by Brian Q. Newcomb
Composed of four singer/songwriters who front their own alternative rock bands, Lost Dogs has made a bold impact on those who have heard the band's delicious mix of traditional folk gospel and the various country, blues and rock 'n' roll influences that have found their way onto the band's three fine albums. In Lost Dogs, Terry Taylor (who also fronts Daniel Amos, Swirling Eddies and has a third solo album due soon, plus a list of production credits as long as his arm) is joined by Derri Daugherty (The Choir), Gene Eugene (Adam Again) and Mike Roe (77's frontman and a solo artist who recently released The Boat Ashore).
Lost Dogs released its third album, Green Room Serenade; Part One, a few months back with a second volume scheduled to hit shelves before the year's end. Although the foursome's voices blend with profound beauty on record, and more remarkably live, the survival of this "side project" was not a foregone conclusion from the get-go. During an interview--following a St. Louis concert before 200 music fans varying in age from 80 to 18 months--Mike Roe admits that he, for one, was skeptical.
"I thought it was going to be horrible," says Roe with characteristic frankness. "We kind of threw it together, and the first couple of weekends that we were sitting around playing together, I just didn't see it coming together."
"I've never done anything horrible in my life," responded Eugene. Like any good marriage, there's an earthy dialog on nearly any issue that impacts this union.
"These guys had more faith," concedes Roe. "They had the vision to see it through."
"We enjoyed it more than we thought we would," suggests Taylor, ever the peace maker. "We didn't know how it was going to go. I'd never worked with Mike before. We didn't know whether we were all going to get in the studio and end up screaming at each other. But we didn't, we just had a good time. It was so much fun, we wanted to do it again."
The expected battle of egos never happened. Instead, a mutual respect and appreciation of one another's unique contribution came to the fore. "The first time we went in and listened to 'I Am A Pilgrim' back on the speakers," says Eugene of a cut on the first collaboration, "I knew it was going to be good. It just sounded really cool, with banjo and everything, with the guitars all mic'ed in the same room."
With each album, Lost Dogs' sound has evolved. While the 1992 debut, Scenic Routes, emphasized an acoustic folk/country roots approach, the 1993 follow up, Little Red Riding Hood, featured a tribute to the Beach Boys ("Jesus Loves You, Brian Wilson") and more blues and rock. On Green Room, there's an all around more pop/rock-rooted band sound. Daugherty shines on the Beatle-esque pop of Taylor's "Up in the Morning," and Eugene recalls the lighter side of his own band on more direct rockers "Mexico" and "Cry Baby."
This time out, Roe contributed "I Don't Love You" (according to Eugene one of the album's strongest tracks), added guitars and vocals, and sang lead on Taylor's Elvis Presley tribute "Close But No Cigar." Still, Roe says he remembers very little of it. "I was asleep for the whole album. My back went out during the tracking, so I had to take pain pills, and then I wasn't there the whole time so a lot of it just went by me. When this record came out, it was like, 'Wow!' It was like listening to a record that somebody else made. I heard myself playing things, and I was like, 'I don't remember playing that.' Now I know what it's like to be Keith Richards, really."
"Each record is a little bit different," says Taylor, "but I think they're connected. Any of the songs that we did on this last record, could have been on the second record. I don't know about the first record--the first record was a little more earthy."
For this album, they re-recorded "Breathe Deep (The Breath of God)," a song expressing God's message of radical inclusivity, and probably the most popular song at Lost Dogs' shows. When I played that song for a worship experience for a group of clergy working on Doctor of Ministry degrees at Eden Seminary in St. Louis recently, two things were commonly agreed upon: this song is profound in its encapsulation of the full invitation of the gospel, that any and all are welcome to receive God's great and amazing grace; and there was at least one group included in the verses to offend just about anyone, from the most conservative Christian to the most liberal.
"I just think the song deserves more exposure," says Eugene of the song's reappearance. "I've had people come up to me [about the song]--one especially was this Irish guy, who said they did the song in his church back home. He said he thought it was the greatest gospel song ever written. I just think more people need to hear it, and being on this album is another chance, because the first one is long out of print."
Other songs that have generated a heated response are the ones in which the Lost Dogs address political issues: songs like "Bullet Train," "Fortunate Sons," "Amber Waves Goodbye," "Bush League" (from Scenic Routes) and "Red, White and Blue" (from Riding Hood).
"I think it's because we saw this as American music," says Eugene of the songs, "and when that started happening it was a good opportunity to express some things about America."
"We were coming from that whole folk angle on the first album," says Taylor, "with regard to doing songs about real issues, and having some thing to say. 'Pray Where You Are' [From Riding Hood] was another interesting concept. It was just about prayer on the surface, but we tried to get away from the concept that legislating prayer in schools is a great necessity and affirm that people can pray wherever they are."
More than anything, Lost Dogs is hoping to extend its following beyond the obvious confines of alternative music, where these individuals' own bands have arguably been ghettoized. "We're definitely alternative," admits Eugene, "but Lost Dogs is something that goes way beyond those kind of boundaries. There is hardly a person that wouldn't find something to like on a Lost Dogs record, there's such a variety of stuff. The main thing I'd like to see is for people to check it out."
Intelligent music, thoughtful and challenging, worthy of many good discussions. Indeed, intelligent music that remains both entertaining and spiritually uplifting is something to celebrate. As the title track to Green Room suggests: "It's mystery and romance by the light of the moon/Lend an ear while I croon...."
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