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Album Review

ASH GANLEY
You Are What You Play

Amazing. In a world expanding faster than the Big Bang, ten million artists and bands are jumping on the Americana bandwagon, tossing huge amps and flashy guitars aside for banjos, mandolins and even the occasional ukulele. So what does Ash Ganley do? He bucks the trend. Ganley is the guitar playing fish swimming upstream against a current unleashed by the crumbling of the major record labels' influence, banking his very existence on mainstream rock. Twenty years ago, it would have been marketing suicide. Today, it might just be genius.


In 2006, Ganley seemed a bit torn, though torn may be a poor choice of words. Dark Fuel (Big Bender) rode a thin line between Americana, country rock and arena rock (for lack of a better term), Elysian Fields kicking off the album with a brilliant combination of all of the above. The surprise is the roots feel of the followup track, Dark Fuel and most of the tracks which follow. Pedal steel, reverbed and picked electric rhythm guitar and the general overall feel place it in the next county, musically, and yet it works. Remember those words because no matter what Ganley and crew do, they seem to make it work, and work very well indeed.

The true highlight outside of the outstanding now-classic-in-my-head Elysian Fields is the just-short-of-Southern-rooted Dream With the Devil. It is, to paraphrase Charlottesville's Sarah White, outstanding in the sense that it is so familiar, it is new. Ganley's textured, smoky voice carries the song much like Paul Rodgers did with Free, the texture and phrasing as much a part of the song as Eben Grace's super tasty guitar. Now that I think about it, Rise also rises to the occasion with its mid-tempo rhythm, great melody and all-too-short crescendo to end it all. They could not have picked a better song to close.

By 2008, Ganley steps further inside (or outside) the box, taking the familiar to new heights. After immersing myself in Dark Fuel, imagine my surprise when I put Cruel Waters in the player and hear (ahem) shades of Curtis Mayfield (occasionally, even a White boy from Colorado gets it right), the step from Elysian Fields to Lonely World a leap across the Atlantic, in musical terms. But like I said earlier, no matter what these guys do, they make it work. The straight ahead rock of Paradise Fades cushions the shock, verse giving way to chorus in Grade A fashion, and you gotta love Eben Grace's backwards guitar solo. It is world class.

You may not notice, but halfway through Cruel Waters, the influences begin to pile up. I Walk Alone is a solid rendition of acoustic blues, the slide work simple but spot on. The chorus on Trees and Powerlines makes the song, octave-apart voices giving it that special sound (along with Jeremy Lawton's great Hammond organ). The Eagles would kill for a song as good as Cruel Waters and the Johnny Cash shuffle and country twang of Moonshine is somehow far from country, though I can't quite understand why. Ganley has a tendency to warp styles with ease, you see, and slip them into a song almost without notice. The beginning of Only In Our Dreams is only one instance, a strange conglomeration of 60s Brit and Arena Rock with a bit of straight pop thrown in for confusion's sake.

This is just the beginning, too. Ganley is in the studio as I type, readying not one, but two albums for quick release. The music, it seems, is an electric current using Ganley as a medium. If these two albums are an indication of music to come, I'm all for locking Ganley (and the band) in the studio for as long as they can produce. I mean, a highlight of my day is when Brad Goode's almost nonexistent trumpet solo on Too Late runs through my head. And, no, I do not need a life. I'm plenty happy with this one.

Check the Ash Ganley Band out at www.ashganley.com and www.myspace.com/ashganley. Hang around and listen seriously. This music is worth the time and effort.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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