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Wishbone Ash - Pilgrimage CD (album) cover


Wishbone Ash


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3.61 | 263 ratings

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4 stars The Journey Continues

Wishbone Ash are one of those bands who are just fantastic to research;

They supported a number of greats, including Rory Gallagher's Taste, Mott The Hoople, Slade, T-Rex, Smile (who would go on to become Queen) and, naturally, Deep Purple.

After their debut and confirmed record deal (thanks to their connections with Purple), they went on to support even bigger names, such as The Who, Black Sabbath, and the band whose influence most strongly stands out in their music - Ten Years After.

The reason they ended up with the dual-lead format that was to become their trademark was that when Martin Turner and Steve Upton auditioned David (Ted) Turner and Andy Powell, they simply could not choose between them.

Whilst recording Pilgrimage, Ted stepped out for sessions with John Lennon on his Imagine album.

Which brings us nicely to the album in question - an album in which the classic Wishbone Ash sound is more or less consolidated, and which I prefer to its more famous successor, Argus. No sophomore jinx here, this album still wears its influences on its sleeve, but the band had matured their style nicely - another year and it would be perfect.

Vas Dis is a cover of Jack McDuff's piece, that puts me in mind of a heavier version of Ten Years After - mainly because of the slightly wacky but rather wonderful lead/vocal doubling that opens it. A blistering drum roll tumbles into a jazz-flavoured 2-chord pattern that builds intensity towards something that sounds like heavy jazz rock - in a kind of Krautrock vein, but much more tightly constructed and delivered at a quite frenetic tempo.

While the individual ideas here are simple, the whole is greater than its parts, and the band work together like a single unit producing a tour-de-force that will have you reaching for the record sleeve and double checking the year of release. The input from all band members here is absolutely superb, impressing with details without becoming over indulgent.

The Pilgrim has flavours of early Fleetwood Mac - perhaps paraphrasing Albatross once or twice, but in no way attempting to copy the song, more creating an impression. And that's what this introduction feels like - an impression. The song proper follows - although it's a bit of a crowbar job, as the segue is not seamless. Remember this is 1971.

A riff in 7/4 will delight proggers of all types who are fascinated by such things - it gets a little repetitive, but there are some really nice changes of texture and key, and some cool harmony vocal lines, while UPton keeps the percussion side fresh. The riff reminds me a little of Gong's Great Om Riff, to be found on their You album 3 years later.

Jail Bait has all the hallmarks of a classic rock track - catchy melody, strong rhythms and hooks a-plenty, all finished with the classic sound. In a way, it reminds me of The Doors, as I keep expecting jim Morrison to explode with Let it roll, baby roll... Little technical nuggets and experimentations spring out at you, in the use of feedback over a steady chugging backdrop, and alternating lead licks, hard panned so there is no doubt that this is a duel between two guitarists. My favourite nugget of all is right at the end, where both guitars descend briefly into feedback.

As with all classic Ash, the main interest is in the well crafted and almost orchestrated instrumental sections and band interplay, more than the chord progressions and standard blues licks themselves. This is music to lose yourself in and wallow in - for thrill junkies seeking hit after hit, the hits are here in the details, but you do have to look beyond the blues-rock veneer.

Alone sounds almost like it's by a different band - the mix is notably different to earlier tracks, the bass sound rounder, the drums more background, and the guitars more twangy. The same principles apply, though - it's a bit like 4 soloists who just happen to be playing the same song. It feels cut short, because it is. According to Martin Turner's site, the record company hated it - and even he came to agree with them eventually.

Lullaby begins sounding like an early Genesis number - Entangled! That's the one! Check it out. Post Gabriel-Genesis clearly borrowed from this Wishbone Ash number, and I didn't really notice until now. This is about as Prog as Wishbone Ash get - and although it's a straight 4/4 number heavily steeped in the blues, it has a very strong Prog flavour to it, with sumptuous textures being the order of the day - and this listener finds himself bouyed along on almost imaginary melodic strands that intertwine the existing lines.

Valediction is the second of only 3 songs longer than 5 minutes on this album and, as a song, is rather plain, but embellished with the hallmark Wishbone Ash fluid melody lines in the instrumental sections. I can't help but think of Camel as I relisten to this number - or maybe Barclay James Harvest. Strange how you hear all these extra things when you're in review mode that you don't when you're simply listening for pleasure... not that reveiwing isn't a pleasure, of course /g

If, like me, you have an irrational hatred of white man reggae, then be prepared to hit the skip button around 4:29, as the music skips between this most unnatural and ugly of styles and back into halftime rock for most of the rest of the piece. Actually, W.A.s attempt isn't half as bad as most - but I'll just say it's not even close to Bob Marley.

The album closer Where Were You Tomorrow was recorded live, and is also the longest song on the album - but sadly, it is not even remotely proggy: It sounds like a Ten Years After number, with an uptempo 12-bar boogie topped with Clapton like licks and absolutely no surprises - although it does break down superbly, and builds to a fitting climax for a live gig.

Pilgrimage (final track aside) is an absolute masterpiece of Classic Rock that flirts playfully with Prog Rock, and should be checked out by anyone who calls themselves a fan of Prog. It would make an excellent addition to any Prog music collection.

4 solid stars.

Certif1ed | 4/5 |


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