A nice surprise: Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs

Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs at Ballard Seafood Fest 2011
Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs at Ballard Seafood Fest July 10, 2011

For Seattleites this has been an early summer with a few nice surprises. One was the warm weather over the Fourth of July weekend, after one of the coldest, wettest, darkest springs on record. Another (to me, anyway) was the appearance of Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs at Ballard’s Seafood Fest today. Fortunately (for me, anyway) I found out about it in time. Where else can you see such a great live band, for free, show up fifteen minutes beforehand and score an empty seat in the second row? (Wake up Ballard – you all should’ve been there!)

This is a band (also with its roots in Ellensburg, take note) who keeps getting better, tighter, more intense. Their ten-song, forty-five minute set included a generous helping of tunes from their new release (scheduled to be out on Tuesday) along with a few old favorites. Star’s voice recalls Janis Joplin’s but now she’s adding some full-on soul, or is it blues, or gospel, whatever it is, it’s one of the best things in vocal artistry going on today. What’s happening with the band is equally special; the keyboards of Ty Bailie are reminiscent of the best r&b you’ve heard; Travis Yost on drums and Keith Ash on bass move the powerful rhythms along, whether they are classic rock, blues, the kind of country that can only be called train-style, or their own unique blend of all of them: and Justin Davis’s lead guitar becomes a voice equal to Star’s, matching her soaring and dipping and growling and wailing, giving her something to lean on, and powering the most moving and joyful music they make.

If you don’t listen to anything else, listen to the tune that gives its title to the new album: Alone in This Together. Played live it starts out slow and quiet, vocals and guitar making sweet painful longing tangible; when the rest of the band kicks in with a drum beat that is like a kick in the guts, if you can stop yourself from crying you’re a better man (or woman) than I am.

But why try? Give in to it: that’s what is so wonderful about great music, giving into it, letting it wash over you and wash you under, becoming part of the experience the artists create, and making it into a memory.

Go to the album release party and show at Easy Street Records if you can. I wish I could.

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