In my last review of Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs I promised a follow up about how their album would have a living room sound to it–meaning intimate and minimal studio intervention in the music. So I’ve been waiting to talk about that while the band fine-tuned their album before release for over a year. Definitely worth the wait, the album, Alone in This Together, has been out for a couple of months, along with a video. Meanwhile, the band has been busy with a west coast tour, planning an upcoming east coast tour and even some small portion Star’s boots and maybe some elbows and knees of other band members made an appearance in a Rolling Stone photo while they performed with Pearl Jam for PJ20. Now that’s rock and roll. Speaking of the living room, here is the band jamming on children’s instruments at Keith Ash’s (bass) house where the band was hanging out together for a barbeque.
Back to the album. I believe that had I listened to the album at the time of the first interview, talking about the living room flavor would have made a ton of sense. While it is, as promised, intimate and not at all overproduced, enough hard work and I assume, massively creative energy has influenced what this album has ultimately become. What I hear when I listen closely, is a sophisticated layering effect that I usually find in great bluegrass.
Don’t get me wrong, the album sounds nothing like bluegrass.
But I draw the analogy because like great bluegrass, skilled musicians take us on a ride full of pleasant surprises, full of complex and unexpected arrangements. However, unlike Bluegrass, the overall effect of this ride is subtle. Noticeable, yet subtle. And actually, I didn’t notice it at first. Initially, I was swept up by the vocals and the lyrics as you might be–you’ll want to know more about what she is saying; you’ll sit still and imagine the situation that provoked those words to come together the way they did. See what I mean in the track titled Gold and Silver:
Love could never live here
In a house that is so cold
The windows bolted down for good
The window panes are dull
The floor it creaks with every step
And echoes through the air
‘Til it’s swallowed up by silence
Through the cracks and down the stairs
-Alone in This Together, Star Anna & The Laughing Dogs
And have a listen to Star’s vocals, which are frankly just becoming indescribable for me. Flipping through a thesaurus for hours wouldn’t give me the right words. The effect of her vocals on her fans (if I may say so) is more of a gestalt experience—the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
Back to the subtlety. Now that you hear how down right awesome the title track is and recognize that you are also, in fact, hearing is Mike McCready of Pearl Jam on guitar, the word subtle might be a confusing description. Here’s what I mean: you can sit on a plane and listen to this album four times in a row (yes, I did this) and sometimes you really notice how the guitar (Justin Davis) goes left while the keyboards (Ty Bailie) go right and something interesting is happening with the drums (Travis Yost), or you connect to the lyrics—your mind winding down a road you took once and the nostalgia it still evokes in you. Still another time, you listen to the album while you read and it just works without you noticing much at all. As Peter Griffin might say, it doesn’t insist upon itself. But it is there for the taking. I never have exactly the same experience when I listen to Alone in This Together. I think that speaks to the depth of the album. Star and the dogs are never self-conscious or affected personally or musically. As I mentioned before, they are deep, genuine and just all around great people to meet. And maybe that is what Justin Davis (guitar) meant when he described the album as having that living room sound. Could be it…provided that your living room has Star’s unflinching and smoky vocals, a talented band that loves doing what they do together and guitar accompaniment by Mike McCready of Pearl Jam. So yeah—I definitely need a living room upgrade.
Listening to Alone in This Together, or any recording of the band, for that matter, leaves me with an intense craving to see them live. The album is great. Instantly a favorite. I have two. No shit. I bought one, got one as a gift and I’m keeping them both. However, listening to this album just allows me to get a fix in between the few shows I can make in Seattle. Much to their credit as musicians—this is a band that is best live. Which brings me to their east coast tour. If they are going to be anywhere near you—buy tickets. Go see them. Show the hell up. Anyone who has seen them will back me on this. You can not miss them if you are lucky enough to be anywhere within a 3 hour radius of them. Even if they are planning to play children’s instruments (probably not). Do it.
Here’s a little taste of them live with Mike McCready at PJ20.
Here are their tour dates. Get out your calendar.
10/14/11 Great Falls MT- Machinery Row
10/15/11 Bozeman, MT – The Filling Station
10/16/11 Spearfish, SD – Back Porch
10/17/11 Sioux City, IA – Chesterfield Live
10/18/11 Des Moines, IA – Mars Cafe
10/20/11 Chicago, Il – The Hideout
10/21/11 Milwaukee, WI – Shank Hall
10/23/11 Cleveland, OH – Brother’s Lounge
10/24/11 Buffalo, NY – Mohawk Place
10/25/11 Albany, NY – Valentine’s
10/26/11 Allston, MA – O’Brien’s Pub
10/27/11 Brooklyn, NY – Southpaw
10/28/11 New York, NY – Piano’s
10/29/11 Hoboken, NJ – Maxwells
10/30/11 Philadelphia, PA – The Fire
10/31/11 Asbury Park NJ- The Saint
11/01/11 Washington DC – The Black Cat
11/02/11 Chapell Hill, NC – The Cave Tavern
11/03/11 Atlanta, GA – Smith’s Olde Bar
11/04/11 – TBA
11/05/11 Kansas City, MO – Czar Bar
11/06/11 Lincoln, NE – The Zoo Bar
11/09/11 Boise, ID – The Reef
Purchase their album and visit their site www.staranna.com.
Check out my work at www.keeshadavis.com and www.simfotico.com. I am a professional photographer and do freelance web design while I juggle a full schedule at the University of Washington as a Ph.D student in Education. Photos of Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs copyright Keesha Davis, Simfotico, LLC.