Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs getting a little help from friends
“I’m gonna tear myself open and shine.”
The first line in the chorus of “Shine,” the opening track of the third CD from Star Anna and The Laughing Dogs ”Alone In This Together” due out July 12th on Local 638 Records, are probably the most telling words of the album. On the new album, Star Anna and the band tear themselves open and shine like a sun going supernova. The intensity of riding the edge of near destruction ,while pushing the limits of both physical and emotional boundaries, are reflected in each of these ten supremely crafted songs from Star Anna and guitarist Justin Davis.
“He (Justin) played ‘Shine’ for me sitting on the porch in Ellensburg and I cried,” said Anna of Davis. “It’s his song, but it just fit me. I really need to believe a song whether it’s mine or someone else’s to sing it.”
There are no wasted words here as Anna’s aching raspy alto (imagine Joan Jett singing Patsy Cline) soars above the wide-open rocking Americana sound of The Laughing Dogs. Star Anna admits “we made a concerted effort to move to the city and away from the alt country thing and towards a more rock sound.”
In part, this was accomplished by the fantastic addition of Ty Baillie on organ and piano, who Anna praises as “one of the best players around.”
“He sat in with us many times over the years and kept joking with us, ‘if you ever move to Seattle I’d join the band’, so we did and he had no more excuses,” she said.
Star Anna moved the band to Seattle in the fall of 2010 and entered the studio soon after.
Along with Davis (guitar), and Baillie (keys), the Laughing Dogs include Travis Yost (drums) and Keith Ash (bass) to create a strong and balanced band, reminiscent of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at their muscular best. The album’s mix of four on the floor rock, lonesome blues, country heartache and rolling gospel, play together seamlessly from start to finish as if the album was crafted as one continuous piece.
“We tracked in the studio for about a week, which was the easy part,” said Anna. “The hard part was all the overdubs and double vocal tracks, hours and hours of mixing with (producer) Brad, but now it’s done and we are just waiting for it come out and see what happens.”
Star Anna ,who has been winning a legion of fans while living in the shadow of fellow Northwest chanteuse Brandi Carlile, is bound to get some much deserved attention with the release of the first single and title track anthem “Alone In This Together.”
” I wrote this one for my family, so I am really proud of this song in every way,” Anna said.
On the song’s meaning, she said “It is big enough that people can make what they want of it.”
Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready makes a great guest appearance on the track, and two other tunes, after bringing the band to record at Pearl Jam’s Studio Litho, and signing them to a distribution deal with Monkey Wrench Records. “Mike is amazing; we cannot begin to thank him enough, without him, we’d still be spinning our wheels,” Anna said. “We met Mike through mutual friends and did the Hootenanny for the Gulf benefit together, and Mike asked when our next record was coming out, we said well we don’t know, we haven’t got a deal or anything, he just said to me ‘let’s get it done, anything you need I’m here to help.’ “
McCready is joined on the Laughing Dogs team by Visqueen Singer and President of Local 638 Records, Rachel Flotard. “What she accomplishes in one day is more than I could do in weeks,” said Anna of Flotard, “she is just so amazing, I am so lucky to have her help.” The team formed a plan to bring Star and her band to a wider audience with more outdoor concerts this summer, the highlight of which will be their appearance at the PJ20 festival in August opening for Pearl Jam. “It is really exciting and should be cooler than anything we’ve ever done before, I had no idea we’d really get in and Rachel set it all up,” explained Anna.
When asked where the background for her intense songs comes from Anna said, “Every song is different and hard to pin point. I heard Tom Petty say once he didn’t know where the ideas for his songs come from, and then he said ‘I hope I don’t find out ‘cause I might lose it’, well me either.”
Discussing other album highlights, including the gut wrenching blues of “For When I Go” which finds Anna channeling Etta James in her Chess Records prime, Anna said, “Justin wrote the chords for that one and I just went for it.”
The timeless songwriting of the duet with Justin Davis “Bird Without Wings,” could have been penned for Sam Cooke or Otis Redding. “Justin was kidding me that I didn’t have any happy songs,” Anna explains of the song’s origin. “No way, I have happy songs, what about Bird Without Wings? It’s a love song I wrote last summer while babysitting, but it’s still sad, really,” she added with a laugh.
On the riff rocker “Time,” Anna defiantly sings: “I can’t stand another minute of this crying,” sounding like a warrior of complicated love, determined to prevail no matter the cost.
The pure poetry of “Gold and Silver,” shines like a long lost gem from the Willie Nelson songbook.
The mournful lament “Just Leave Me There,” shows Anna’s talent for telling a tale of a heart that has been ripped wide open and left for all to see.
The album’s swinging gospel-flavored finale “High Water,” is fueled by the mighty B3 playing from Ty Baillie and revival tent fervor from”Uncle Sigmund’s Fun time Singers,” “that is everyone having a great time singing around one mic and trying not to laugh at Justin and his wacky low harmony,” Anna explained. But as the revelry fades, Anna gets in the last word, as always.
“I am just so excited about this album and what the future holds,” said Anna, who still has a day job for the time being. “I work at a Doggy Daycare, so that and music are all I have time for; oh yeah, and good food, those are my passions, dogs, music, and burgers with bacon.”
Rick J Bowen
Originally Published in Innocent Words July 2011.