Review Summary: Kasey Anderson and The Honkies show that there is still something left to be said for straight-up, no frills country rock.Heart of a Dog
is all about keeping it simple. Even in Kasey Anderson’s description of how the record came together, he states, “I wanted to make a rock ‘n’ roll record with my friends. I wanted to write ten good songs, put everyone in a room, and roll tape. So that’s what we did.” Needless to say, this is not an experimental release, and there is nothing particularly ambitious going on here from a musical perspective. So what separates Heart of a Dog
from its contemporaries? Well for starters, its “country influence” is no gimmick - it can be felt in every pulsating stomp and with each twangy riff. But this album also carries the heaviness and swagger of classic rock a la George Thorogood’s ‘Bad to the Bone’, just modernized. Heart of a Dog
is accessible but in no way soft, and it is sure to speak to your innate rebellious rocker.
Kasey Anderson and The Honkies are not the newcomers they might seem to the blues/country-rock/roots-rock genre. Having released four albums prior to Heart of a Dog
, Anderson is a seasoned veteran of the scene, and he has a firm grasp on what direction he wants to take his new music. Anderson has proclaimed, “I just wanted to a make a record that could not be described by using the word twang.” Seeing as it is already too late for that wish to be fulfilled via this review, it is also essential to point out that this album isn’t the clear-cut departure from the norm that he desired it to be. It doesn’t delve into roots-rock nearly as frequently as, say, Nowhere Nights
(Kasey Anderson’s last solo release), but it still slips back into that comfort zone too frequently to fulfill his wishes. But before anyone condemns this as a failed change in direction, they should consider two things. First, Anderson and his fellow Honkies do an admirable enough job of breaking the pattern, with an ever-apparent influx of pure rock ‘n’ roll music. Second, what traces remain of roots-rock and country provide endearing undertones that contribute to Heart of a Dog
’s personality and make it all the more distinguishable.
Kasey Anderson and the Honkies kick things off with some in-your-face, purely “rock” music. The power-driven opener ‘The Wrong Light’ sends groovy, distorted electric guitar licks through your speaker, announcing Heart of a Dog
’s arrival in a raw, gritty fashion. The buzzing riffs knife through the air, alternating turns with low, thunderous drum beats to create a badass blues environment that is an irresistible listen for anyone who appreciates the incorporation of soul and rhythm in his/her music. The album progresses quite naturally to the highly melodic, up-tempo ‘Mercy’, which rolls along with its fair share of guitar riffs and pace-dictating percussion that is toned down just a notch from the blistering opener. Despite its primarily rock-oriented nature, the album actually possesses plenty of slow, harmonious tracks as well; the most immediate among them being ‘Exit Ghost.’ The song showcases some of the band’s piano skills, which assume a heavy role in the ballad-like introduction and the bridge. The heavy Bruce Springsteen vibe certainly contributes to the song’s status as an “anthem”, all the way down to the war-weapon imagery in the lyrics: “saw you down by the water with your friends / sinking like the setting sun / I felt the street getting hotter / Like the end of the barrel of the loaded gun
To this point, the country sway and roots-rock of Anderson’s past has more or less evaded him, but like a lost puppy, it finds its way back by the record’s midsection. Ironically, this occurs on ‘Kasey Anderson’s Dream’, a track in which Anderson himself brings the country roots to the table with his twangy
vocal inflections during the verses and even more so when he slyly belts out “ashes, ashes we all fall down
.” ‘My Blues, My Love’ suffers the same fate where Anderson gets in his own way by failing to escape the country-rock sound that he has become so accustomed to. Both songs are still quite good, they just fall short from a goals perspective. Anderson still manages to keep things rock-oriented for the most part, though, as late album tracks like ‘Revisionist History Blues’ metaphorically hold down the rock ‘n’ roll fort despite an opening riff that is eerily - scratch that – suspiciously
similar to the all-time great Rolling Stones anthem ‘Satisfaction.’ The closing track, ‘Save It for Later’ does a much better job of crafting an original rocker, with an upbeat but easy-going tempo that effectively sums up the record while simultaneously avoiding the clichéd “end-of-album-ballad” that plagues way too many modern works.
One of the best things about Heart of a Dog
is that there really isn’t a bad
song on it. It may struggle with consistency, especially in terms of artistic direction and the inclusion of various styles, but from a track-by-track perspective nothing is easily skipped. The clashing of country, blues, roots-rock, and classic rock combine to form a sound that is quite unique, even if it was unintentional. Kasey Anderson and The Honkies have created a fun, multi-faceted, and multi-genre
album that is worth lending an ear to, and I’ll be damned if they aren’t showing just a ton of promise.