Aynsley Lister’s eighth studio album, 'Eyes Wide Open', is released today (Friday 7th October), a month before his 40th birthday, by Straight Talkin’ Records. Aynsley produced the album, as well as providing vocals and guitar. He is supported throughout by Steve Amadeo (bass), Boneto Dryden (drums) and Bennett Holland (keyboard and backing vocals).
Aynsley should need no introduction to WRC members. Born and raised in Leicester, he soon became an established performer on the Blues/Rock scene after the release of his first album, 'Messin’ With the Kid', in 1996. Since then Aynsley has continued to build his reputation as a leading British Blues singer/guitarist/songwriter, culminating in a series of awards at the British Blues Awards, including Guitarist of the Year in 2015. His previous album, 2013’s 'Home', earned him both Songwriter of the Year and Song of the Year in 2014; does 'Eyes Wide Open' maintain or even enhance Aynsley’s already well established reputation?
The principle behind the album is true to the origins of the Blues: using simple narrative ballads to reflect the musician’s life experiences and emotional landscape with the insight of a fine artist. As Aynsley himself puts it: “The world never stops and so much happens around us - some of it resonates with you, some of it doesn’t. This album is written about the world as I see it, through eyes wide open.”
The range of emotions covered is exemplified by the first two songs. 'All of Your Love' is a song of need that centres around the basic need for wholesome love, the riffy guitar backdrop supporting the urgency of the lyrics. The heavily reverberated stinging guitar tone emulates the sound of a heart wrenching in pain, longing to be satiated and satisfied. In contrast 'Everything I have to Give' is about giving, exploring how much you can give while under immense pressure without falling over the edge. Musically, the song has a powerful edge, with killer riffs and throbbing bass supplemented with added horns. The emotional themes continue in both 'Won’t be Taken Down', about standing up to jealousy and other people’s overbearing competitive nature, 'Time', about realising the impact of our own decisions and choices before it’s too late, and 'Stay', the story of a destructive, insecure relationship.
Another recurring theme in 'Eyes Wide Open' is Aynsley’s love of the movies, especially gangster films. 'Il Grande Mafioso' is the tale of a loser in a late night card game at a seedy bar run by mobsters. The guitar and keyboards use Italian themes to give the song a slow throbbing pulse as a backdrop. Set in the same seedy bar, Dishevelled uses sultry guitar work, with an amazing solo interlude, to tell the story of a bar-room liaison in three distinct stages: arriving, meeting and hooking up.
Finally, no review of 'Eyes Wide Open' would be complete without mention of 'Kalina', the poignant tale of a girl with overpowering mental health problems, hidden behind a beautiful smile and happy exterior. Aysley’s lyrics build awareness of the seriousness of depression without becoming over-emotional.
Overall, 'Eyes Wide Open' is an excellent album with yet another take on Aynsley’s unique perspective on contemporary Blues. It has over an hour of bold and confident Blues/Rock, comprising 13 superb compositions covering an assortment of styles. The quality of Aynsley’s lyrics is outstanding: astute and thought provoking but never over-complicated. When combined with his virtuosity as a guitarist, and ability to craft catchy emotional melodies, the result is yet another memorable album that you’ll want to play again and again.