It might seem incongruous to a Brit like me that a musician would give up Austin, Texas and relocate to Sheffield, England, even if they did do it via New York. Swapping the home of cosmic country and outsider musicality for a city whose past glories relate more to a small but important swathe of post-punk keyboard adventurers and more recently indie-rock with a much more mainstream appeal, doesn’t seem like the obvious move. Maybe that’s the point and then again, who am I to tell someone where to live and work and to be honest the troubadour and transatlantic nature of this back story is in many ways reflected in Ash Gray’s music.
Chicken Wire gathers together a number of threads and musical themes and whilst tracks such as the brilliant opener The Other Man and the infectious boogie-groove of When The Devil Comes Home speaks to his Texas roots, more understated songs such as Josephine Clark feel much more part of the old world folk canon. It is sumptuously delivered with just a hint of Simon and Garfunkel, which that New York stepping stone may have added into the mix.
And whilst the more obvious and upbeat numbers prove that Gray is a dab hand with a riff and a hook, it is the more cinematic and hazy beauty of Firefly and the title track itself which are the real charm for me, that cosmic country vibe crashing into west coast psychedelia.
This is an album that could only have been made by someone who has travelled, both geographically and musically, it draws lines between the Austin blues bars of today and New York coffee shops of the 60’s, basement folk clubs of his adopted home, the British-Americana wave of the last ten years and the alt-country scene that inspired it. That said, travelling, listening and learning is only half the story and it takes a skilful and deft musician to turn it into an album this great.