2009 is turning out to be a really great year for new music. It is also turning out to be the year of the covers/tribute albums. Already we have heard covers/tribute releases from Phosphorescent (To Willie), The Sadies and John Doe (Country Club), Steve Earle (Townes), and the upcoming Yim Yames (Jim James of My Morning Jacket) Tribute To George Harrison (Aug. 4). For me, all three of former releases don't do much that the original songs can't do on their own. Don't get me wrong, they are good, solid albums. Its just that, for the most part, I would rather listen to the originals.
When I first received Kasey Anderson's latest album Way Out West, I didn't look at the track list and just popped it into my MP3 player to listen to while I ran my Saturday afternoon errands. It took me until the sixth track to realize that it was a covers album. Now you are probably thinking that the reason I flaked on the first five tracks is that I am not the music geek that I claim to be, which may be true. Its no secret that I don't really dig the Arcade Fire, and I have never listened to Keith Urban. But damn, I've listened to the shit out of Tom Waits Mule Variations, and I totally missed that one too! My point is that, unlike other covers albums released this year, Anderson truly makes these songs his own. Most of these songs are reworkings rather than genuine covers. Anderson adds his own style to each track, without tarnishing the beauty of the original song.
Anderson's musical approach is clearly influenced by the alt country styles of early Steve Earle albums. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Bob Dylan tune "High Water (for Charlie Patton)." Anderson turns Dylan's banjo-infused folk song into a country-rock anthem that sounds like it could be easily out of Earle's back catalog.
But Way Out West is not all country-rock. "I Still Miss Someone" is so ethereal that I can easily see it being used as background music in a heart-wrenching movie scene. Anderson's version of "Open All Night" is electric blues-based rock that sounds like it should be blasting from the stereo speakers at your favorite dive bar. I might actually like the Arcade Fire if they pulled out all of the foo-foo instrumentation and stuck to rock and roll, like Anderson's take on "Keep the Car Running"
Anderson performed all of the vocals and played every instrument on the album, with the exception of female backing vocals on "Walls" (performed by Anna Foster). The Pacific Northwest native self-recorded Way Out West earlier this year while living, traveling, and gigging around Europe. This digital-only release is one of the first releases on his own label, Red River Records. Anderson said that he recorded these particular tracks because they are tunes that he loves as well as songs that he has been playing for years.
His passion for these very different tracks is highly evident. The ten reworked songs span 52 years of music ("I Still Miss Somone," 1955, to "Keep the Car Running," 2007), highlight indie (Marah) and mainstream (Keith Urban) musicians, and cover folk, rock, alternative, and country genres. For me, Way Out West is what I expected and hoped the other covers/tribute albums released in 2009 would be like. Anderson adds something novel to these songs and make them his own.
1. Open All Night (orig. Bruce Springsteen)
2. Keep the Car Running (orig. Arcade Fire)
3. Hold On (orig. Tom Waits)
4. Days Go By (orig. Keith Urban)
5. Drifting (orig. Pearl Jam)
6. Walls (orig. Tom Petty)
7. High Water (for Charley Patton) (orig. Bob Dylan)
8. Round Eye Blues (orig. Marah)
9. I Still Miss Someone (orig. Johnny Cash)
10. To Live is to Fly (orig. Townes Van Zandt)
Walls (Tom Petter cover).mp3
Buy (iTunes or CD Baby): Way Out West (2009)
Its Kasey Anderson week in the blogosphere! Anderson recently wrote a wonderful guest post for NineBullets.net. He also included a brilliant original song to go along with his article. If you can't get enough of Mr. Anderson, he also has a four song bonus EP entitled The Seeker that will be available on Aug. 25. Some of the tracks are currently streaming on the Red River Records site. Anderson is planning to release his third original album Nowhere Nights in early 2010. You can listen to the forthcoming song "All Lit Up" on the Red River site.