New Music From Warren Haynes

Allman Brothers mainstay and guitar icon Warren Haynes explores new ground on Ashes and Dust

Photo: Danny Clinch

Haynes with a 1961 Gibson ES-335.

Forget Kevin Bacon. Let’s play Six Degrees of Warren Haynes. Here’s the résumé: Twenty-five years with the Allman Brothers Band. Playing with the likes of the Grateful Dead, Dave Matthews Band, and the Dickey Betts Band. Writing a chart-topping hit for Garth Brooks. Not to mention twenty years and ten albums with Gov’t Mule, the blues-rock jam outfit that Haynes cofounded with the late Allman bassist Allen Woody. Oh, and that doesn’t come close to the all-star firepower he recruits to his native Asheville, North Carolina, for his annual charity event, Christmas Jam, which will celebrate its twenty-seventh year in December. So whom hasn’t he worked with? “Neil Young, Tom Waits, and Jimmy Page,” he says. “After them, there’s not much of a list.”

Those legends might have to leave a message for now, because for only the third time in his storied career, Haynes is releasing a solo album. Ashes and Dust is a mostly acoustic offering, recorded with members of Railroad Earth, a highly respected roots rock/newgrass group from Stillwater, New Jersey. During the recording process, Haynes would bring in different songs, each one that the Railroad Earth guys had never heard before. For some artists, that would be an ill-advised gamble, but it works seamlessly in Haynes’s world, given his prowess at  improvisation and squeezing the best out of fellow players. “The marriage was unpredictable, I think,” he says. “But there’s a cool, natural chemistry they brought to the table. They all play a lot of different instruments, so it let everyone stretch a bit.”

“Even though he knew exactly what he was looking for in the songs,” says Tim Carbone, Railroad Earth’s violinist and vocalist, “we all had a chance to put our own stamp on them.”

Ashes and Dust is Haynes’s most personal work, a blizzard of emotion that surrounds his lyrical snapshots of growing up in North Carolina, sneaking into folk clubs at fourteen, and losing two childhood friends. The stirring “Company Man,” an ode to his father, would bring a tear to any son with half a soul. His dad worked for a grocery store for more than twenty years before it moved operations out of North Carolina. “My dad had a beautiful singing voice and still does, but he never pursued it because he was busy working and raising kids,” says Haynes, who has two brothers still in Asheville. “All his roots and family were in North Carolina. So when the store closed down, he started over, got a job in a factory, and faced the fact that he was starting over when young kids had seniority over him. It was hard.”


Ashes also features the singer Grace Potter, who lends some vocal chops to a cover of the Fleetwood Mac classic “Gold Dust Woman,” in which Haynes transforms the music from the original sleepy Laurel Canyon vibe to a ghostly, Celtic-tinged lament that seems destined for a Game of Thrones placement. Another highlight is “Spots of Time,” a song that Grateful Dead’s bassist, Phil Lesh, gave to Haynes with the music written but no lyrics other than the title, which Lesh took from the English poet William Wordsworth’s “The Prelude.” Haynes took on the challenge and nailed it. “It kind of sums up what this record is about,” he says. “The most personal memories and important things in your life stick out like they’re frozen in time.”

This year marks the first in decades without an Allman Brothers Band tour, with Haynes and guitarist Derek Trucks having left the band at the end of last year. “It’s emotional for all of us, but we had been talking about it for four years, making the forty-fifth anniversary the final tour,” Haynes says. “I miss it. The Allman Brothers performs in a way no other band can. But I respect the legacy enough to know when to stop.”

But really, ending at forty-five? Why not go for fifty? “There’s no talk,” Haynes says with a laugh. “But anything is possible.”