The weeping violin and plaintive mandolin that kick off the high-country lament "Is It Me or You" is fair warning that we'll be hearing a different side of Warren Haynes on his latest solo release, Ashes and Dust.
A collaboration with Americana crew Railroad Earth, the new album draws on an intricate weave of bluegrass instruments — acoustic guitar, fiddle, banjo and mandolin — to ground electrified folk-rock, swinging barstool blues, mystic Celtic airs and hardscrabble rock.
Haynes's stylistic sweep and genre-jumping will be familiar to fans of his long-running roots rock outfit Govt. Mule. Likewise, those who recall his tenure with the Allman Brothers, will recognize Haynes' unfussy songwriting which allows melodies to emerge gradually while leaving plenty of room for his drifting, soaring guitar solos.
Yet, Ashes and Dust leans far more acoustic than anything Haynes has attempted before. Sure, the disc rocks hard, as on the rattling, Appalachian-tinged "Coal Tattoo," and it ascends to swirling psychedelia on the spiritual tone poem "Hallelujah Blvd." — all echoing atonal guitar and violin siroccos. But, these high wire musical flights are anchored by elastic, bluegrass-derived, string-driven grooves.
Haynes lyrics are fittingly gritty and populist. "Company Man", one of a brace of political tunes, champions personal integrity and defiance in the face of corporate steamroller tactics.
Ashes and Dust is a folk album at heart — albeit an experimental and electrified one — and in Railroad Earth and their organic interplay, Haynes has found the perfect collaborators. It makes you wonder why it took so damn long for these guys to get together.