Warren Haynes – Ashes & Dust (ALBUM REVIEW)

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warrenashesalbumWarren Haynes has done more than his share of musical exploration during the course of his career. From working with outlaw country artist David Allen Coe he joined Dickey Betts’ Pattern Disruptive band which led directly to his extended tenure with The Allman Brothers during which time  he formed Gov’t Mule, now a  twenty year plus enterprise. During that time he’s collaborated with Phil Lesh as well as the rest of the surviving members of  the Grateful Dead as well as John Scofield. And that doesn’t take into account Haynes’ 2011 R& B centered solo outing Man in Motion.

Yet he’s never delved into the acoustic-based likes of  Ashes & Dust, recorded with Railroad Earth  Still, this nouveau bluegrass/folk music is immediately recognizable as Haynes’ own on the initial cut, “Is It Me or Is It You,” and equally so on his cover of Billy Ed Wheeler’s “Coal Tattoo.” The alternately mournful and sprightly fiddle of Tim Carbone, in combination with mandolin from John Skehan, effectively offsets the wan tone of both tracks and even more so in contrast with the electric edge of the guitarist’s slide work. Subdued arrangements like that of “Blue Maiden’s Tale” are fully fleshed out with the playing of the aforementioned duo and the rest of Railroad Earth, who have so thoroughly bonded with Haynes, the musicians are now integrated as a single septet.

The unit’s interactions as on “Company Man” are effortlessly fluid, and they impart authenticity to this material, most of which was composed by the leader of the sessions. The lyrics display a keen, soulful introspection which only enhances Haynes’ ability to identify with such character portraits as “Hallelujah Boulevard.” And whether it’s the comparatively upbeat barroom mood of “Stranded in Self Pity” or the resonant melancholy in  “New Year’s Eve,” the nuances of atmosphere are as evident in the vocals of Haynes as in the arrangements, never more so than in those moment when the phrasing of his otherwise guttural voice turns soft and sleek.

Perhaps as a combination of encouragement and affirmation of such restrained delivery, female vocalists make distinct contributions to Ashes & Dust. Shawn Colvin’s background vocals on “Wanderlust” sound like a mirror image of the lead singing, while Haynes’ harmonizing with Grace Potter on Stevie Nicks’ “Gold Dust Woman” renders successful an idea that, on paper, might not seem to work; the careful mesh of their voices allows for deep feeling to permeate the famous tune, so much so they make the track their own. Yet the most notable aspect of this cut, apart from its abiding association with Fleetwood Mac, is that it rests comfortably within the dozen that surround it.

Produced by Warren Haynes himself, Ashes & Dust evinces as much artistic courage as curiosity, a combination of virtues reflected in his openness to supporting the players and singers around him, remaining justifiably confident in his own abilities. Meanwhile, his own personality still manifests itself vividly on this album, especially on the more extended  tracks “Word On The Wind” and “Spots of Time”(distinguished by the presence of former Allman Brothers Oteil Burbridge on bass and Marc Quinones on percussion), where the detail of  engineer Jim Scott’s expert sound mix magnifies the continuity of the recording with this man’s previous work and that of his collaborating partners. Comparable to the extraordinary skill of great actors and actresses whose public personae disappear as they render a role, it’s easy to forget exactly who you’re hearing on this record, and just luxuriate in the purity of expression.

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