Gift Horse

Album Reviews

Gift Horse

Album Reviews

CCM Magazine December 1999

by Brian Quincy Newcomb

Daniel Amos and Adam Again are in limbo, The Choir kaput and the 77s continue on without major label support. But still kicking is Lost Dogs, a musical supergroup bringing together the singers/vocalists of the aforementioned veteran Christian alternative groups [CCM November 1999]. With Gift Horse, the group finally drops it's long-awaited fourth album.

More earthy and down-to-earth than the Green Room Serenade, Part One (1996, Brainstorm), Gift Horse follows in the acoustic folk and country rock vein of the first two Lost Dogs efforts, Scenic Routes and Little Red Riding Hood (both now out of print).

Terry Taylor writes all of the lyrics this time out. Parables of loss and fear ("A Vegas Story", "If You Loved Here You'd Be Home By Now", and "Wall of Heaven") rub up against statements of faith and grace ("Loved and Forgiven", "Diamonds to Coal", and "Blessing in Disguise"). These are stories dripping with the human condition and longing for healing in the loving God who made us for life. They are our real stories, poignant, funny and sad, and at times too close for comfort.

Great vocal performaces, signature harmonies, bright guitars and a spirit of camaradarie shine through the cracks, reminding us that Taylor, Derri Daugherty, Mike Roe and Gene Eugene have no absence of talent or vision. What they lack are record deals. Long live the Dogs.

The Phantom Tollbooth October 1999

by Michial Farmer

By now, a new Lost Dogs album is like an old friend's tearful homecoming. That should come as no surprise--over the past twenty-five years, Terry Taylor, Mike Roe, Derri Daughtery, and Gene Eugene have recorded some of the most honest and personal music Christian rock has ever known. With their respective bands, Daniel Amos, The 77s, The Choir, and Adam Again, they've changed the face of CCM in ways too numerous to count. And together, these four singer/songwriters formed the Christian music's supergroup, Lost Dogs.

Maybe some fans were surprised after purchasing Scenic Routes and hearing folk-country come out of their speakers. After all, it was a far cry from the U2-esque alternapop that The 77s and The Choir had put out, the funk rock brilliance of AA's Dig, or the quirky, new wave-tinged pop of Taylor and company's Kalhoun. But the Dogs' sound wasn't that far off from its creators, when you consider that DA started off as a country band, and the other members had always incorporated some form of Americana into their music.

1993 brought the release of Little Red Riding Hood, much more varied and rich than its predecessor. Ranging from bluegrass ("Bad Indigestion") to alternative ballad ("Eleanor, It's Raining Now"), the songs hit harder and stuck longer. Three years later, Brainstorm put out Green Room Serenade Part One, a countrified collection of rowdy rock songs. The liner notes of GRS1 promised a sequel to be released in the fall of 1996, which never happened.

Gift Horse is not the much-anticipated Green Room Serenade Part Two. Rather, it stands on its own, completely different from its predecessors, yet similar enough to be easily identified as the Lost Dogs. The differences are readily apparent - Gift Horse is more country than any of the previous albums. There are no rockers, save the comical honky tonk number "If You Loved Here, You'd Be Home By Now."

The other differences are perhaps more subtle. For example, rather than having each Dog write his own songs, Terry Taylor wrote all the lyrics on the albums, with his bandmates pitching in on the music. While Taylor's characteristic wit and creative wordplay are certainly enjoyable, part of the Dogs' charm was the contrast between the songwriting style of the band's members. The other downside to Taylor's lyrical dominance is the absence of covers, such as "Lord, Protect My Child" from Scenic Routes or "I'm a Loser" from Little Red Riding Hood.

Taylor seems to have taken a more serious approach to songwriting this time around. While his sense of humour is more than evident on "Ditto" and "If You Loved Here, You'd Be Home By Now," songs like "A Vegas Story" and "Blessing in Disguise" showcase the more serious side of his songwriting. The former is the heart wrenching tale of an alcoholic who sells his soul to Las Vegas for "free drinks and a dream." The latter, one of the more hopeful songs of Taylor's career, implores:

Hold fast to the hope that's in you
Don't always trust your eyes
Sometimes it takes a long time to see it as
A blessing in disguise

What's most interesting about the songwriting on Gift Horse is the use of cliches, fractured and otherwise, as song titles: "Ghost Train to Nowhere," "If You Loved Here, You'd Be Home By Now," "Diamonds to Coal," and "Blessing in Disguise." Fortunately, rather than coming across as hackneyed, Taylor manages to breathe new life into these sayings.

