I met Kasey Anderson in 2007, shortly after the release of his second full-length LP, The Reckoning. Within a few months of our first meeting we’d become close friends - close enough that when he ran off the rails it took months before I could listen to his voice. But once I did I remembered that in spite of Kasey’s well-publicized crime, and subsequent Bipolar I diagnosis and trips to rehab and prison, there was never anything bogus about Kasey’s music. The songs he had written - the songs that made fans and friends of the likes of Jason Isbell, Steve Earle, Counting Crows, and others - were honest and true, and still sounded as great as they ever had. When Kasey got out of prison and told me he was done with writing and performing I encouraged him to think again. After a few months of coaxing, he agreed to at least give it a try. I helped him get a show at Portland’s Skyline Tavern and offered a little assistance on keyboards. His songs rang true that night and as we played a handful of other shows over the next year or so, I watched Kasey slowly, carefully, find his feet again.
In March of 2016, Adam Duritz asked Kasey to contribute something to Fierce, a benefit compilation for a friend undergoing treatment for Stage 4 cancer, so Kasey reached out to longtime cohort and producer-engineer-guitarist Jordan Richter, many-handed musician Ben Landsverk and Jesse Moffat and asked if they’d be interested in donating a track. They convened at Richter’s newly constructed Room 13 Recording and cut a sizzling cover of Tender Mercies’ “Wiseblood” for the benefit. That session spawned a series of informal jams in the fall of 2016, with the four adopting the moniker Hawks and Doves and Richter rolling tape for posterity’s sake in case anyone happened upon an idea they wanted to chase around later. Soon Kasey started scratching out new songs of his own, building from scraps he’d compiled during his prison stint. The straight ahead rocker “Chasing the Sky” came first, followed by “Lithium Blues” and the wickedly insightful “Get Low.” When Kasey started passing around Richter’s recordings of the early Hawks and Doves rehearsals, he asked me and a few old friends - Eric Ambel, Chip Robinson and BJ Barham (American Aquarium) among them - “is there a record here?”
The answer was yes.
Kasey remained hesitant but on the rare day when Richter’s studio wasn’t in use and everyone was free of other obligations, Hawks and Doves would convene at Room 13, and they’d spend a few hours laying down a basic track or adding layers to something they’d already started. The songs began to crystallize, and Kasey’s life was on the upswing, too. Already into his fifth year of sobriety, he began training to become a certified professional counselor for fellow sufferers of addiction and mental illness, and as the off-hours Hawks and Doves sessions picked up speed, Kasey and his girlfriend Caitlin got engaged.
And yet the road back is never smooth or straight: in the middle of one damp night in summer of 2017 Kasey suffered a grand mal seizure, a nearly fatal side effect of the lithium he’d been taking to control his bipolar disorder. The episode was scary, but corrected with smaller daily doses. The weeks Kasey spent recovering from the seizure yielded a new crop of songs including the swaggering, anthemic call-to-arms, “The Dangerous Ones,” the chiming tribute to Laura Jane Grace, “Bulletproof Hearts (For Laura Jane),” and the album’s keystone track, the unflinchingly confessional “From A White Hotel.”
As the tunes took shape more old friends started coming in to help. Former Honkies and Presidents of the United States of America lead guitarist Andrew McKeag sang and played on a couple of tunes. Letters to Cleo’s Kay Hanley added her dynamic voice to “The Dangerous Ones.” Kurt Bloch, late of the Fastbacks and Young Fresh Fellows, and now of the Pacific Northwest supergroup Filthy Friends, brought his guitar in for “Get Low” which also features Tom Waits’ renowned saxophonist Ralph Carney, performing on what would be one of the last songs he recorded before his untimely death at the end of 2017. Producer/singer-songwriter-guitarist extraordinaire Eric Ambel added his guitar to “Chasing the Sky,” while Blind Pilot’s Dave Jorgensen added trumpet and pump organ to “Every Once in a While” and “A Lover’s Waltz,” respectively, and Mercy Graves’ Marisa La Fata Mazur made her voice the finishing touch for “Every Once In a While.” Still, the thread that runs through the album is the sound of Hawks and Doves: Kasey’s searing vocals, Jordan Richter’s intricately textured guitar work, the beautiful layers of organ, piano, viola and harmony vocals Ben Landsverk laid over the foundation built by Landsverk’s own bass playing and Jesse Moffat’s drums. Hawks and Doves delivers on the promise Kasey Anderson had hinted at in the past, but had never been able to stay out of his own way long enough to realize.
From a White Hotel is an album years in the making — some would say 38 years in the making — and so it makes sense that the new Kasey Anderson album, due July 27 on Jullian Records (just six days after Kasey and Caitlin will hold their wedding ceremony), won’t bear Kasey’s name on the cover. It’s not the next anything. It’s the first Hawks and Doves record; the work of a revived man with a restored creative vision, surrounded by the people who helped revive and restore him.
“I ain’t no Steve Earle,” Kasey sings in “Clothes Off My Back,” as the album’s penultimate track soars to a close, “but I feel alright.” From a White Hotel is an album shot through with honesty and wit, but those lines ring out clearly as an admission: the road ahead is long and challenging, and Kasey’s journey towards reconciliation and redemption nowhere near its end. The good news for the rest of us travelers is that we’ve got Kasey Anderson back among us.
Peter Ames Carlin