Wishbone Ash are one of those bands that, back in the day when you had to rely on music journalism and what your friends listened to rather than expecting to have the entire musical universe at your fingertips, sounded great in the abstract; reviewers would talk about twin lead guitars intertwining to make grand aural landscapes. For whatever reason (almost complete absence of radio play was one factor) I never got around to investing in an ‘Ash LP, apart from a cheap cassette (eyes moisten with nostalgia) bought out East (where is that now he wonders?) that wasn’t the best representation of their work (or the best quality for that matter); overtime the bits and pieces I heard never quite lived up to the numerous reviews I’d read.
So, although the band has apparently been ploughing on steadily over the years with original member Andy Powell maintaining the integrity of the name, it was still intriguing to see a brand-new spanking album ‘Coat of Arms’ to review. Naturally, I have been listening to a lot of the back catalogue as well as the new release and in my opinion it’s every bit as good if not better than the old stuff.
The introduction three years back of guitarist and fan of the group, Mark Abrahams, has been credited as providing a fresh injection of youthful energy into proceedings and the twin guitar attack from him and Andy Powell are superb throughout, ‘Drive’ being a good example. ‘Too Cool for AC’ is another one full of tasty riffs and weaving lines that vary interestingly as the song progresses, ending with competing solo lines that end up combining joyfully in twin guitar heaven.
It’s classic Ash in that respect, with melodic harmonised guitars flowing in and out and beautifully fat toned and equally tuneful solos everywhere; the vocal sound is the same, with Andy Powell sounding unchanged from his youthful self; however, the addition of Mark Abrahams as a co-writer with Andy Powell has resulted in a strong set of songs that have more focus than some of the older material, and seem more accessible, with great hooks, one after another.
There isn’t a duff track in the collection, which ends as strongly as it begins with the sinuous and catchy riffing of ‘Personal Halloween’, enhanced by a great horn arrangement - marvellous! For lovers of non-stop fabulous melodic guitar playing that never descends into thoughtless widdling, this is highly recommended. The ‘Ash are back with a vengeance (even if they’ve never been away)! Hopefully we will get a chance to see these songs played live when the current difficulties end.