Back in November of 2014, Railroad Earth posted a handful of pictures with Warren Haynes from the studio. At the time, the collaboration remained mysterious… what were the two creative forces doing together?
Soon, details came to light. With the dissolution of the Allman Brothers last October, Haynes found himself with some extra time on his hands. The perennial guitarist had a bounty of written folk songs without a home, so, naturally, the hardest working man in rock and roll sat down to record himself a folk album. The result is Ashes & Dust, a 13-track album spearheaded by Warren Haynes, with eloquent folk accompaniment from the masters of Railroad Earth.
In some ways, the album feels familiar. Haynes still maintains his powerful presence, both on vocals and on guitar. It’s the overall mood of the album that feels different. Right from the opening tones of the first track, “Is It Me Or You”, it’s wholly evident that Ashes & Dust is another shade of Haynes’ emotional repertoire. The longing violin and soulful mandolin ease the listener into a downtrodden ballad, as Haynes asks “Is it me or you that’s killing you babe?”
As with a number of the songs on Ashes & Dust, the song is actually decades old. In a Rolling Stone interview, Haynes shares that he wrote it for a friend in a “downward spiral”, and that the “extremely personal” track never felt right until it was placed in a bluegrass setting.
Another older number is “Company Man”, a stomping track that was inspired by Haynes’ father and his strong sense of conviction. While the track is more upbeat, Haynes’ longing vocals and the bluegrass backing gives the song, and album, a sense of forlorn desperation.
Indeed, following tracks like “New Year’s Eve” and “Stranded In Self-Pity” maintain a slower tempo. To say that the songs are ‘sad’ does not do them justice, it’s more apt to identify a tune like “Stranded In Self-Pity” as melancholy. The drawn tones from the violins and mandolins are a perfect match for Haynes vocal style.
One particular highlight of the album is a fiery cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman”, with guest vocals from Grace Potter. Haynes and Potter breathe a passionate energy into the rock standard, complete with the tactful grace of Railroad Earth.
Another interesting offering is the song “Spots of Time”, written by Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh. The song was part of the Allman Brothers Band repertoire, even featuring ABB members Oteil Burbridge and Marc Quinones. Inspired by poetry from Wordsworth, the jam sections of the piece are certainly distinct from the surrounding folk offerings. They do not, however, detract from the folk overtones of the album, as the song is full of lengthy fiddle solos and more.
The album concludes with the slowed-down soulful numbers “Hallelujah Blvd.” and “Word On The Wind”. And thus concludes the eloquent melancholy of Ashes & Dust. While fans are certainly more familiar with Warren Haynes in a rock and roll setting, Ashes & Dust is definitive proof that Haynes is equally as powerful and dynamic in a folk/bluegrass setting.
Haynes will debut this new album at a release party with Railroad Earth at Town Hall in NYC next Thursday, July 23rd. After a handful of appearances with RRE, Haynes will continue his folk offerings with the newly-assembled Ashes & Dust Band this fall. If Ashes & Dust is any indication, you will not want to miss this upcoming tour.