Ashes & Dust
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The busiest guitarist in roots rock hasn’t had much time for solo albums. In a career packed with playing the jammin’ blues of the Allman Brothers Band, the psychedelic wanderings of various Grateful Dead offshoots and the blustery prog inflected rock of Gov’t Mule, Warren Haynes has had plenty of other projects to divert his attention. But even with all of those creative outlets, he accumulated material that didn’t fit the format of the acts he was already involved with.
Some of those tunes appeared on 2011’s terrific soul/jazz album, Man in Motion,but there was still room explore Haynes’ more acoustic, organic side. He does just that with his latest creation, a collaboration with the bluegrass/acoustic leaning Railroad Earth called Ashes & Dust. Although it is only Haynes’ third studio title under his own moniker, fans will remember the predominantly unplugged solo 2004 Live at Bonnaroo, which provided a glimpse into his acoustic leanings.
Ashes & Dust reveals a far more rustic musical slant. That along with the give and take synergy from veteran roots outfit Railroad Earth makes this a unique entry into Haynes’ prolific catalog. The singer/songwriter appropriately allows the sextet a “featuring” cover credit since it’s impossible to imagine these songs resonating so fully without them to flesh out the sound. The music leans towards bluegrass and folk with tunes primarily about salt-of-the-earth, proudly blue-collar Americans struggling to make it through the next week or paycheck. From the miner in “Coal Tattoo” to the honest hard worker screwed by the corporation in “Company Man” and the dogged bounty hunter of “Glory Road,” Haynes sings these lyrics with the compassion and understanding of someone who knows these folks well. His flinty voice seems less gruff here, which melds well with the lighter instrumental touch of the music.
Even with the less aggressive approach, there is room for jamming. That’s particularly evident on the 8 ½ minute flowing jazzy/roots “Spots of Time” which features both bassist Oteil Burbridge and percussionist Marc Quinones from the ABB and stretches out with an extended sweet and saucy fiddle solo from Earth’s Tim Carbone. Grace Potter swings by for the session’s only duet on a heart tugging version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman” that nearly bests the original. The gypsy strains that power “Beat Down the Dust” shift the groove in a slightly European direction and things even get spacey on the atmospheric, moody “Hallelujah Boulevard.”
As usual with Haynes’ releases, you get your money’s worth; the 13 tracks max out the CD’s 80 minute playing time. But it’s not just quantity that makes this such a successful pairing. Haynes and Railroad Earth work beautifully together to create primarily unplugged music that is as driven, passionate and meticulously crafted as anything either has done on their own. Knowing Haynes, he will soon move onto other ventures and sonic explorations. Hopefully though, based on the resounding success of Ashes & Dust, the melodic adventurer will reunite with these musicians somewhere down his endless highway.