Sounds like … classic folk/country reminiscent of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Tom Petty, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young
At a Glance … the latest from Lost Dogs is quiet, contemplative, maudlin, confessional, and ultimately very inspiring and satisfying
The Lost Dogs are one of Christian music's enduring super groups, combining the veteran talents of Terry Scott Taylor (Daniel Amos), Derri Daugherty (The Choir), and Mike Roe (The 77s), as well as Gene Eugene (Adam Again) before his passing in 2000. It's easy and common to view the band as Christian music's answer to the Traveling Wilburys (which featured George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne). In reality, Lost Dogs have proved more creative, more country, and more enduring, releasing their first album together back in 1992. They bear more resemblance to the timeless country sound of legends like Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, combined with the sweet vocal blend of Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young.
Nazarene Crying Towel marks the Dogs' sixth studio album, and the first one to confidently move beyond the loss of Gene. The album's title is explained beautifully in the liner notes, and I don't want to take away from Terry Scott Taylor's words. The album is a tribute to his late grandmother, and is a comfort for anyone wrestling with sadness, shame, or despair. It's a reminder that from those same emotions, we can find forgiveness, hope, and joy through Christ's death and resurrection.
These are some of the Lost Dogs' most straightforward songs to date, inspired by the similar peaks and valleys found in the Psalms. Were it not for their uniquely classic country sound, the album would pass for southern gospel or inspirational adult contemporary. "Moses in the Desert" exemplifies this sound, likening our daily struggles to that of the great biblical leader who fled the comfort of his home in Egypt only to be called back by God: "'But dear Lord I just can't do it. I am just a man.'/He said 'I will see you through it, I Am that I Am.'" A similar classic country pop sound born from the '60s and '70s is found on "Deeper in the Heart" and "Home Again," which is carried by a simple melody and a chorus of whistles.
Many of the songs combine phrases and ideas from several Psalms. The old-time country of "There You Are," for example, combines the despair of Psalm 13 with the comfort of Psalm 139: "Where to run when you're running?/Where to go when you hide?/No matter where You go, still there You are/We can run but God's love won't be denied." "Come Down Here" is a quiet little country ballad that builds on Psalm 51: "There lies inside of me a heart that's dark/Come down here, won't you come down here?/Can't take the fire, but I'll take the spark/If you come down here we can chase that dark."
A similar sound is found in the Psalm 32-inspired "Be My Hiding Place": "Unto Thee I cry my Savior/Don't be silent long, oh my Lord/Hear the voice of my troubled heart, when I lift my hands to Thee/Be my hiding place in times of trouble/Compass me about with songs of deliverance." Either Psalm 27 or 60 could have been the inspiration behind "Mercy Again," which is characterized by Terry's Brian Wilson-styled sighing. Likewise, Mike Roe brings his penchant for raw country blues to the outstanding "Cry Out Loud," which stands out as a grittier and more electric sounding track. It's equaled by the drowsy and dreamy "Darkest Night," which blends together images of Christ's crucifixion and our redemption. "The Yearning" is unremarkable musically, but still speaks volumes lyrically.
This album is not even 35 minutes long, but because there are 12 tracks, the length feels just right. Though most all of the songs were written by Terry, Nazarene Crying Towel stands as one of Lost Dogs most cohesive and strongest works. There's a charm to Lost Dogs reminiscent of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, not a direct comparison to style, but rather an observation to the broader appeal of the band's sound to those who normally wouldn't appreciate country music. It's charming and nostalgic without sounding twangy or clichéd, incorporating gospel, blues, country, folk, and pop styles without committing to any of them. All three members are skilled guitarists, backed by a strong team of studio musicians, and their vocals blend beautifully while trading lead vocals from track to track. Their world-weary sound is a perfect match to the Psalm-inspired lyrics, providing musical balm that is more soothing than typical inspirational pop albums.