Album Review – Heel by Dogs of Peace

dogs-of-peace-500

I don’t easily get really excited about a record.  I realize that all music is subjective and that it affects different listeners differently, but there is excellent music and mediocre music.  When I heard that Dogs of Peace were reuniting to release a new record for the first time since their only previous release in 1996 I was already excited.  Dogs of Peace is primarily a studio band consisting of Christian music legends like Gordon Kennedy, Jimmie Lee Sloas, Blair Masters and John Hammond.  I can’t begin to list the kind of credentials that they carry, but let’s say these musicians are very, very good.  Gordon Kennedy alone (who played guitar for Whiteheart back in my formative years) had me hooked.   Add to that special appearances by Michael Omartian, Rick Florian, and Joel Hanson, and it’s almost too much to take for someone who’s been interested in Christian music for almost 30 years.

Musically, this record is crazy good.  One Flight Away and Sacrifice both showcase excellent production and song-writing; no surprise from this line-up.  But the album starts hitting its stride on Dark Without; an excellent rock song with a catchy hook in the chorus, well-performed and passionately sung.  After that it gets better and better – musicians using their talent in the intersection of faith and art, passionate about being faithful to the gospel but in ways that are highly artistic, interesting, and beautiful.

The most exciting thing to me about this record is the marriage of the lyrics and the music, which is my main interest in music-reviews.  The world needs not only excellent art and music, but it needs art and music that willingly intersects with deep themes of faith.  Heel captures a tricky balance of artistry and transparency, and I deeply appreciate how transparently they communicate the gospel like they do in the song He’s the Light of the World.

Now The Son Has Come Up
I’ll Never Be the Same
Feel My Spirit Rise Up
At The Sound Of His Name
He’s The Light Of The World

He’s The Light Of The World
Shining It Into My Heart
He’s The Light Of The World
Now I’ll Never Walk In The Dark
He’s The Light Of The World

Jesus He Is Matchless
See The Wounds Of God’s Wrath
Brilliant In The Chaos
Illuminating My Path
With The Light Of The World

(http://www.newreleasetoday.com/lyricsdetail.php?lyrics_id=91715)

The pairing of the music with these lyrics illuminates the passion the artists felt in writing and recording.  It becomes obvious that these are not patronizing lyrics, they are formed and fashioned out of years of developed spiritual maturity in the everyday struggles of life with honest admiration for Jesus’ incarnation and grace.

Light develops as a theme in the record ala John’s gospel – which becomes even more transparent in Shine Dog, “shine, let it shine, leave it all on the line”, which would be a good enough tune by itself, but then, Kennedy sings through John 3:16 soberly, clearly, even longingly after which he shines in a weeping extended guitar solo.  It is heart-felt, worshipful, and masterful.  This is punctuated by the guitar rendition of Amazing Grace, which on first listen didn’t capture me, but subsequent spins in context unveiled layers of artistry and heart I previously missed.

The album name Heel plays into the name Dogs of Peace which made plenty of sense in the mid-90s, at the height of the grunge era.  But the album artwork reveals a different meaning altogether, that of the serpent being crushed under our heel through the power of Christ.  And this is the message of the bonus track Crush, which you can listen to here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFi51YQ6egU

Plenty of today’s music is worshipful (Chris Tomlin, Passion, Bethel, Jesus Culture, etc.), and plenty of Christian music is artful (Switchfoot, Jars of Clay, Kevin Max, etc.) and all of these are very good.   But I am on the hunt for excellent music that is artistic and transparently Christian.  Dogs of Peace have achieved that, and should be given credit for what they have pulled off in Heel.  I recommend it, and I recommend sticking with it as the layers unfold.  It is a rewarding, inspiring, and God-honoring effort.  Thank you Dogs of Peace.

JAS

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