“Man, you’re like a Dave Dobbyn evangelist,” said a friend to me some years ago as I raved to him about Dobbyn’s just-released album Available Light. Well, I’ve loved Dobbyn’s music almost as long as I’ve loved the Gospel: since being introduced to his work as an eight-year-old, during daily aerobics in my little two-roomed country school, when Miss Crane would play DD Smash’s Outlook For Thursday. The hook, the soul, the swagger, the musical craftsmanship, the droll humour and the love-song lyrics of that hit more than 30 years ago (and in his work with Th’Dudes before then) are elements which have continued to be a part of Dobbyn’s work over the years. He has refined and distilled them over eight solo albums, reaching a high point in last year’s Harmony House.
Dobbyn describes the album as a “record of hope“, and on it he indeed comes across as a man who is content, optimistic and hopeful. While there’s exploration of the “hunger and hatred” of much of the human experience — Tell The World suggests “it’s too late to tell the world; its heart has hardened”, and other tracks have the lines, “You get so lonesome sometimes / . . . The lie of disconnection” and “Infidelity darkens my way” — the songs ultimately are declarations of so much hope and joy.
In that, the album’s a fitting secular soundtrack (if that’s your thing) to this Easter season (or half-secular really: Dobbyn is certainly not in the “contemporary Christian music” category, but he isn’t shy about being openly Christian in his lyrics). Motifs of fire and water pop up throughout the album, Easter imagery familiar to any Christian and certainly to a cradle Catholic and believer like Dobbyn. (He seems to have little time for the Church now, but talks of meeting God in 1998, after a fairly typical rock and roll lifestyle. In Ric Salizzo’s book I Know This To Be True, he said: “[After that] I figured I could set my clock to eternity . . . . His peace — not my peace, his. That’s the only peace there is.”)
Waiting For A Voice opens the album and could be a song for Easter Saturday. Through edgy instrumentation and Dobbyn’s urgent vocals, it describes a kind of vision: “I saw a stranger on the opposite shore / Cooking up a meal for me . . . / I heard Elijah . . . / Get into the water man, and lose your sin . . . / Heaven is waiting for a choice”. Catechumens around the world this Easter Saturday responded to the risen Christ on the shore, that one-time stranger, now friend, and to his offer to dine with him, to “come and see”. They took the challenge to get into the water, and in that are a challenge to all of us in the pews to continue making those little daily choices to follow Christ.
Country-tinged Singing Through The Storm picks up on this: “You’re half way to heaven my friend / You’ve got to have a change of heart / Singing through the storm / Walking through the fire / Just to let love be your one desire / And no brighter flame / Than living in the name of love”. What encrusted habits in my heart need to change so that love — for my wife, for my kids, for the people in my small daily circles — is my one desire? “In the twilight of life,” said St John Chrysostom, “we’ll be judged on how well we have loved.”
Fire again, solar this time, in Ball Of Light — and commitment: “I gotta keep my face to the Son / My hands are to the plough / I’m taking my piece to town”, and also in Burning Love, one of a number of love songs on the record. Dobbyn and his wife Anneliesje have been married for more than 30 years: “What a ride / how many songs you’ve given me to write / . . . The many years will fall from up above / ‘Round the fire of our burning love.”
The 37 short minutes of Harmony House, with exultation, poetry and beauty in both lyric and music, are a triumph.
Dave Dobbyn did a nationwide tour on April 2017.