Spayed Koolie: Ashtray Change Review: Groovy Americana

Ashtray Change by Spayed Koolie is as much an Americana record as it is a southern rock and pop-country record, with singer David Dorr and company wearing an array of influences that manifest in some distinct tones and instrumentation throughout.

While at their core, Spayed Koolie present themselves as a pop-country band, songs such as album opener “100 Years (Need)” and “We Ain’t Blind” present a distinctly indie rock sensibility during the verse parts, before giving way to country choruses. Lead singer David Dorr has a voice that is equally comfortable in the country and rock arenas, and calls upon either of these distinct personalities at will throughout this album.

While the album is a mix between Southern Rock, Americana, and pop-country, the hard-rock tracks tend to cut through the most distinctly here. Album highlight “You Know” begins with David Dorr singing with some rock-tinged grit to his voice over some fairly muted guitars, before giving way to some big riffs and groovy sounding organ playing that sits atop, and almost harmonizes with the guitar. The song grooves, and hits all the right beats before ending with a soulful organ solo. The production also retains a patently modern rock feel, with punchy drums, compressed vocals, and a sort of polished finish over the instrumentation. This isn’t to say that the album is overproduced, but it does lack a certain twang, and live-setting edge that appears to be customary of most modern country acts.

Stoney Cove is another straightforward rock affair which begins with a heavy and groovy guitar riff as well as some electric leads. Once again David Dorr’s singing takes on its grittier intonation, and he snars and rasps through the choruses with attitude. The organs from “You Know” also make a return, although this time they are utilized more subtly in order to play textured chords in the background of the verses. The guitars are strong throughout, and the leads, between the guitars and organ playing, feel well-placed, even when they are brief.

Songwriter is one of the album’s first straightforward Americana tracks, and it boasts an interesting plucked fiddle melody throughout, as well as some electric violin lines placed between some pop-country vocal melodies. The violin tones are fantastically lush, and although kept very brief, provide one of the standout moments on the album. One wonders what the electric violin could have provided alongside some of the groovier guitars found aplenty on this record.

This individualistic track breakdown, unfortunately, becomes somewhat of a motif on this album with tracks standing on their individual merits as hard rock or country songs, rather than a blend of these elements. Aside of David Dorr’s flexible voice, the rock, country, and Americana songs rarely meld together to create something new. It would have been nice to hear the group’s southern-fried edge creep into the mellower Americana tracks or vice versa, but the tracks do stand alone well in the songwriting sense nonetheless.

Ashtray Change is a great effort by a band that shows promise and comfort in composing solid tracks in multiple genres. With an ear for pop-country, Southern Rock, and atmospheric Americana, it is clear that they do not feel limited in their compositions. But while the individual tracks are solid, and catchy throughout, the album does at times feel less like a cohesive structure, and more like a collection of good songs. Some more thorough splicing of the genres contained on this album might have gone a long way in providing a through-line of cohesion that the album currently lacks. Still, there are moments of brilliance on this album, and a very wide sonic palate presented. Between the groovy guitars, electric violin lines, and organs that add color and texture to the riffs, there is certainly enough to chew on here for anybody looking for a rock album with a country flare. Perhaps future releases will show the Orlando natives allowing for the sum of their influences, which is undeniably vast, to come together in a larger way.

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