According to Kasey Anderson, Heart of a Dog is his way of putting some distance between himself and the reputation that his previous efforts, most notably 2010’s Nowhere Nights, built for him as a rootsy and earnest singer-songwriter. That album, dominated by Anderson’s personal experiences (with the occasional exception of vivid character studies like “I Was a Photograph”), showed Anderson as a songwriter with an uncommon eye for detail.
But that’s not the point of Heart of a Dog, which wants to make a lot of noise and have a lot of fun. If you scan the lyrics, there are still deep thoughts to be found here, but Anderson’s smart enough to not let that bog things down when he’d rather be churning out a Rolling Stones riff. With backing by friends assembled under the name of the Honkies, Heart of a Dog is mainly a full-band record. Opener “The Wrong Light” is, if this is possible, both an accurate statement of purpose and a bit of a red herring. It proclaims that this is a record that will have little in common with Nowhere Nights, but its sludgy pile-driving sound also doesn’t prepare you for the Rolling Stones-style hipshake that keeps popping up on songs like “My Baby’s a Wrecking Ball”, “Mercy” (boasting some Exile-era horns), “Sirens and Thunder” (which lays on slide guitar like it was a Drive-by Truckers track), or “Revisionist History Blues” (a nifty blend of snaky guitar strut, harmonica, and horns). Despite that fondness for bluesy guitar workouts, Heart of a Dog actually still has a bit of variety. “For Anyone” eases its way forward on gospel-influenced piano chords and nice strains of accordion, while “Your Side of Town” is a plaintive piano ballad. The gentle “My Blues, My Love” feels windswept and weary.
Heart of a Dog is a lot of fun to listen to, and any criticisms this listener has feel like residual expectations from the benchmark that Nowhere Nights seemed to represent. In some places, Anderson’s choruses don’t seem as vivid as they could be, but they work perfectly well in the context of a rock song to get from one section to another. What’s more, Nowhere Nights also showed that the combination of Anderson’s raspy vocals and an acoustic guitar works awfully well. There are tons of singer-songwriters out there, but few are as fortunate as Anderson to sound distinctive. So let’s hope that Anderson doesn’t completely forget that he owns an acoustic guitar.
Those are probably the kinds of thoughts you shouldn’t be having while listening to Heart of a Dog, which Anderson intended to be a fun record to make and to listen to (heck, there’s even an unlisted cover of the English Beat’s “Save It for Later”). He succeeds on both fronts. That’s not to say that you can’t delve into his lyrics, because there are some fine ones here. It’s missing the point, though, if you don’t get swept away on some ‘70s guitar riffage at some point in the many songs where Heart of a Dog offers them to you.
- Multiple songs MySpace