Well, shit. Kasey Anderson went and made a rock’ n ’roll record.
Anyone expecting a repeat or follow-up to 2010’s Nowhere Nights is going to be taken aback by the first sixty (ok, six) seconds or so of the new Heart of a Dog — and that is exactly the point.
Anderson’s been clear for the last several months that he’s putting aside the guy he toured as last year — the guy who “sings sad songs, slowly”. And, really, there may be no greater kiss of death for a Pacific Northwest artist to get branded as a singer-songwriter. Which is at least part of the reason this album introduces you to Anderson’s band The Honkies and credits an assortment of Portland-based artists who sat in on the recording to contribute to the fully-developed rock band heard on Heart of a Dog.
The first two tracks of Heart of a Dog cement this new sound. On the opening track, “The Wrong Light”, this is done with something of a heavy hand, as it feels a bit like the electric guitar is being played for the sake of recording a lot of electric guitar. Track #2, “Mercy”, feels much more like a natural progression from Nowhere Nights, where Anderson wore his songwriting influences on his sleeve, to a grown-up musician writing twangy, bluesy rock songs with compelling and edgy lyrics.
The third track, “Exit Ghost,” will inevitably be the most beloved of this album. It’s pretty, it’s hooky and it’s surprisingly accessible. And the lyrics (“hey kid, imagine my surprise”) sound more like Kasey than anything else I’ve heard to date, though at the same time it’s clear he may be reaching for a broader audience.
The remaining tracks alternate between the sort of slowed-down, love-sick songs that would have fit in on any of Anderson’s earlier albums (“My Blues, My Love”, “Your Side of Town”) and the more rocking numbers (“Sirens and Thunder” and “Wrecking Ball”). For me, a few tracks (“Kasey Anderson’s Dream” and “Revisionist History Blues”) fall short of what they were aiming for or inspired by. My other criticism is the lyrics veer a little too often towards bravado — “a new souvenir hanging off of my arm” — and innuendo –”chasing tail(lights)” –for comfort.
That said, this is a solid, ambitious (if slightly uneven) and well-produced album that represents a solid step forward for Anderson and will likely result in some more rousing live shows in 2011.
Heart of a Dog will be released on February 15th (on an actual CD!) of you can buy it now from Anderson’s website or on iTunes (with bonus tracks). You can learn more about Kasey’s whereabouts and food allergies on his re-vamped website, Like him on Facebook, and pick up all the puns you want by following him on Twitter.