Star Anna has the singer-songwriter style down, which means that sometimes she's fit for coffee shops or compilations populated with musicians like Sarah McLaughlin and Bonnie Raitt. Her voice is soulful but a little raspy, like Raitt's. She's not too saccharine and not too predictable, and yet she's music you could introduce to your parents.
That's not to say she's safe. Even in her most beautiful ballads she's talking about cigarette smoke and roads to hell. She sings "You are to me like a moon to a tide" in one song, but in another she "can't stand another minute of this cryin'." Mike McCready of Peal Jam plays on three of the tracks, and especially on "Wolves in Disguise," he kicks the guitar solo factor up several notches. Could be a deal-breaker for some listeners, but I think it just adds another texture to the album, keeping us from ever getting too comfortable.
Star Anna's backup band, the Laughing Dogs, adds just as much spice as McCready. The organ-infused ballad "For When I Go" reminds me of other modern bands—The Mynabirds and Detroit Cobras—that pull off vintage soul well. What's best about Star Anna, besides her mesmerizing voice, is that her heart isn't just breaking, she's ripping it out.
Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs play the Palace Thursday, September 29, at 9 PM with Fiancee and The Boxcutters. $5.