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Nazarene Crying Towel - Click to view!What's in a name these days? I mean, you'd think Christian artists, at least, would be trustworthy, wouldn't you? With a name like "Lost Dogs," how could a group be anything but tattooed, pierced, long-haired, heavy metal rockers? Well, here's how: They unplug the amplifiers, and produce simple, harmonic, and spiritual melodies from acoustic instruments that remind us that quality artisans rarely hide behind big sound.

Through the better part of the last 11 years, 5 albums, and occasional critical praise, Lost Dogs has worked to provide a legitimate alternative to sound-alike Christian music. Their latest release, Nazarene Crying Towel, is available from BEC Recordings. Embracing the sort of folk music that borders simultaneously on bluegrass, country, and even country blues, this three-piece ensemble works primarily with acoustic instruments, creating a deep, clear, rich sound that is very easy on the ears. Moreover, the stark nakedness of playing music in this fashion leaves no room to hide mistakes. On even a modest sound system it is possible to imagine you are next to the artists as they play.

According to the disc jacket, the band draws inspiration for most of its songs from the book of Psalms, speaking of the "peaks and valleys indigenous to the temporarily earthbound." These highs and lows are contrasted by "Come Down Here," a story of the desperation felt as a lonely sinning soul without Jesus, and "Jesus On the Shore," which encourages us to be free because "In His hand is providence / Open doors, closed doors / It's the Lord." Intelligently written, the songs of this album are delivered with smooth harmonies and obvious passion, impacting the listener both audibly and spiritually.

I do, however, have some issues with Nazarene Crying Towel. Since much of the album is drawn from a place of longing or desperation, the music is slow and subdued. That's not the problem, though. The problem is that, of the first six songs, five are so similar as to be considered different parts of the same song. This group contains accomplished, experienced artists, and yet they seem to lack the creativity to differentiate from one song to another. One is forced to wonder whether they are still operating under a dark cloud brought on by the death of founding member Gene Eugene in 1999, even though this is their second album since then. They also fail to take advantage of the inherent clarity of acoustic recordings by attempting any personal expression. As a result, the CD seems to lack energy, at least until they reach track eight, "Cry Out Lord." Here they add some really excellent slide guitar work. From that point on, it's as if their creative juices start flowing. The addition of harmonica parts, varying rhythms, and even some whistling, creates a little bit of a different feel to the second half of the album.

This album will not appeal to everyone. There is a niche market for those that feel acoustic music is preferable to the sometimes harsh and/or skill-deficient world that is contemporary Christian music, and this album fits well there. Though you will not find tremendous spiritual inspiration here, you will find images with which all of us can identify. The harmonies and musicianship on display are certainly enjoyable, even if the overall product itself sometimes falls short. I would recommend this album to fans of folk (and possibly country) music.
- Scott Bush
January 2004
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