When Warren Haynes released the rocking soul and gospel set Man in Motion in 2011, it was the fulfillment of a dream, to write and record songs that reflected the early influence of those sounds on his musical development with an all-star band. Ashes & Dust is another side of his story. Growing up in Asheville, North Carolina, Haynes was equally exposed to bluegrass, mountain folk music, and country gospel. Their influence is plentiful here, on originals and covers alike. He’s chosen New Jersey’s endlessly inventive roots music ensemble Railroad Earth this time out. Haynes uses electric guitars here; they are part and parcel of a largely acoustic tapestry that can loosely be called Americana. He wrote or co-wrote eight of these 13 tunes. Among the highlights is “Company Man,” a song that’s been around for more than a decade in his own shows. It was inspired by his father’s hard-wrought life and work experiences; though it is ultimately triumphant, the song’s narrative poignantly details struggle. John Skehan‘s mandolin, Andy Goessling‘s banjo and strummed acoustic, and Tim Carbone‘s fiddle swirl around Haynes‘ stinging electric break, which adds drama to his lyric. The cover of Billy Edd Wheeler‘s classic “Coal Tattoo” (he’s the songwriter and visual artist who wrote “Jackson” for Johnny Cash) weds Appalachian mountain music to the electric blues with Haynes slide cutting through the banjo and mandolin. Shawn Colvin and Mickey Raphael assist on the road-weary country-rock of “Wanderlust.” “Stranded in Self-Pity” is a jazzy rag blues with a honky tonk piano underscoring Haynes‘ wily electric guitar, Carbone‘s fiddle, and Skehan‘s clarinet solo. One can hear the influences of Levon Helm and T-Bone Wolk on the track, which is only fitting. He planned this record seven years ago and they were both supposed to play on it. The only misstep here is the cover of Fleetwood Mac‘s “Gold Dust Woman,” with Grace Potter almost mimicking songwriter Stevie Nicks‘ role. It’s such a straight arrangement that it adds virtually nothing. “Spots of Time” is the set’s longest cut at over eight minutes, co-written with Phil Lesh. It is one of two tracks here to feature drums and percussion by Marc Quiñones. It’s a loping, breezy rocker with a gorgeous extended jazz guitar solo; it would have been right at home in the Grateful Dead‘s catalog. Closer “Word on the Wind” is an excellent update — even reinvention — of Southern rock; it exists in a space where Marshall Tucker, Crazy Horse, and the (Joe Walsh era) James Gang all melt into one another. While Ashes & Dust doesn’t really add anything “new” to Haynes‘ musical profile — fans already knew this was here — there are some fine benchmarks: his singing has never used such a range of dynamics before; for once he lets the song dictate his expression. Others are tight songwriting and arranging craft — especially when fleshed out by the almost limitless creativity of Railroad Earth. Ashes & Dust is a worthy and welcome addition to Haynes‘ catalog.
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