A turn to Americana
As the jam scene goes, there is no more ubiquitous name than Warren Haynes. He’s been an axe man for legendary groups such as the Allman Brothers, the Grateful Dead (playing as the Dead), and Phil Lesh & Friends, as well as front man for Gov’t Mule. He’s been such a presence in that scene it’s easy to forget his latest record, Ashes & Dust, is only his third solo effort and his first foray into the singer/songwriter mode. The album marks such a smooth transition from Haynes’ Southern rock guitar sound to Americana it’s a wonder he never dabbled in this format before.
The fact this is Hayne’s first time producing an album of Americana exemplifies something else about the jam band scene: The term jam band is way too simplistic and does not capture the wide range of musical styles out there ripe for inspired meanderings. Exhibit A is Railroad Earth, the band Haynes has teamed up with to produce the songs on this album. Hailing from the lesser known and more beautiful end of New Jersey, Stillwater, Railroad Earth has been quietly making a name for themselves as a tight and improvisationally creative Americana band that incorporates fiddles, banjos and mandolins into their songs and live shows. Haynes first met the band when they were opening for the Allmans at Red Rocks, and they had a meeting of the minds. Teaming up with Railroad Earth allows Haynes to achieve a mellower, acoustic singer/songwriter sound without losing the ability to open up live shows in a way that makes live shows great.
But let’s not digress; the album at hand is a great collection of 13 songs narrowed down from approximately 30 Haynes and Railroad Earth actually recorded. He tackles themes of nostalgia, working man woes in “Coal Tattoo” and “Company Man,” and an understated rebuke of the state of the current economic system in “Beat Down the Dust.” Many of these songs have been swimming around in Haynes’ noodle for quite some time given he’s been performing at least one, “Spots of Time,” live with the Allman Brothers for a number of years. This is the longest track on the record due to the fiddle-infused jam that closes out the song. It’s also a track with a long and strong pedigree given Haynes wrote the song with Grateful Dead bass player, Phil Lesh.
Haynes has enlisted quite a number of his friends to help out, Oteil Burbridge and Marc Quinones of the Allman Brothers, and Grace Potter who does beautiful vocals on a stellar, slow and haunting version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman.” All the assistance shows Haynes giving a deep nod to his colleagues. Haynes never gets too showy on the record but plays as a colleague, while never leaving any doubt he is a phenomenal guitar player capable of many tones and moods. The man doesn’t need to show off; he’s being inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame this year. He’s now owning his accomplishments.