ASH GRAY AND THE BURNERS – Live ’55 (LuvRock Records)

Live '55Sheffield’s Ash Gray And The Burners’ Live ’55, with its country-psych sound coloured with steel pedal’s “unlimited glissandi and deep vibrati (Thank you, Wikipedia!), will appeal to lovers of the 70’s country-rock vibe of those New Riders Of The Purple Sage, Poco, Mason Proffit, and the Goose Creek Symphony, which of course, is a pretty hip sound once again!

A big live crowd welcomes the band. ‘Jeremiah’ is catchy and urgent country rock with nice backing voices and guitar/pedal steel solos. This is joyous music. Early Poco comes to mind. Then, ‘The Creek Don’t Rise’ has an even better quick step melody but, in addition, the song has a Creedence groove—with a slight thought that, even in the middle of a love song, the “world is smoulderin’”. Lots of mystery here.  And, ‘Two Lane Blacktop’ is a fine addition to that “carefree highway” (Thank you, Gordon Lightfoot!) very Americana gasoline fuelled opiate. Lots of good time music here, too.

By the way, my friend Kilda Defnut, who was once the unofficial president of the unofficial (before-mentioned) New Riders Of The Purple Sage Fan Club of the Sobieski Corners, Wisconsin Chapter, said, “This record is definitive proof that we’re all still searching every joint in town for’ that well-known miscreant, ‘Panama Red’”.

Well, while that’s a lovely thought, it’s important to mention that there’s a lot of good time Americana music here. ‘Billy’ is the saga of an outlaw who’s “been a long time running”. The song taps into western mythology and breezes like blown sagebrush. Then, ‘Three Old Guns’, again, has a cowpoke pulse and paints a musical tintype portrait of aging fast draw gunslingers who are now “just killing time”. Great folk music bubbles in the broth of melodic pathos.

And, once again in contrast to much of the good time music, ‘Chickenwire’ swirls with its dry gulch tombstone prophesy. The tune is a poker hand with certain fatalism.

A brief drum solo (this is a live concert!) gives way to ‘The Other Man’, which gets into the depth of odd psychology and a tune that’s smoked crawdad funky as The Hollies’ ‘Long Cool Woman’. Nice! And then, ‘Sundown’ (not the song of the also before-mentioned Gordon Lightfoot) is an acoustic tune with a jaunty melody and a big guitar pedal steel explosive race to the finish. Nice (again)! Not to be the final word, ‘The County Line’ ups the speedometer and wants its own Commander Cody And His Lost Planet Airmen’s “Hot Rod Lincoln” to drive on that endless Americana fueled opiate “carefree highway”.

The final two songs really up the 60’s folk psych meter. ‘Back Alive’ has the raucous pulse of Eric Burdon and his Animals. The tune is light years on from the country simplicity of the opening tune ‘Jeremiah’. But great live bands do that sort of thing. And the all-Americana freight train keeps rolling, because, as those Animals once sang, “we gotta get out of this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do”. And that’s really true for this band “from the heart of Sheffield”, because as my Kilda often says, “The Cereus Cacti are always greener on the other side”.

That said, “the final song, ‘When The Devil Comes Home’, is a west coast Quicksilver Messenger Service ride that’s drenched in quick chords, wah-wah, more steel pedal, a nice bass and percussion bit, a smooth vocal, and a pulse that presses an audience to clap with dance steps and dance with hand claps. It’s a nice finale laced with happy exhaustion that leaves these concert-goers at the Dorothy Pax Club (and fans everywhere!), even after all these years, still “searching every joint in town for” that eternal country rockin’ and rollin’ much beloved bad guy known to all (Thank you again NRPS!), as “Panama Red”.

Bill Golembeski

Artists’ website:

‘When The Devil Comes Home’ – live:

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