Another difference from previous albums is that Derri Daughtery's vocal presence is not felt as strongly on Gift Horse. Presumably this is because Daughtery lives in Nashville, while the other Dogs make their homes in Southern California. Roe and Eugene sing the most on the album, with Taylor having several songs to himself.

All in all, the Dogs have crafted a splendid album, worthy of the critical acclaim it's sure to receive. It's nice to have them back

4 Alarm Clocks out of 5

The Phantom Tollbooth February 2000

by Steven S Baldwin

Let's take an amusing trip around the supergroup wheel! When the Lost Dog's debuted back in 1992 with Scenic Routes, they were often referred to as the Traveling Wilbury's of the Alternative Christian Music scene. That was hardly a wise comparison then, but, for the record, the Dog's latest Gift Horse has far fewer comparisons in sound and approach to the Traveling Wilburys now, than it does to the more recent alt-country supergroup Golden Smog (where members of Wilco, Jayhawks and Soul Asylum blend their talents together).

This time, the Dog's clear away the energetic but cluttered sound of previous albums, for a more raw, stripped down approach. In fact, the rough and ready alterna-rock and polished pop smorgasbord of their last two outings, Little Red Riding Hood (1993) and Green Room Serenade Part 1 (1996) has been eschewed here for the Dog's most focused and countrified outing to date. Yet, before you dismiss them for Highwaymen wannabes, an overall edge in the production value and songwriting makes Gift Horse more interesting and entertaining than your average country collection, and no where near dismissible. Besides, with Terry Taylor at the songwriting helm, even old country cliches take on brand-spankin' new meaning through his trademark, creative lyrical twists.

The glorious result of another Dog collaboration is a cache of simple treasures, like the clever but convicting whimsy of "The Walls of Heaven," where a drunkard is rebuked by his dead wife's ghost, and "A Vegas Story," which laments losses and shattered hopes over the roulette table. Overall, this project's reoccurring theme of hope in the face of loss resonates most clearly in these words from "Diamonds to Coal:"

I was thinking I had everything
Thinkin' I was mighty
But lately I've been feelin' all the
Ash and dust inside me
And I can't ignore the Savior King
I can't avoid the cross
I'll need the help his spirit brings
To count my gain as loss.

4 1/2 Alarm Clocks out of 5 2000

by Jason Hoffman

Take four alternative music pioneers (Terry Taylor of Daniel Amos, Derri Daugherty of The Choir, Gene Eugene of Adam Again and Mike Roe of 77s), throw them into a studio for a few weeks, shake gently, and out comes -- a country album? Originally a side project, the Lost Dogs have released their fourth studio album, Gift Horse. While the intent of these albums has always been to harken back to their musical roots, never has a Lost Dogs album been so Country and Western.

Previous releases included 50s rock, bluegrass, alternative ballads and even a novelty song, but this album is unabashedly grounded in country. As always, the songs tell tales, such as "A Vegas Story" about a gambling addict selling his life for "free drinks and a dream," while "Rebecca Go Home" is a touching, sad song about innocence lost. "Dia-monds to Coal" is a straight-ahead rocker, while "If You Loved Here..." is an all-out hick hootenanny. "Loved and Forgiven" breaks from the general feel slightly with more of a Beach Boys/77s vibe in the chorus, but overall the album is much more cohesive in content and feel than previous albums.

Which is the main problem with this album. Yes, the songwriting is solid, and, yes, the vocal harmonies are amazing but, while in past albums each "dog" brought a number of songs to the table, on this album Taylor wrote all the songs. All of them good songs, mind you, but it is the unique chemistry between these four fantastic artists that has been the real draw of Lost Dogs. Plus it's about the only time you get to hear one or two new songs from Gene Eugene, one of the best songwriters alive, since Adam Again has been on hiatus for the last half-decade -- and this time there were no songs by Eugene. So yes, the songs are excellent, winning over even such an anti-country music people as myself and my brothers, but Lost Dogs raised the bar so high on previously albums that Gift Horse is more like a well groomed show pony than the Kentucky Derby winner fans have come to expect.