Here’s a guest blog on Star Anna from Seattle music writer Mikel Toombs, a former colleague of mine at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
“We went through a lot of stuff,” Justin Davis, guitarist for her band The Laughing Dogs, said with a smile (of course, Justin’s always smiling).
The readily obvious sign that all’s not well was that the indie label, Malamute Records, that released Star Anna’s great Americana debut, “Crooked Path,” is no longer in the picture. (The new album is self-released, as one might guess from the partially illegible song listing. Or maybe Star likes her CD art as dark as her songs.)
If the turbulence troubled Star, she didn’t say so directly, but it surely factored into her notably intense performance here. (Gene Stout has memorably called her vocals “haunting” and they were especially so on Saturday.) After all, this is a woman who sings, “Every mistake that I’ve made/It stays with me.”
Star and her Dogs made few mistakes, as they delivered both the new songs and tried to shake up a couple of the old favorites.
There were amusing ska undertones to “Space Beneath the Door” and Gary Westlake, the vibrant guitarist for second-billed Kristen Ward (impressive), added Southern-rock flavor
to “Devil Don’t Remember,” re-imagined for the occasion, perhaps, as “Devil Who Went Down to Georgia Don’t Remember.” (Opening was Hurricane Chaser, fronted by singer-guitarist Brad Zeffren, who produced Star’s new album and also both of Ward’s.)
Loping and moping, Star shined on the heartbreaking (and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers-ing) “Burn” and an apparent Neko Case homage, “Hawks on a Pole” (the bird reference gives it away), as well as her very own murder ballad (“Watch the body count rise”), the extra-murky “Restless Water.” Her sole solo number, “Tripping Wire,” was equally bleak (“Darkness grows like a cancerous hole”) and yet somehow reassuring: “I know it’s gonna hurt sometimes/Doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile/To feel the ups and downs that make us alive.”
(Toombs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)