For my first, ever Wishbone Ash CD, I plumbed for 2011’s Elegant Stealth. Might be a strange choice, given the number of classic Ash re-masters available on the table. However, several of those titles I did have back in the day when the choice was vinyl or cassette and when I could never quite get into the band, so my choice was for something more current. (And this one came with a free DVD…..)
As it is, I feel I’ve made a good choice; the music is fresh but with pleasing echoes; the opener for example, Reason To Believe has an opening refrain that wouldn’t be out of place on an old Jethro Tull before morphing into a pacey rocker. That’s pretty much the tale throughout the album, no big epic fantasy arcs, but punchy songs laced with trademark, tight twin-guitars; not as fierce as Thin Lizzy ever were, but superbly melodic.
Breaking the mould a little comes the Celtic flavoured Can’t Go It Alone, co-written with Pat McManus who’s getting back to his early Irish folk roots providing backing fiddle. Acoustic numbers aren’t foreign to Wishbone Ash’s canon of work, but have to say I like Searching For Satellites which reminds me of Marillion (post-Fish years) for some reason.Another thing Ash were always good at dropping in was the occasional show-casing instrumental, and Mud-Slick is no exception but in this case, as well as the twin guitars duelling, Don Airey has taken a day out from Deep Purple and brought some smokin’ Hammond into the sandbox.
Overall, this is a very solid album; there’s enough elements of “classic Ash” to keep the fan-base happy while managing the tricky balancing act to push the envelope as musicians and try different sounds and nod to contemporaries. Outstanding as you’d expect is the guitar work between Andy Powell and Muddy Manninen; quibble if you like about Andy’s vocals, but they more than get the job done. Bob Skeat is excellent on the bass, really funky on Big Issues especially and Joe Crabtree is a great find behind the kit.
If I’ve one quibble on the album, well, it’s two actually; never really liked this “hidden track” practice bands sometimes do on CDs - the final track plays out into silence and by the time you get up and walk to the player, the “hidden track” kicks in and scares the c**p out of you or else the gap is so long you switch off and miss it altogether. In this case that’s not a bad thing, the track in question is a re-mix of Reason To Believe, and to be honest, has no reason to be, should have left it for the DVD.
So, last issue aside, I think I’ll be doing some more delving into the Ash pit.
All those who believe in psychokenesis raise my hand........