It's not very often that a band drops a full length album just a few months into their existence, but I suppose not every project sees two prolific musicians teaming up, bringing to bear a repertoire of their own songs and knack for finding more on the road. Such is the case with Ashes of Old Ways, a new project from Charleston musicians Dave Britt and Bobby Sutton. On their self titled release, Ashes of Old Ways delivers catchy, streamlined America with a sense of total ease and confidence, rattling off a litany of would-be hits that sound equal parts familiar and fresh.
Ashes of Old Ways manage to put out a very classic Americana sound while still building on the what's been added to the genre over the last 25-odd years. So, while classic elements of lap-steel and Neil Young-esque crooning are present at times, there are also whispers of Wilco and a bouncy catchiness from indie-country acts like the Shins. And if you think the opening track/lead single/standout song “Living in the Present Tense,” sounds more than just a little bit like Band of Horses, there's a perfectly reasonable explanation: Band of Horses Ryan Monroe contributed some backing tracks and vocals—as long as mixing help—to the track.
While “Living in the Present Tense” stands out as the band's single and one of the album's highlights, the album as a whole has a certain streamlined catchiness to it. The second track, “Restless Heart” has big, echo-y searing guitar, with laid back, almost Lou Reed-y verse vocals and a big, wide open, nearly U2-like chorus vocals. Like good Americana, the track coveys an effective sense of open spaces with unhurried and uncrowded instrumentation.
There are a handful of “meat & potatoes” tracks that pad the album—not at all in a bad way, the bar is just set pretty high, so tracks that might stand out on another album are just par for the course on this one. There's a certain formulaic catchiness at play here, where songs never waste time focussed on one part for too long, and they never overstuff verses or bridges with anything that will delay the ever-hooky chorus from swinging back around. “Broken Glass” stands out as a perfect example of a sad and sweet song, managing to be the sound equivalent of a scrunched up smile shining through a tearful face. “California” rings with the triumph of a late-set song at show that couldn't be going better—just that moment where the energy between the band and the crowd is lined up and everything just clicks. “Free your Mind” sounds like a late 70's dark rock jam, no doubt thanks to Mel Washington's deep and resounding vocals.
Ashes of old ways fails to miss a beat from start to finish, sounding incredibly unified for a project containing both new and reworked material from two different songwriters, as well as for one recorded a handful of different places. Some songs, like “Living in the Past Tense,” were collaborative efforts that came out of the band's initial tour this spring, many others were brought to the table in some form of completion by either Britt or Sutton. The fact that you can't readily distinguish the latter tracks from the former speaks to the inherent cohesion between the members and their styles, as well as successful delivery. The album was recored at a few different studios as well as Britt's home set-up, but again the album doesn't show any seams from the patchwork nature of its capture.
Ultimately, Ashes of Old Ways is a great album in of itself, as well as an exciting harbinger of what could be next for the young project.
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