Alex Peterson,
Mexican Dog
(self-produced, 2002)

Usually albums that claim to be about "regular life" aren't. Not my regular life, anyway. Whose existence is really made up of deep epiphanies and long chains of tragically failed relationships? There are bills to pay and family to see, chores to do and a whole world of fairly steady relationships to enjoy.

Alex Peterson obviously makes his home in the same fiberboard housing as the rest of us unglamorous souls, and he finds plenty of adventure there. His double album Mexican Dog is full of the low drama and fine souls that can be met in any of the slower paths through life.

Peterson lets us know right away what sort of performer we're dealing with. "Mexican Dog" is cheerfully self-deprecating, embracing a life free of ambition and effort, but generous in its friendships. Lazy, drawling vocals sprawling along a sly, slinking tune, "Mexican Dog" summons up dead hot summer air and cold beers. "You and Me and Ben and Jerry" is -- finally -- a love song for daily life. While not belittling commitment or the glories of romance, the song admits that sometimes, one person cannot provide enough comfort. Sometimes, you need butterfat.

He's aware of the compromises and moral pitfalls of the real world, which come not in devil deals and make-or-break moments, but the constant lure of "Bigger" buffets. The lust for power, however petty, that lets someone declare "I've Got the Conch" shows up in all its pathetic insignificance. There's true drama in a "STIC (small town inferiority complex)," as a David-sized football team fights against the Goliath of the city. Peterson isn't afraid to approach the more frightening and sober aspects of life, either, from the isolation of modern life to the fears of aging to concerns about the afterlife. But Peterson knows just how to soften the edges, finding the humor that makes even a hard life livable.

Peterson does break away from the dry humor in "Drop 'Em High" and "Run Raramuri." "Run Raramuri" is a tribute to the desperately pressed native tribe of Mexico, facing a new forced removal. The song's history is true and sad, made more painful by the knowledge that this tune is about as much media attention as the story will get. "Drop 'Em High" simply chronicles a conversation between friends in the aftermath of September 11. Occupying that stunned bubble between occurrence and acceptance, "Drop 'Em High" works over the raw emotions of that night without the ease of platitudes or preaching. The understated brutality of these songs makes me glad Peterson mostly deals with the lighter facets of life.

Peterson has found himself a comfortable musical groove, in a rutted road somewhere between Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen. Less interested in showing off his musical chops than just delivering the tale, his guitar lopes along the faster tracks of a patient harmonica. He's not afraid to play around, rapping through "Cleveland." He can patter through the aggression of "I've Got the Conch" or slow cook his way through a "Hot Tamale." Secure in his style, he even dares to compose for kazoo, and cares little enough to make it work.

The sheer mundanity of Peterson's subjects conceals the depth of emotion behind them. Real love lies more in the relaxed acceptance of bad habits and cozily expanding waistlines than vows of eternity. The people in Mexican Dog are individual, in all their weird glory, not pretty ciphers. There's an obvious appreciation for the quiet rebellion of an old man determined to make the world move to "Juan Time" instead of that foolish headstrong clock. Even a lone cow is given some recognition for her dairy-based contribution to the world. People develop strong pride in awful haircuts in "Mullet Anthem," grumble about their bad luck and show occasional moments of very rough grace through even the pressure paranoid city life. Peterson sings it all with humor, honesty, and the right note of respect.

It's funnier when it's true, and there's not a word of Peterson's work that isn't real and believable and happening every moment. If you haven't been lucky enough to meet a "Hippy Grandma" or you're too delusionally idealistic to admit the place of gourmet ice cream in a proper relationship, that's your problem. A library of slick, polished songs awaits your delicate enjoyment. If you live in the real world and wouldn't mind some songs that are about your life, with all the hard edges and humor thrown in, go catch yourself a Mexican Dog.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 10 October 2003