If you’re one of the many country fans who has been disappointed in what you’ve heard coming out of the south in the last few years, Spayed Koolie might have made the album that you’ve been waiting for in Ashtray Change. Fitted with 11 of the most stylishly original country rock songs you’ll hear this side of the 21st century, Ashtray Change is a record that comes as a result of years of angst bubbling up just beneath the surface of the country scene. It’s independently stylized and raw as they come, but if you’ve got a taste for the blue collar sound, this is an album you need to hear.
You’re not going to find the vintage blues strut of “Stoney Cove” anywhere else but Ashtray Change, and its sizzling hot riff isn’t one that any fan of hard hitting southern rock is going to want to miss. I’ve been annoyed with the fact that country’s mainstream artists seem to be walking away from their blues roots in droves, but rather than giving into a silly trend though, Spayed Koolie knows what’s good for them and us and gives us exactly what we need. The guitar is smoking, but it isn’t so incendiary that casual listeners will be thrown off by its rock n’ roll bend.
You know a band is really good when you listen to their studio work and it forces you into daydreaming about their live show. Every song on Ashtray Change begs for me to wonder what this band would be like on stage, as all of them have been so evenly crafted with what I can only imagine are purely live ambitions. I can see them really getting a crowd riled up with any of these tracks, but especially when they’re hitting their stride in songs like “You Know.”
Spayed Koolie’s poignant cover of “Ode to Billy Joe” is another fine example of why I think these guys are country music’s saving grace right now. When an artist or a band is able to make a cover feel as fresh and organic as they do with a staple track like “Billy Joe,” there’s no question that they’re able to do almost anything they want to in or out of the studio.
Ashtray Change is one of the most exciting country crossover albums of the year. While it would be simple to undermine these guys as far too alternative to be considered total country, I reject such puritan statements. Country music has to evolve the same way that every other genre of music has to, and Spayed Koolie are doing an excellent job of spurring on that evolution one exquisitely crafted song at a time.