Sleeping Dogs (Spike Steel)
Reviewed by Doug Freeman, Fri., May 11, 2018
Frontman turns for ace sidemen always constitute something of a tightrope act. Their success depends on how much of an actual vision the player pulls together when commanding the spotlight. At best, it's revelatory of their influence on others' work. At worst, it's a cobbling together of others' influences as they search for their own voice. Jeff Plankenhorn's latest solo bow falls somewhere between. Undeniably integral in backing greats including Ray Wylie Hubbard and Joe Ely, the slide master defaults to blues-bleeding jams ("Homecoming," "Never Again") and power-pop stands ("I Don't Know Anything"). The leadoff title track circles hard, rhythmic pop into the meandering "Love Is Love" as euphemisms stand in for narrative, and the biting Hubbard duet "Tooth and Nail" leans heavily on its co-author's style. Not surprisingly, Sleeping Dogs' standout comes courtesy of Patty Griffin on duet "Holy Lightning," sharp and poignant as Plankenhorn settles into a softer, more poetic vulnerability against Griffin's trembling harmonies. More focused and restrained than 2016's Soulslide, Plank is still defining his identity as a spotlight songwriter.