Blue Horizon

Wishbone Ash

When it comes to a twin-guitar approach, Wishbone Ash remains one of the forerunners. Their early progressive leanings gave way to a harder, bluesier direction that, through a myriad of personnel changes, has experienced varying degrees of success and reception — with founding guitarist Andy Powell as the last man standing. Yeah, it's too bad the other founding members — bassist Martin Turner, guitarist Ted Turner and n drummer Steve Upton — are no longer part of the band (although Martin Turner tried to start his own Wishbone Ash). Through it all, Powell has been the only Wishbone Ash constant, keeping the name alive with new members, making records and touring. Blue Horizon, their 24th studio release for 2014, burns with the kind of vibrant potency and musicality that explains why Wishbone Ash is still a viable vintage rock band.

Owing to their vast history, Wishbone Ash can capably tackle a wide array of styles and moods. Case in point: the opening "Take It Back," with lyrics from Powell's son Aynsley, is ethereal and transcendental, whereas the follower "Deep Blue" carries a bluesy, ZZ Top vibe. Clearly, this is one band that doesn't want to get pigeon-holed. Conversely, "Deep South" has a smooth, jazz-like attack with a slight country flavor. Just when you think you have it all figured out, along comes "Strange How Things Come Back Around," an alluring mid-tempo number with a spacey chorus and a brilliant dual-guitar finale. And that's the beauty of Wishbone Ash: they have the ability to diversify and refine their repertoire to suit their own instincts as musicians and veterans, as opposed to filling the expectations of someone who crunches numbers.

Powell is on guitar and vocals, and is joined by guitarist Jyrki "Muddy" Manninen (with the band since 2004), longtime bassist Bob Skeat, and new drummer Joe Crabtree. Together, this version of Wishbone Ash sounds as fresh, tight and in sync as ever. You listen to the rocking 'Way Down South" and you wonder why it couldn't be on the radio, but then you realize why and take comfort that at least it probably goes over amazingly well in concert. I hope to find that out when they come to town next month. In the meantime, the down-to the-bone raunch of "Mary Jane" bangs its clanging chords before the far more majestic "American Century," built around a bouncing sequence of dizzying notes, leaps and bounds without a care in the world.

The album's title track weeps and willows like a bow-legged sailor, and then it falls into a hypnotic jam with Tom Greenwood on organ. "All There Is To Say" is really where the progressive side of Wishbone Ash goes on full display. An almost Celtic undertow follows the melody as Pat McManus applies both fiddle and bouzouki to the mix, weaving his lines between Powell and Manninen's interplay. It brings Blue Horizon to a brilliant end, leaving no doubt that Wishbone Ash still has songs and chops to spare. Is this record on the caliber of Pilgrimage, Argus, or There's The Rub? Let's just say, Blue Horizon is a solid representation of where and what Wishbone Ash is for 2014 — without compromise, slip in integrity or loss of passion at a level worthy of an impressive history.

~ Shawn Perry

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