Live versions from the Ash Gray catalogue, re-imagined by a rocking red hot band.
Well, welcome to some very slick, excitingly played live country rock… from Sheffield! Think early Poco, or the Flying Burrito Brothers, or Creedence or New Riders of the Purple Sage and you will get a flavour of the variety of sounds that Ash Gray and the Burners deliver in this live recording from the Dorothy Pax in Sheffield, made just as live music was once more rearing its head as the pandemic abated slightly.
Ash Gray is from Texas, courtesy of ex-pat Yorkshire parents, and after stints in New York and London, he re-located to Sheffield where he shares his time between there and Texas. As a mainstay of the local music scene (with a podcast to talk about it to boot) he has been able to gather around him a band of outstanding British musicians for this live album (‘Live 55’ because that is the length of it), and they do not put a foot wrong throughout. The highest profile goes to steel player Jim Widdop, closely followed by electric guitarist Tom Jarvis – the interplay between them is amazing, not just because of the quality but because they vary the tone and style from track to track – compare the opening track ‘Jeremiah’ with the track that follows ‘The Creek Don’t Rise’ (a favourite from the ‘Chickenwire‘ album) and then the final track ‘When the Devil Comes Home’.
On keyboards, Joe Newman rounds out the sound beautifully even if he does not take the spotlight often, apart from a scintillating series of solos on ‘The County Line’, while the rhythm section of Tom Townsend (drums – an exciting solo leading in to ‘The Other Man’) and Johnny Griff on bass is as good as it gets. All the band members play or have played for many years with other bands but together it is as if they had played together in this band forever.
Ash Gray has an agreeable voice, a bit thin to start and not particularly distinguished but which improves as the album proceeds and which really is in fine shape for the aforementioned closing track ‘When the Devil comes Home’. And this track has a real down-and-dirty vibe, from snarling voice to a series of swirling steel solos. And he writes some good songs – about open highways (‘Two Lane Blacktop’) , gunslingers young (‘Billy’) and old (‘3 Old Guns’), good ol’ bars (‘The County Line’), rambling rivers (‘The Creek don’t Rise’) and relationships of various kinds (‘Jeremiah’, ‘ Sundown’). He has a great way with a tune, whether it is a melodic verse or catchy chorus where the band provide excellent backing vocals. This live album is his third full-length outing and seven of the songs are from his two studio albums ‘Chickenwire’ (2018) and ‘Once I got Burned’ (2013), significantly beefed up in these surroundings.
This is live music of the highest quality, country rock with psychedelic improvisations, cosmic country music as originally introduced by Gram Parsons and successfully updated and seemingly much appreciated by the Dorothy Pax crowd. An outstanding good-time album.