The Album was recorded in April 2004 by Mike Lust at Phantom Manor Studios, with the Mastering handled by Mike Haglar and Mike Lust. The sculptures of animal bones and flowers that adorn the front and back covers were done by Whitmore's cousin Luke Tweedy, with the photographs done by Bill Adams and Curtis Lehmkuhl. The record is housed in a standard cardboard sleeve, no fancy gatefold. There is also a large square insert that is flat black with white lettering. One side has all the liner note info and the other side simply has a quote from Samuel Beckett that wonderfully states, "When you're up to your neck in shit, the only thing left to do is sing. I think the quote is very indicitive of the circumstances that inspired much of this album and the Trilogy as a whole
The LP version I have is on Red vinyl, it has also been released on Black, Grey, and Clear. I really don't know much else as far as which colors or versions were the first pressing and what ones are later re-pressings, nor do I have any idea on numbers pressed or how limited any of the specific colors are. All I know is that it was first pressed on vinyl in 2005, then again in 2008, since then I'm not sure if there's been another pressing or not, but I do know it is still available from Southern Records on vinyl.
Side A of the album opens with "Midnight", a killer Bluesy folk jam featuring Whitmore's weathered voice, acoustic guitar and the steady thump of him playing a kick drum. Its a bit more upbeat in some ways than much of the previous record was but its still undeniably Whitmore. Next is "The Day The End Finally Came", which was released as a 7" single prior to this album's release. For this jam accompanies himself on banjo and is joined by John Anderson on Chrome Finger Slide Guitar. Its got more of the darkness that was heavily prevalent on the debut, and touches on many of those themes of death, loss, and regret. A kind of slow, melancholy ballad follows in the form of "When Push Comes To Love" that is a lot more sparse and minimalistic featuring the slow steady strum of his acoustic guitar backing him, but as the track progresses there is the slowly rising sound of Mike Lust on E-Bow Electric Guitar that gives the song an ethereal, otherworldly color. Next is "Diggin' My Grave" which is definitely a throwback to the "Hymns..." with Whitmore's ragged, weary vocal, the constant presence of death and William's unencumbered Banjo playing. The song actually predates even "Hymns For The Hopeless" as it first appeared on his 2001 self released album "Calendar Club of Danger and Fun". The lyrics essentially deal with a man's need, for one reason or another, to self destruct. The track also features some steady minimal drum work from Bob Adams, which basically is just a hi-hat and a kick drum. Side A closes things out with the stellar "The Buzzards Won't Cry". Its just Whitmore singing and playing acoustic guitar and is him at his best. Nature and death loom large, as implied by the title, illustrating how we often fear death and place so much emotion in it as contrasted by unsentimental course of nature.
Side B begins with "Sorest of Eyes", a wonderful love song that involves Whitmore professing his love for his "darlin'". Its a classic example of how simple yet powerful Whitmore's music is and how excellent of a songwriter he is, even back at this relatively early stage of his career. The song also features Joel Anderson playing Whitmore's grandfather's Accordion. Next is "Lift My Jug (Song For Hub Cale), which is one of my all time favorite William Elliott Whitmore songs. It is absolutely perfect in its simplicity, with Whitmore's gravely voice, the upbeat Banjo playing and the steady thump of the kick drum. Its the first person tale of a real life man named Hub Cale, who lived in the same area of Lee County Iowa as Whitmore, when William was a kid. The man was a former Railroad engineer turned hobo, who Whitmore first met when he was 6, but who would influence young William. Whitmore has said this of the song and of the real life man, who inspired it, Hub Cale, "I've got this old song called Lift My Jug and it's from the perspective of this hobo Hub, who's dead now, but when I was a kid, he was a local character and a real life hobo. He had this shack, literally down by the river, and sometimes my dad would give him a ride into town. My dad would say, "Don't judge old Hub by his looks, he's a good man and he chooses this free life and that doesn't make him a bad guy." As I got to know Hub, I learned he was a good man and he was probably the freest man I've ever met." "Lift My Jug (Song For Hub Cale) is another old song that originally appeared on "Calendar Club of Danger and Fun", as is the next track, "Gravel Road". This song is basically an ode to rural life, simple pleasures and Country Cruising, which in a live version of this song I heard Whitmore refer to as "Gravel Travel". Its another simple, wonderful song that is a bit less bleak than some of Whitmore's other early work. Finally, Side B and the album itself closes with, "Porchlight" one of the most powerful, poignant, and heart wrenching songs I've ever heard. The song is a tribute to Whitmore's deceased father, with the lyrics written from the point of view of his father has his slowly dies from cancer. It beautiful, amazingly well written and absolutely devastating in its emotional impact. Whitmore paints an eloquent picture of the man as a hard working farmer and devoted husband, and his final, dying request to "leave the porchlight on for me". Its actually the longest song on the album, and at nearly 6 minutes, its at least a minute and a half longer than any other song on the record. It moves with a steady, deliberate pace driven by Whitmore's aching vocals and his banjo plunking. It also features some simple drum work from Jay Dandurand and a bit of bass playing from Zach Action. It caps off the record with not just another great song, but perhaps the best song on the album, in a powerhouse finish.
"Ashes To Dust" is probably my favorite William Elliott Whitmore album. Its got the darkness, beauty, power, and just great, great songwriting. It's been out for 8 years now, and its as good, if not even better than the first time I heard it. It is a perfect record, 10 out of 10. Its an album that I loved in my 20s, that I love now in my 30s and if I live that long, that I'll love in my 70s. Go buy it now.
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