As a writer for the ninebullets website, Kasey Anderson threw one of his own songs, “I Was a Photograph”, into the ring as a song he thought listeners should enjoy in 2010. That takes some stones, but you know, he’s right: “I Was a Photograph”, full of raspy vocals and dark-night harmonica, is a damn fine song. It’s about Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller, whose smudged and weary face — a conflicted backdrop for the stark white cigarette in his mouth — became one of the Iraq War’s most famous images. The song follows Miller from the horrors of combat to his haunted return home, and it easily stands alongside recent songs like Jason Isbell’s “Dress Blues” and Richard Thompson’s “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me” in the ranks of songs that chronicle the various costs of war on everyone involved. As Anderson puts it, he wants the song heard as much as possible, not only because it’s his song, but also because he feels the story ought to be shared.
That really shouldn’t be a problem, at least in the roots music/alt-country community, since Nowhere Nights should spread like wildfire there. Reminiscent of Steve Earle’s early albums — thanks, in part, to Anderson’s Earle-like raspy drawl — Nowhere Nights is an album that concentrates on life’s crossroads and seeming dead-ends. “I Was a Photograph” notwithstanding, which sits on Nowhere Nights as something of an anomaly that doesn’t feel the least bit out of place, the album comes face to face with what it means when we don’t feel like the place we’ve spent years of our lives is home, or when a relationship has finally lost any of the good it ever possessed.
Anderson spent about eight years living in Bellingham, Washington, until he suddenly realized he didn’t belong there. Somewhere along the line, he also realized that a relationship had died. So he made his way back to his hometown of Portland, Oregon, and started collecting the songs that would become Nowhere Nights. Produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, who also lends guitar and keyboards to some tracks, the album is equal parts contemplation and adrenaline. Anderson’s style is surprisingly formal, in the sense that his songs feel very tightly structured, which is fairly unusual when twang and rock meet (or maybe, at the very least, lots of bands are doing a good job of sounding more ragged than they really are). “Bellingham Blues” kicks off the album with Anderson singing, “this ain’t never been my home” over a lightly strummed arrangement punctuated by chiming guitars. Finishing the album’s framing job, “Real Gone” takes a snarling tone as Anderson concludes, “All this leaving better be worth the cost” and “When I die, you can scatter my ashes anywhere but here”.
In between the flames of those dual bridges burning, Nowhere Nights reinforces its theme of coming face-to-face with the need to make a change. “Sooner/Later” boasts a spry melody reminiscent of Jeffrey Foucault’s “Ghost Repeater” (in one live recording, Anderson humorously likens it to songs by Tom Petty, Warren Zevon, Peter Case, and others) as it tells its tale of love blooming and fading, while rocker “Torn Apart” addresses lost love with less sympathy. The title track confesses, “there was no great revelation / There was no blinding light / I just stopped sinking into those nowhere nights”. The more delicate “Leaving Kind” fittingly recalls the deliberate pacing that’s Matthew Ryan’s trademark as Anderson paints a picture of increasing isolation.
All told, Nowhere Nights invites the listener in with tales that we all recognize. We’ve all woken up in the morning at some point with a question — “what the Hell am I doing?”, for example — ringing in our heads. Usually, we tamp it down and get on with our day. Anderson listened, though, and Nowhere Nights documents the results. It ain’t clean and neat, and some feelings probably got hurt, but it’s hard to deny that the end result is possibly Anderson’s best, most personal effort yet.