Wednesday, January 17, 2007

New Music Showcase: Ash Valley

For my first New Music Showcase post, I've chosen Castle in the Clouds by Ash Valley, a band from my hometown of Chickamauga. And, I'm happy to report that it's really, really good!

In the spirit of Hank Williams’ "A Mansion on the Hill," Castle in the Clouds deals with the “struggles of downcast valley folk.” Ash Valley vocalist/lyricist Andy Ampersand explains:

I grew up the son of blue-collar workers and have always been acutely aware of the brilliant metaphor inherent in the fact that the wealthy live in lofty mansions that overlook the plebeians down in the mournful, laboring valley.

Andy's conceptual valley provides ample opportunity for him to wax metaphorical. The album's 10 songs are a series of character sketches of individuals who have “lost their faith and hope and have fallen into spiritual/emotional valleys of despair.” However, all is not lost. The title song closes the album with the possibility of "triumph over seemingly-insurmountable circumstances."

Sounds like a John Edwards speech? Kinda. Fortunately, as "mournful and laboring" as Ampersand's lyrical downs may be, a mountain of music rises above to inspire. Elements of Bonnie 'Prince' Billy are happily noted as well as Bruce Springsteen's folkier side. Each song is sincere and catchy - pleasant to play with plenty of aural texture should listeners decide to dig a little deeper. Castle in the Clouds steadily moves from song to song while retaining a dynamic intensity.

For all its blue collar/Appalachian positioning, listening to Castle in the Clouds elicits the same response as a lot of British pop. This is fuzzy sweater music.
Electronic bleeps and blips weave in and out of an otherwise acoustic landscape. I'm reminded of ear candy classics by the Cure and of kooky Welsh bands from the Nineties - just a little less quirky and a bit more earnest. As incongruous as this blend may seem to imagine, it works.

The ideal cover art for the next Ash Valley album?
Think Howard Finster meets Pete Fowler.

Castle in the Clouds is a very listenable set of songs and an impressive first release!

Click here to visit Ash Valley's MySpace profile where you can listen to samples from Castle in the Clouds and purchase a copy (CD or download) for yourself.


M. Snow said...

Good review, I concur, fuzzy sweater music indeed. I made a more informational post on Ash Valley, so I'm going to link to your review.

Tiki Chris said...

I like your write-up too. I'm really impressed with these songs. I've listened to the whole album a few times already.

Thanks for the link!

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