REVIEW: Ken Dunn “Ashes in the Morning” is a Sincere Effort by an Engaging Troubadour


With a review of children-oriented folk-LPs, I’m inclined to hold back a little just as I do with LPs that take a particular stance but contain enjoyable, credible performances. When the music is good, it’s good. If the effort is sincere, the showcase sparkles & if it displays coherency — it’s worth a listen.

Ken Dunn has this & touches on several topics on his 9th LP Ashes in the Morning, (Independent/Trespass – drops May 1). All done with restrained sophistication. He explores life experiences, healing journeys, & self-discovery with equally spare exposure.

Musically, Dunn has a light touch that has its own degree of intensity. The music is not too folky but has a contemporary tone, infused with traditional strains, & positive human values – which is commendable. There is no political venom here & it’s performed pensively.

However, Ken does punctuate his set with some ideals not everyone will agree with. Don’t let that deter you. He’s not exactly a controversial singer-songwriter ala Phil Ochs. He’s a well-balanced performer — his message gets across subtlety – not in your face. No blame game – just gives something to think about.

A drawback? Like many folkies before him, he asks pertinent questions. “King High Tide,” – an environmental song about mountains disappearing, high tides, “climate change,” & questioning where did we go wrong? Lots of good viable questions. But, no answers, no suggestions, no solutions, what can be done?

I don’t blame Dunn, that’s not his job.

Anna Green provides beautiful backup vocals, & Dunn’s guitar work is succinct throughout. Crystal clear picking, a Ramblin Jack Elliott/Phil Ochs/David Blue vocal style. He’s not growly like Dylan, but he’s not quite Fred Neil. (Who is?)

“Deep in the Hive,” is forthright & dramatic with bite. Pensive Michael G. Ronstadt cello (Linda’s nephew), & Randy Martin bass create a sustained atmosphere. Melodically it’s a little laid back. It’s stated that “war is never winnable. Now is the time to stop.” But that’s naïve in this era — considering there are terrorists about & countries who don’t abide by our environmental wishes. There will always be someone, a country, a regime, or government – who’ll not cooperate with our peaceful wish. Bullies in the schoolyard, bullies on the world stage. Reality is reality. As a humanitarian song, however — it works fine & is optimistic.

Mark Marsh (drums), Ben Grossman (hurdy-gurdy on 4 tracks), & Tyler Beckett (fiddle), round out the musicians.

Two delightfully catchy tracks — “Laughter in Your Veins” with Dean Drouillard (electric tremolo guitar) & “Doomed,” — are sung with a folky coolness & picked with melodic authority. “Doomed,” – has a bit of a Hoagy Carmichael vocal approach.

The 38-minute CD was produced by Ken & includes a beautiful lyrical insert. No big production here – just pleasant songs with meaningful asides. “Farewell to the Cages,” has the brightest musical intensity & good lyrics.

This is quite a sincere effort by an engaging troubadour. Available at iTunes.

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