Remember that girl you met at the bowling alley? The one that chews gum, drinks several pitchers of beer, wears painted on jeans and tells you about French philosophy then winks at you as she gets strike after strike? She later on she goes and breaks your heart but you don’t care, you’re just glade to have been there to enjoy the time you had with her. No? Well Star Anna reminds me of that girl.
Well maybe not Star Anna personally but her music. It’s equal parts trashy Americana-laced rock mixed with sophisticated storytelling and charm that raises Anna and her band, The Laughing Dogs, to the a gritty level of greatness. It’s a gazing at the starts from the gutter kind of thing…
All the above qualities are on display in the opener Sleep My Darling. A woman sings to her lover to leave the world behind and to take refuge in her arms. The gentle solo guitar gives way to full band and then all comes head before calm returns and is then is again ditched. With this aural bi-polarism I’m left wondering if the woman’s arms are a sanctuary or a prison, but the song is so good you know you’re going to stay either way.
Through the Winter slinks along with vibrant 70’s Byrds/Stones swagger. Anna’s delivery of personal lyrics make her at once confessional and defiant, vulnerable and brave. Hawks on a Pole booms like a Lone Justice or Melissa Etheridge rollicking rocker and Justin Davis’ guitar especially cooks here. Where I Come From is a lovely, yearning number that takes us back to a more honky-tonk feel that defined much of Anna’s first CD Crooked Path.
In this world of many drinking songs you can now add as one of the best Spinning My Wheels which features the great line “I’m just sitting here spinning my wheels, but I’m not drunk enough to feel like I’m free” Though more rocking like the great Country drinking songs it’s one part pining and three parts I don’t give a shit. Burn is a Pretenders style pop-punk gem, For Now and the dark tale of a serial killer Restless Water, show what Anna can do with a slow moving ballad, her singular voice breaks and swells with aching.
Aside from longing and lost love (or at least the opportunity thereof) if there is a theme to be picked up on The Only Thing That Matters it’s leaving. Nowhere is that more apparent on the Running Man. The languidly jazz tempo thrown down by Frank Johnson’s slinky bass and Travis Yost’s syncopated drums slowly builds and erupts into a declaration of dereliction.
The closer Tripping Wire was a 2AM solo guitar cut and Anna really shines on it. This is the voice that cut through all the previous rockers all but standing on it’s own and shining like a dusty, dark jewel.
As heartbreaking as many of the songs are this is not a sad album, and though there is an element of moving on it’s not a chick therapy album.
It’s a cathartic jubulation that stands as another exceptional release from a master crafter of songs and her great band.