It will be up to fans to figure out if Ash Gray was truly, as he sings on the jangling title track of his latest CD (out in the UK on 19 November), Born In The Summer of Love, but there’s no doubt that the New York based singer/songwriter is drawing from the sweet and glorious rock and folk sounds of the late 60s as he continues to take the possibilities of pop harmonies and vocal arrangements to exciting new realms.
Truly living up to the title of his 2010 debut EP This Could Be A Wild Night . Gray’s group Ash Gray And The Girls has survived several intense line-up changes and now features the powerhouse harmony vocalists Nina Murphy and Sarah Wise. The group’s eclectic 11-song full-length debut Born In The Summer boasts tracks that feature these two singers balanced by others recorded when the former line-up was in place. Their recent four-date stint at South By Southwest, and Texas Rock Fest during the 2012 event, brought Gray full circle. Not only did he live in Austin for years before moving to NYC, but also the first incarnation of Ash Gray and the Girls showcased at South by Southwest 2009.
Despite the personnel shifts, the essence of Gray’s concept has been consistent—and continues to be a crowd pleaser at his many acoustic shows around New York (including the weekly open mic he hosts at The Local 269 in the Lower East Side of Manhattan) and his monthly full band gigs at hotspots like Pete’s Candy Store and Bowery Electric. With their vibrant stage presence and emphasis on vocals and harmony, Ash Gray and The Girls bring back the days of the big backing vocals with a modern twist. Somewhere between The Mamas and The Papas, The Stones and White Stripes, the group features punchy, high spirited two and three minute songs driven by a simple mix of percussion, acoustic guitar and vocals.
Born in the US to British parents, Gray first began to make inroads into the UK music scene when he visited from Austin, Texas and assembled the Anglo-American ‘punk-grass’ band, the High-Class Family Butchers. Achieving notoriety (and some airplay) with their back-porch covers of pop classics and guerrilla-gigging, the Butchers have continued over the years with a flexible line-up including members of Menlo Park, The Ralfe Band and folk poster-boy Seth Lakeman’s band. For a time they even included Harper ‘Son of Paul’ Simon, oddly enough.
Relocating to New York, a few years ago with short-lived 90s hard rock throwback band Cycle Sluts From Hell, Gray began shifting gears after realizing that his female guitarist KG was a great harmony singer who blended perfectly with his backing vocalist Helen. He launched Ash Gray and the Girls in late 2008 as an acoustic trio, with him on vocals and acoustic guitar and these two singers. To make the sound bigger and increase his ability to experiment with more elaborate harmony and grooves, Gray added Mary and Abbi, who along with Helen were “The Girls” for several years.