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Wishbone Ash
Bare Bones
Transatlantic/Castle Music Ltd.

Twin lead guitar pioneers Wishbone Ash started out as a melodic, bluesy and mildly progressive unit, and made some great records in the early 70's, like the almost classic Argus (1972). After these glory days we have seen many faces of Wishbone Ash, from the americanized AOR/soft-rock of the late 70's, through an increasingly embarrasing metallic period in the 80's, but a re-vitalization came with the instrumental Nouveau Calls (1987) on Miles Copeland's I.R.S. No Speak label, and since then Wishbone Ash have been active more or less continually with guitarist Andy Powell as the sole original member. In 1998 he took us by surprise by releasing Trance Visionary, a bold move into club/dance land, featuring a lot of loops of samples from earlier Wishbone Ash recordings, melded into an at times exciting mix - the trademark guitars were so badly missed by the fans, that they just some months later released a re-made version of the album, Psychic Terrorism, with lots of guitars added!

Bare Bones however, is a more conventional album, based around Powell's wish to record mostly previously released songs in an "unplugged," acoustic format. The first cut is Wings Of Desire, from the 1991 CD Strange Affair, a light pearl of a version that almost has me happily humming along. Errors Of My Way from the first self-titled Wishbone Ash LP (1970) has gotten an Irish sounding violin work-over, and this was not a bad idea. A new atmosphere for the song is created, fitting the song nicely, confirming the folk influence that Wishbone Ash possessed in the earlier days. Master Of Disguise is from the somewhat dark Just Testing LP (1980), and also get the violin treatment, but more in the country vein this time. Mike Bennett, producer of Trance Visionary (also known from his work for the BMX Bandits and The Fall) has written You Won't Take Me Down, a laidback, moody and half spooky ballad, sung by Mark Birch (all others are sung by Powell). The result is almost comparable to Jeff Buckley, but without his dynamic presence. The forgettable bluesy Love Abuse, written by Andy Powell and present drummer Ray Weston, can also be found on The Archive Series, Vol. 3, as a live recording from 1993. The upbeat (Won't You Give Him) One More Chance is written by A. Martin and R. Scott (unknown to me), and has a refrain that reminds me slightly of Ry Cooder. Baby Don't Mind is a previously unreleased accordion driven country song, also of the more forgettable kind. Another favourite from the Just Testing LP, Living Proof, also sounds good as an acoustic, although I find myself longing for the original's rock'n'roll beat. The bluesy Hard Times and Strange Affair are both from the mentioned Strange Affair CD. The fact that three songs are included from this rather unexciting CD, may be because Powell was not pleased with the original recordings (which were rammed by some unhappy circumstances). Still, I think the straight blues stuff, done acoustically, sounds a little ... restrained, dry and uh, to be frank, a tad boring. Ending this collection is Everybody Needs A Friend, from Wishbone Four (1973). This is a classic rock ballad, and this (rather electrified) acoustic version is more radio friendly, perhaps, but doesn't add much else to the song.

With a ton of good tunes from the earlier years, one could have wished for a different selection, but if this CD sells (which it apparently does), I will not be surprised to see further "unplugged" releases from Wishbone Ash. Powell himself seems to be quite happy with the results (see the Bare Bones interview on the official Wishbone Ash site), and I will join in: This is the freshest sounding Wishbone Ash studio album since Just Testing, perhaps with the exception of Nouveau Calls. However, these are three very different albums, showing the large musical span present in Wishbone Ash's production, and you never know what to expect next. Which is more than can be said about the majority of today's new groups, which seem to arrive with a fully developed sound, and stick to it like there was no tomorrow.

There has been several re-unions of the original band, but now it seems unlikely that they will all play together again, as drummer Steve Upton has decided to leave the music business. Personally, I hope to hear Laurie Wisefield (who joined the band in 1974, after leaving Home, where his brilliant clear-sounding guitar playing was a main commodity) again with Wishbone Ash, especially within an acoustic context. But that's perhaps too much to hope for?

Copyright © 2000 Knut Tore Breivik e-mail address

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

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