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Wishbone Ash - Wishbone Ash  CD (album) cover

WISHBONE ASH

Wishbone Ash

 

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3.77 | 182 ratings

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3 stars Make a Wish

The debut from Wishbone Ash is a strong one, to be sure, firmly stamping the band's unique sound on the world of rock music. The tell-tale twin leads and distinctive guitar tones in the carefully sculpted and immaculately performed instrumental sections and retrospective musical characterisations show aspiration to the great genre of Progressive Rock, defining classic 1970s rock without foraying into the realms of pop music.

The opener, however, is weak, and sounds like it was selected by a record company anxious to shift units - not at all like a Wishbone Ash number. Mind you, my first introduction to this great band was through the mighty Argus, an epic tour-de-force, then Pilgrimage, an altogether heavier - and somewhat more interesting excursion.

Blind Eye kicks off like an early Deep Purple number, proceeding via Bluesbreakers and Savoy Brown territory, with pounding piano-driven boogie, courtesy of Procol Harum's Matthew Fisher, and Fleetwood Mac inspired guitar lines.

The classic Wishbone Ash sound begins to make itself more apparent on Lady Whiskey, where the twin- guitar propelled riffing and extended soloing over constructs very similar to those of Leslie West's Mountain are closer in spirit to the material that would later appear on Argus - but far more basic. Steve Upton provides an interesting percussion section, dropping to pounding sections and varying the flow of the piece nicely during the instrumentals reminding me of some of the heavier Pink Floyd jams with maybe a dash of Black Sabbath thrown in for good measure.

The sound is established completely in Errors of My Way, where a more folksy sound creeps in to the texture, unexpected chords spring out the progressions, and ever longer instrumental sections with strong melodies (but somewhat tentative counter-melodies) provide the air guitarist with a dream come true.

Much of the interest is derived from the band interaction, rather than the soloing itself, which runs out of steam pretty quickly, noodling around the blues scale. But the band build up dynamics, with lights and shades of leafy forest glades - for there is something quintessentially English about the music, that hearkens back to mediaeval times or before.

This is continued in Queen of Torture, whose galloping rhythms predict Iron Maiden - even the vocals seem like a pre-echo of Bruce Dickinson - and the arpeggio lead figures suggest almost any NWOBHM band you care to consider.

The more interesting pieces are those found on side 2 of the original vinyl.

Handy features a bass solo for an introduction that all rock bass players should familiarise themselves with. While todays uber-technicians may scoff at the rather casual techniques (I prefer the word casual to sloppy, simply because sloppy is an ugly word and suggests lesser musical abilities than technically tight and polished, which is simply not true) - the musical imagination in the composition is only to be admired.

This 11 and a half minute piece is all about band interplay and dynamic - very much the rock side of jazz rock, using the improvisation and synergistic techniques of jazz towards a purely rock end. And as a result, it does sound a bit like early Floyd in places - and yes, I'm afraid I am reminded of the great Derek Smalls when I hear the bass solo, and most of the second half of this piece. I wonder if Martin Turner ever wore a cucumber down his trousers.

Suddenly, a guitar moment jumps out at me, and I'm reminded of the great Michael Schenker and the roots of Metal as a genre - not to mention the heavier side of Krautrock.

Even more suddenly, following the drum solo, a completely new blues/jazz flavoured song kicks in, completely out of character with the previous material, somewhat spoiling the composition. There's some nifty Ten Years After flavoured work in here - and I wish there was more voice/guitar doubling - but if unexpected surprises are your thing, then this could please.

Finally, there's another Floyd/ballad 10 and a half minuter called Phoenix, which builds some nice atmospherics courtesy of the Feeling Good style falling bass line and acid wah guitar ripples. As the piece progresses, some nice intense heavy riffing emerges from the crystallised jams - I recognise that falling arpeggio sequence from Deep Purple's Child In Time - and the song changes tempo frantically leading to a very satisfying ending.

Certainly one of the better rock albums from 1970, of great interest to any fans of that era, guitar- driven rock and post Barrett / pre Dark Side Floyd. Maybe a little clumsy in places, but compositionally inventive, and when it rocks, it does so with almost unheard of precision for the era, and a unique style - a very tricky combination to get right, but on the whole, Wishbone Ash succeeded. No mean feat for a debut album.

Hence an excellent addition to your collection, but not essential - particularly when there's Pilgrimage and Argus to consider. Definitely worth more than one listen.

Certif1ed | 3/5 |

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