|Wishbone Ash – 1972
Let’s continue to blur the lines between driving and homecoming songs a bit more. Continuing on this August driving playlist of mine I want to include more songs that converge on that open road feeling. Its a feeling that at the end of the day must remain lighter, yet have a considerable amount of weight. I’m traveling north to Devon, England to reveal a very simpatico band, its Wishbone Ash. Their songs “Alone” and “Lullaby”, from 1971’s Pilgrimage, that I chose to review and deserve to be played one after the other, display a Yin and Yang quality, you can see aspects of each different track’s feel which can drive the other songs as well. There’s something about their musical sojourns, lead by twin (and sometimes three!) lead guitars, that sounds so bracing. Its a sound that was very influential on groups like Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden later on.
I kind of like this creation story. Wishbone Ash, was started by a bassist and a drummer from some non-descript psych band called Tanglewood wanted to start anew. They set out feelers looking for a keyboardist and guitarist. After auditioning players of both types, two amazing guitar players showed up and lit their world afire. Andy Powell and Ted Turner were so good, that they couldn’t cast one off. Rather than do this, they decided to use both as lead guitar players just to see what that would sound like. Their first attempt at locking this sound down was their self-titled album
. Its an ok album, but its an album of a band trying to use existing tropes like blues rock and boogie to just feel their own guitar interplay out. Much of that album had a sonic feeling of players just harmonizing with each other, seemingly tentative to strike out separately on their own, from home base. It wasn’t until, Pilgrimage,
a year later that they discovered how to bind with each other.
“Alone” presents this startling new vision. Its a sound that’s more progressive and complex. They were going back to some sort of folk and classical roots in order to fashion an almost knightly sound. Its chivalrous yet imposing. Its the kind of music that seems more suited for being on a pilgrimage not for simple exploration but for probing manifestations. Listen to the song, now you can hear well-trained warriors. First, the rhythm section braces the gauntlet and forms this solid musical shield from where Andy and Ted can now freely unleash all sorts of tandem guitar melodies. Rather than just harmonize on one chord, they now use their single note interplay to create a dizzying melodic display of sounds that aren’t blues based but something else altogether. Its a brotherly kind of sound, as if they’re preparing the listener for any battle or journey. Its this sound that would set them apart from groups like Status Quo, Yardbirds, or early-Fleetwood Mac, which were still struggling to find a way out of their blues (sonic and otherwise). Can you blame them for naming their next album Argus
after the all-seeing giant
of Greek myth fame.
After this bracing sound Wishbone Ash follow it up with the peaceful pastoral beauty of “Lullaby”. This track presents the opposite side of the coin. They could use this guitar power for peace as well. Now they display an almost serene guitar interplay. Focusing solely on the reflection of the early reflection of the previous track “Alone” they use that impulse as the focal point to launch a meditation on rest. They start of harmonizing together, then they provide themselves some distance to sonically converse, as the conversation goes more pensive, the guitar interplay becomes more languid and bittersweet. Its almost as if they’re trying to convey that the only thing worth fighting for is to go back home and rest. I’ll explore just a bit more of England tomorrow, before we travel to our good ole US of A.