Personnel: Andy Powell (vocals, guitar); Muddy Manninen (guitar, background vocals); Joe Crabtree (drums, percussion, background vocals); Bob Skeat (background vocals).
Audio Mixer: Tom Greenwood.
Recording information: Aschaffenburg (02/10/2014); Jazzbones, Tacoma, WA (02/10/2014); Aschaffenburg (05/09/2014); Jazzbones, Tacoma, WA (05/09/2014).
Photographers: Jacques Chirac; Alan Fretton.
After a lengthy legal battle over the Wishbone Ash name with founding vocalist and bassist Martin Turner, guitar/vocalist Andy Powell, the group's only remaining original member, prevailed. As a result, his band sounds totally revitalized on Blue Horizon, WA's 22nd album. Though few punters consider it, this group was one of the great purveyors of classic arena rock's twin-guitar sound or the European sound of the Atlantic (the first was Thin Lizzy). So much so, they won an enormous following in the birthplace of such pyrotechnics, America. Few rock bands of any era have explored as many musical geographies as this lot, from hard electric blues-rock to sword-and-sorcery prog and in the 1990s, even trance! This ten-song set is a reassessment of their core strengths: (mostly) well-written tunes, excellent production, and winding instrumental passages. Though Powell doesn't possess nearly the vocal range as Turner, he is an architect of the band's sound. As such, his shortcomings in front of a microphone aren't as glaring as they might otherwise be. His three partners -- guitarist Muddy Manninem, bassist Bob Skeat, and drummer Joe Crabtree -- are all decent harmony singers, which lets him off the hook a bit. Opener "Take It Back," with its hypnotic drums, intricate staccato guitar patterns, and a guest fiddle by Pat McManus, is a vintage WA jam -- with the drummer taking the lead guitar break in the outro! Fans of the group's blues sound should relish the punchy, stinging boogie in "Deep Blues," the title track, and the steep barroom rowdiness of "Mary Jane." (Yes, these are dumb titles. What century is this?) If these cuts were all that was on offer, the set might have been worth purchasing -- in no small part due to the fine production of Tom Greenwood -- but there's more: the spacy psychedelia of "Being One," the knotty prog of "Tally Ho!," and "Way Down South," which possesses a nice pop hook. "American Century" is an expansive stop-and start instrumental. There are two clunkers: the attempt at grooving guitar funk in "Strange How Things Come Back Around," and closer "All There Is to Say," which tries to meld Celtic music and hard rock but doesn't get there. Those cuts aside, Blue Horizon is much better than fans -- or anyone else -- had a right to expect. ~ Thom Jurek