Full disclosure first: I’ve known Kasey Anderson for a while now—as a friendly fellow alt-country message board junkie, then an entertaining Twitter user—but only recently did I fully realize his talents.
As they say, you’re never appreciated in your hometown, and I had no idea he was this damn good.
Last year’s Nowhere Nights—a shadowy slice of Americana rock—was my introduction, and I was blown away. It was a mature collection, full of well-developed songs and sharp-edged, introspective lyrics, that ended up being one of my favorite releases of 2010.
Anderson’s first album with The Honkies, Heart of a Dog, takes all those elements and turns up the lights and the volume.
While Nowhere Nights sounds like a singer-songwriter album with a backing band, Heart of a Dog is a well-tuned rock band performing songs with the skillful touch of of a singer-songwriter.
“The Wrong Light” roars out of the gate, all squalling guitars, pounding bass and sleazed-out vocal reverb. Anderson, sounding like equal parts Alice Cooper and Steve Earle, tells the listener to “Go down to the levee and let the wrong light in.” It’s a perfect tone-setter for the rest of the album, foreshadowing the bounty of rocking to come.
“Mercy” struts like the Stones with Kasey stretching his rasp across a full band shuffle featuring horns, organ and tinkling keys galore. As much as the band flaunts its influences they never come off as derivative, honing their own signature note by note.
Anderson and his Honkies also show quite a penchant for slower material. For me, the highlight of the album is “Exit Ghost,” a heart-rending look at a drug-addicted ex-lover that pulls tears with unforced plaintiveness. The singer watches helplessly, hoping he won’t follow her into the shadows. It’s a sublimely sorrowful work.
The highwire-tight “Kasey Anderson’s Dream” gives us an ambiguous look into the psyche of the title character. “I drank every last drop from vanity’s cup/Now I’m stranded in the city that never wakes up,” sings the dreamer over a drum-machine-like rhythm section and riffing guitar.
The album ends with a driving cover of new-wave band The English Beat’s “Save it for Later.” Count it among the lesser tracks, but there’s nothing worth skipping amongst the bunch. Only it and the succinct “My Baby’s a Wrecking Ball” seem minor entries, but both fit in well with the progression of Heart of a Dog.
Bias aside (I’m rooting for these guys on a personal level), this is a kick-ass record, deserving of a wide audience in the increasingly thriving roots rock genre. Kasey Anderson has proven his talents translate to both an intimate and an expansive platform.
Heart of a Dog is artistically satisfying on many levels—it’s lyrically driven but equally as impressive musically. It’s broodingly thoughtful and a chock-full of swagger all at once, and proves the band ready for a larger stage.
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