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Reality Bites: Kasey Anderson and Chip Robinson at the Golden West Café, April 27

April 29, 2010
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By Anna Foster

Because it’s on such a small label, Kasey Anderson’s Nowhere Nights hasn’t received much attention, but it’s one of the year’s best Americana albums, a coming-of-age farewell to slackerdom delivered with just the right balance of liberated release and lingering regret. On Tuesday, Anderson played much of the disc at the Golden West Café beneath the baleful gaze of the mounted bison head. With his beguiling sandpaper voice and his guitar chords that never seemed to resolve, the skinny singer-songwriter from Portland, Ore., was able to sustain his lengthy songs until he had explored every corner of that farewell.

Wearing a sloping tweed cap and a red-and-black flannel shirt, Anderson sat in the bay window with an acoustic guitar on his right thigh. “I woke up this morning and 15 years were gone,” he sang on “Bellingham Blues.” “I kept walking down these streets like I was searching for somebody I knew I’d never meet.” The song refers to Bellingham, Wash., where the singer spent way too many “Nowhere Nights.” In Baltimore he defined that title as “whatever you can sink into and whatever lies you tell yourself while you’re sinking.”

He evoked the seduction of those nights in songs such as “All Lit Up” and “Sooner/Later” but he also nailed the necessity of leaving them behind on his longest, best song, “Real Gone.” He hit a rock-n-roll riff on his hollow box and let it hang there as he sang each item in his long catalog of lessons learned the hardest way. Finally he concluded: “All this leaving better be worth the cost, because it doesn’t take long; the world keeps spinning and fate keeps rolling along, and you know everybody’s got somebody gonna miss them after they’re gone.”

Chip Robinson was the leader of North Carolina’s Backsliders, a 1990s experiment in what might have happened if Gram Parsons had actually joined the Rolling Stones. Robinson is now a solo artist who shares a producer (Eric “Roscoe” Ambel), a label (Red River Records), and a Houston-to-Albany tour with Anderson. At the Golden West Robinson proved he still has a knack for those Keith Richards riffs, even when he’s sitting in a chair with an acoustic guitar. But Robinson spent just as much time on the brooding ballads such as “The Story” and “Wishin’ on the Cars” from his new album Mylow. Baltimore’s Peter Schmader opened the show with a set of likable Americana covers and a new rockabilly arrangement of his signature song, “Wallpaper Cowboy.”

It’s good that our town now has a venue willing to book indie-label Americana acts. But why would anyone start such a show at 10:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night? This will never be some hipster/slacker city where mornings don’t matter. This is still a working town, which is precisely why we need Americana’s dose of realism.

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