Acoustic folk has a long, deeply mined history; unlike the fare of more transient, hip musical movements, a folk song does not necessarily strive for innovation or reinvention as its primary goal. Instead of concerning itself with blazing new trajectories through music’s constellations, a great folk song just retools old ideas and strives to attain a Platonic form. Water Liars’ “Dog Eaten” operates in that vein.
But that doesn’t mean a song like this can’t surprise and thrill, and in doing so leave you with at least a little heart ache. Listen to the accumulative images that singer and songwriter Justin Kinkel-Schuster offers. His voice is ideally tailored to express the song’s emotional strain without becoming tastelessly conspicuous. It’s the way you not only expect folk to sound, but how you hope it will; expectations are at the heart of this song and at its most potent line, which comes in the middle. “My father was quietly taken” makes us imagine the man’s Pa swept away in the night, but the image is undermined by something much more complex in the song’s next line: “The money that I had been makin’…” Immediately, the earlier “taken” transforms to “takin’.’” The “dog-eaten wallet” makes its appearance moments later, and even though those words make up the song’s title, we know where Kinkel-Schuster’s pain really roosts.