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fromheadtoheart flag England - Full Moon 192 - 05/06/12

From head to heart
Wishbone Ash's Argus

Following our retroscope series of latter years, here we go again! Here's Speakers' corner's cousin; From head to heart. Luna Kafé's focused eye on great events, fantastic happenings, absolute milestones, or other curious incidents from the historic shelves'n'vaults of pop'n'rock. Blowing our ears and our head, punching our chest and shaking our heart. Making us go sentimental, but not slaphappy. This moonth the Lunar spotlight revisits yet another 40 year old platter (it seems we're on the 40-year-old trail), taking us to England; the land of Roman soldiers and flying saucers. Enter the prog-folk all-seeing eye.

coverpic Wishbone Ash
Argus
MCA Records

I've been a Wishbone Ash fan ever since I got hold of their 1973 Live Dates double live LP, which was one of the first albums I bought back in the 70's. I still regard that live album as one of the best ever, and it wasn't until years later that I acquired Argus, their 1972 album, containing some of their most beloved songs. Because of this I do prefer the Live Dates version of these classic songs, but of course, Argus is where they originated, and for that, the album deserves to be praised.

Wishbone Ash helped popularize, if not pioneer, the twin lead guitar sound, but liking Wishbone Ash has always been a challenge, as they have drifted between musical genres through the years. In the beginning they played mostly bluesbased rock, but soon also added the folkbased more progressive songs that make Argus the classic it is. In the late 70's the drifted into slick mainstream rock (some great albums there too), before disintegrating through a couple of hard rock albums. After that the band has mostly been centered around guitarist Andy Powell, and the output since then has mostly been either blues material or revisiting the classic songs. That is, if you look away from the two techno/dance/electronica albums ... I kid you not! But most fans appreciate the original line-up as the best: featuring Powell, Ted Turner (guitar), Martin Turner (bass), and Steve Upton (drums). When Ted Turner left, Laurie Wisefield was recruited from the band Home (also worth checking out), and this was also a fine line-up, making several noteworthy albums.

Wishbone Ash always played the blues well, especially memorable is their seven minutes long rendition of "Baby, What You Want Me to Do" on Live Dates, a large-stage version with a huge twin guitar sound that could only have been done in the 70's. On Argus, "Blowin' Free" is the clearest example of their bluesrock, a great shuffle blues track that also became a live favourite, with the ending and more forgettable "No Easy Road" as another example. The opening "Time Was" is mid-tempo and upbeat, rather unusual for their non-bluesy songs, but a fine one, perhaps even a favourite, showing that at this time, the band had a wide approach to their songwriting. "Sometime World" has a lot of nice harmonies and is crafty executed, but sounds rather dated today.

But it is the collection of epic progressive folk rock songs based in minor-key melodic themes that is the core of Argus, and "The King Will Come", "Warrior" and "Throw Down the Sword" all fit that bill. Here we get it all: sad folky melodies with great vocal harmonies, the two lead guitars equally in focus but also supporting each other, all within dynamic arrangements, shifting between the subtle and the full-fledged. I probably know the lyrics for these songs by heart, but I never studied them (they were not printed in the Live Dates album). Obviously, the titles of these three songs may have a common theme pointing back some hundred years in time, but the lyrics, pompous as they may be, are centered on rather universal themes. At least it felt that way back in the 70's. But the music is just as great today as it was 40 years ago, no discussion. And let's not forget about the sad and low-key beauty of "Leaf and Stream", simply magnificient. A couple of songs on Argus may have lost some momentum during the decades past, but Wishbone Ash fans were in for a long and bumpy ride the following years, making this album shine forever.

argus_saucer The cover art is also worth mentioning, made by Hipgnosis it features a Roman (presumably) soldier watching over a foggy valley as the sun sets, but as you fold out the original vinyl album cover the picture is expanded and you can make out a flying saucer coming his way. A small, but important detail, sadly left out on some later CD reissues of the album. Long live vinyl and gatefold covers!

Copyright © 2012 Knut Tore Breivik e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Wishbone Ash articles/reviews: Bare Bones, Bona Fide, Live Dates 3.

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© 2012 Luna Kafé