Our recent Indian summer was an opportunity to listen to some “sunny” music and going through some CDs I noticed that Texan Ash Gray’s debut album was still in the pending file with its release date well and truly missed. Fuzzy recollections of a first listen to the album were of some shining pedal steel, reason enough to bang it back into the CD player and give it another go. Fortunately a fine decision as Gray’s songs are of a sunny type, not so much in the lyrics but the winsome acoustic guitars, the deceptively care free delivery and, yes, some shining pedal steel is definitely the sort of music you would want wafting around as you laze on a porch or in a garden sipping something cool and with the sun shining late last week we did just that.
Of course there’s little point in recommending a summer album just as we head into the darker nights but this isn’t the Beach Boys and Gray’s light tenored voice and the overall excellence of the majority of the songs here are just as well savoured indoors particularly the honky tonk styled Whiskey Down and the beguiling Needlecase which comes across somewhat like a meet up between Ray Davies and Neil Young. There’s some power pop brashness on 55 which recalls Tom Petty’s early offerings with jangling guitars galore while Waiting For The World sashays between cantina culture (courtesy of some very fine acoustic guitar from Paul Caruso) and portent with its Dylanesque lyrics.
The opening title song is another poetic piece stuffed full of fiery imagery but Gray really gets into gear with the following Two Lane Blacktop, a ramshackle ride of a song that has the looseness and vibrancy of Uncle Tupelo as the guitars corkscrew their way through a classic road song. Santa Fe Sound on the other hand swells with the aforementioned pedal steel soaring over and around the vocals with Nina Murphy harmonising with Gray. There’s a folky element to Fiddler’s Son which showcases Gray’s own fretwork as sparks fly from his acoustic guitar in a manner reminiscent of Bert Jansch, a feat repeated on the country blues of Black Muddy Woman where again his guitar playing stands out.
Santa Fe Sand
And here’s a video from a few years ago