Ontario-born artist Ken Dunn bought his first guitar for just five dollars at a pawn shop when he was only twelve, starting a lifelong foray into music. He got his start busking on the streets of Toronto in the ’70s, but after a struggle with homelessness took a hiatus to further his education and raise a family. In the ’90s he was finally able to return to music, and he did so with vigor – he performed at hundreds of venues across North America and has shared the stage with Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie P. Bennett, Valdy, and Garnet Rogers.
Since his return to music, Dunn has released eight albums between 1994 and 2019. This most recent project released in 2020 is titled Ashes in the Morning, and this full-length record is an enjoyable display of singer-songwriter skills through the classic folk lens.
“I hope the music contained herein serves to inspire positive change both within yourself and the fragile world we share.” – Ken Dunn
For a folk album, Dunn has enlisted quite a lengthy cast of musicians to accompany him. Besides himself on guitar, vocals, keys, and white deer drum, the album also features Anna Green (harmony vocals), Tyler Beckett (fiddle), Ben Grossman (hurdy-gurdy), Randy Martin (bass), Mark Mariash (drums & percussion), Michael G. Ronstadt (cello), and Dean Drouillard (electric tremolo guitar). The resulting sound from this ensemble remains minimalistic, each instrument shining in its own right, yet cohesively coming together to create a truly authentic folk sound.
HERE’S WHAT WE DUG MOST…
The album opens with King High Tide, and we’re treated to gorgeous, poetic lyrics, beautiful fingerstyle guitar, a mournful violin, and honest harmonies that blend together exquisitely. The slow build and simple production allows the song itself to shine here, and much like it’s stated in the lyrics, “there’s nowhere to hide“, but no respite is needed from this mellow, gentle track. You’ll find these attributes to be regularly recurring across the album.
Water is Life has a particularly enjoyable fingerstyle intro – bouncy, but a touch dark. The break at 2:15 is unexpected and helps segment the track nicely – the unusual percussion and inclusion of the harmonics in the guitar solo are a great addition that gives this track its own unique timbre.
We love the message and addition of some more complex riffs and rhythms to the guitar in Laugher In Your Veins. Dunn has referred to this album as a “clarion call to embrace love, compassion, hope, gratitude, and non-violent activism as positive change agents in this unprecedented and challenging era“. In this track, with a message of keeping love in your heart and being grateful for those around you, the invitation to be better people in this challenging world is both clear and inviting.
OUR FAVORITE TRACK…
The brightness of the melody and guitar is in pretty serious contrast to the theme of Doomed, where Dunn seems to suggest simultaneously that disconnecting from modern society today is next to impossible, but society itself is also heading down a dangerous path. The lighthearted nature combined with the serious topic and fairly heavy hook (We are doomed) creates an enjoyable, unexpected listening experience. One of the verses gives us a good synopsis of the theme:
“Come and sit beside me, and I will rub your feet
Being off of Facebook, is really kind of neat
We can talk about the weather, or a terrorist attack
And wonder if we’ll ever, get our power back“
This is an album for the true folk lover. There’s no overproduction, no synths or autotune – it’s truly a collection of well-crafted and poetic songs from Ken Dunn and simple, clean instrumentation to lift them higher. Ashes in the Morning is a thought-provoking and authentic to the highest degree, and an indicator that not all of the great classic folk music is yet behind us, as the tone eludes to the folk icons of the past but the messages look forward towards a brighter future.
John Prine meets Gordon Lightfoot meets Bob Dylan
BELOW: Listen to Ashes in the Morning and connect with his website and social media platforms. Please support Ken Dunn by visiting him online, and playing, downloading, and/or purchasing his music, or attending a live show! And, as always, thank you for supporting real music!