"This kid's a star..."
--Greg Dulli, the Afghan Whigs (2003)
On his second solo album, Greg Ashley (the Mirrors, the Gris Gris) pursues a soothing, psychedelic muse. His follow-up to Medicine Fuck Dream (2003) combines Ashley's gentle voice
with acoustic and electric instruments, including the occasional burst of brass, shake of the tambourine, and toot of the kazoo. Other voices also join in occasion, like Ali Rose, who sings lead
on the twisted girl group psych-pop of "Sailing With Bobby."
The way I see it, there's good-trip psychedelia and bad-trip psychedelia. As a solo artist, Ashley, who recorded Painted Garden in his native Kosse, TX and adopted Oakland, CA, falls firmly in the former camp. There's nothing mean or menacing going on here, with the possible exception of "Pretty Belladonna," which evokes Her Satanic Majesties Request-era 'Stones.
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For fans of bad-trip/blues-based psychedelia, this record may be too um, "airy fairy," but I find Ashley's good vibes just as appealing as the Black Angels' bad ones. Then again, I have a high tolerance for the folk-oriented stuff, having grown up on Syd Barrett, the Incredible String Band, Robyn Hitchcock, and Love & Rockets.
Ashley isn't imitating any of those artists, but I do hear echoes of Leonard Cohen. In its natural register, his voice resembles Daniel Ash, but the boy does like
to fool with Mother Nature (hey, that's not nice!). The results remind me of Cohen's "Suzanne."
On "Medication #5," for instance, Ashley takes on a darker, more conversational tone,
alternating with a prettier, more conventional approach.
(The previous song title, "Caroline and the Orange Tree,"
also brings to mind the famous line, "And she feeds you
tea and oranges / That come all the way from China").
Considering that I'm not familiar with his previous work, I can't predict how much attention Painted Garden will attract, but those who dig Cohen, the Pretty Things, Animal Collective, the Skygreen Leopards, and Brightback Morning Light—as well as
the other artists I've mentioned—will find much to savor on
this album. Here's hoping it finds the audience it deserves.
Endnote: "Medication #3" appears on the Gris Gris' self-titled debut (2004), while "#4" appears on For the Season (2005). Birdman Records is the brainchild of Dave Katznelson, who signed the Flaming Lips to Warner Bros. Click here to sample Medicine Fuck Dream and Painted Garden. Greg Ashley plays Seattle's Sunset Tavern on 4/27. Images from Birdman.