Rob Ashley: “Premiere. Farewell.” – a combination of observational wit and musical prowess

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“Premiere. Farewell.” Is the first solo album produced by Rob Ashley, after almost three decades of work in the New England music scene. The album which has garnered airplay across North America, is made up of songs that couldn’t find a suitable place in Ashley other projects. Here Ashley wows us with his combination of observational genius wit and overwhelming musical prowess. As we find him at his most profoundly introspective, poignant and poetic with the stripped songs, and then up and rocking on the fleshed out arrangements. There is no question that the singer-songwriter has found ample inspiration in this album, as there are terrific tunes and remarkable moments throughout the recording. His backing band are superlative and highly adaptable, as is the collaborations with singer/songwriters Keller Glass and Daphne Martin.

Rob Ashley, in this album, incorporates, in a condensed form, every lyrical theme of his music, leavened and wizened with age, and told with a potent succinctness. It’s hard not to just rave with all capital letters about this album. Ashley has a classic style of writing, and a captivating ability to tell stories.

The album also shows that the narrator is still searching and still grappling with issues and presenting them in astounding melodies. Musically, the album is laid-back, but and at times it rocks full force.  Through it all is Ashley’s wonderful vocals and his incredible phrasing.

Rob Ashley wastes little time shaping his narrative on the record’s opening track, “The Drugs Didn’t Last Forever” regaling listeners with melancholy fantasies of universal roaming. This is a personal-sounding story, and it’s not one with tidy resolutions or easy fixes.

Eschewing all kinds of artistic pretension and focused on making plain, straightforward roots rock, “Pleather” delivers a warm and visceral listening experience – the kind often showcased by Tom Petty in his little musical masterpieces. A rural, rootsy vibe can also be breathed during the 3 minutes of “Parlor”.

Throughout the recording, there is an interesting mix of tasty acoustic guitar licks and occasional electric raves. These elements are cleverly mixed through style changes introduced in intros, bridges and refrains, making the songs an adventure. “Two Years To The Day”, one of the album’s standout tracks, combines all of these elements rather perfectly. Ashley is in fine form as a performer and craftsman, with an instantly catchy chorus and spirited performance.

On “Drinking In My Dreams” Ashley finds large truths in small details. Oscillating back and forth between optimism and despair, the atmosphere of this track is created with a balanced blend of melody and dissonance. It’s an oddly appropriate yet unsettling experience.

Whilst retelling deeply personal experiences or casual yet incisive observations, Rob Ashley is profound and focused, cutting deep lyrically, and nowhere does he do it better than on “At 21, You’re A Rebel”, another absolute album standout.

You’ll love the swampy blues-induced “See My Jumper” which makes its point musically, and stomps its observation home on a crunchy guitar backdrop and a soaring vocal. The closing track “Grey”, is airily acoustic in tone, if rather dark and yearning lyrically, one thing’s for sure it rounds out an absorbing and hugely affecting album. Broadly speaking, this is an album about life and though through Rob Ashley’s own eyes and experiences it does ponder some rather large and open questions.  Love it.

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