2. Still Shaking – The Ashtray Hearts

Cover of the CD of Old Numbers by The Ashtray Hearts

It isn’t easy to find a lot of information about The Ashtray Hearts, at least here in the UK. I suspect that much of what little attention they have garnered here over the years is thanks to legendary broadcaster Bob Harris, who played them extensively on both his Weekend and Country shows for many years from 2002 onwards, and featured Still Shaking on Volume IV of his rather wonderful Bob Harris Presents… CD series in 2003.

What’s that writing on your hand
A reminder that will take you away
Back to your life, one that I once knew
I’d give anything to be there with you

Hailing from The Ashtray Hearts’ 2002 LP Old Numbers, Still Shaking is far from cheerful music. I don’t think they ever recorded any cheerful music, to be fair. The song draws heavily on the band’s favourite themes of loss, loneliness and rueful nostalgia, interspersed with brief moments of guarded optimism…

Sitting in your backyard
Wasting another night
Let me take your hand
One last time until we get it right

…and half-committal, lump-in-throat confessions:

I’ve done nothing more
Than let the two of us down

It’s all set against a characteristic Ashtray Hearts arrangement, both sparse and lush at the same time, somehow. The song is driven by a rolling banjo figure—which manages to make even that instrument sound musical—and the warm, distant trumpet lament which the band have used so evocatively throughout their works.

The Ashtray Hearts couldn’t really be described as prolific, having released four whole albums in a little over two decades. In a pleasing turn of events, they are still recording though, with 2023’s Golden Century arriving just 10 years after the previous release, The Strangest Light. I note that they’re still on Free Election Records, the tiny Minneapolis label on which they started all those years ago, which is rather heartwarming.

I’d love to tell you more about the band, but there really isn’t that much information about them available. Perhaps that air of mystique is kind of appropriate to their music all the same.

Artist: The Ashtray Hearts
Album: Old Numbers
Producer: Jon Tranberry, Quillan Roe
Released: Free Election Records, 2002

One thought on “2. Still Shaking – The Ashtray Hearts

  1. Simon Post author

    I don’t seem to be able to locate the CD itself in my spare room. The band were not particularly famous, but I found the song on a Bob Harris compilation. Will locate it in due course once this writing project finds some legs.


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