with it. “Hard Pig” ends the album on a pretty heavy note, with Bryan’s bass hitting the notes and pushing things along.
Would I buy this album again?
Hell yeah. Like I said, this is one of the few albums were pretty much all the songs could stand out on their own. There is no filler here.
Dragline is what you get when you have a band that cares about the quality of their music instead of churning out hits. Unfortunately, Paw never had any hits that broke through to the mainstream and would break up less than a decade later.
But, at least they left us Dragline. It’s one of those albums that everyone who loves rock, metal or grunge should listen to. I promise, you won’t regret it, especially when you’re singing “Jessie” on your way to work in the car … or the shower.