Wishbone Ash have been around for a long time (they formed in 1969 when this reviewer was still in short trousers), have been through umpteen lineup changes (Wikipedia lists the four current members plus another seventeen that have been associated with the band at some point) and have produced music that covers a multitude of musical styles (including rock, blues, progressive, folk and even, believe it or not, techno). Despite this appearance of constant change, or possibly because of it, Andy Powell and his band have consistently produced interesting music and bands as diverse as Iron Maiden, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Dream Theater have cited them as an influence.
Their latest offering is Coat Of Arms. By my count, it’s their twenty-fifth studio album but with a career spanning more than fifty years, it’s possible I’ve missed one or two. Andy Powell, head honcho and sole original member, has assembled a group of musicians who do not simply preserve the heritage of the band (which they do) but build and develop it. A range of musical styles are represented and at one point, for want of a better word, it even gets funky!
The opening track is “We Stand As One”. It starts with a siren style guitar riff that had me worried at first. It was harsh and abrasive and I was not sure I liked it. The song is about the fires in the Amazonian rainforest and I reasoned that a clarion call was not an unreasonable response, so I stuck with it. An instrumental section became more downbeat, melancholic even, and really drew me in before the music started to build again and the siren blared out once more but, by this time, I was on board. I was now set for the rest of the album and expecting to be impressed. I wasn’t disappointed.
The title track, “Coat Of Arms”, comes across as classic Wishbone Ash and strongly features the twin guitars in harmony for which the band are noted. The two guitarists, Andy Powell and Mark Abrahams, sound like they have been playing together all their lives which is all the more remarkable since Mark only joined the band in 2017. I read that Mark started playing the guitar when he was nine years old and learned (at least in part) by playing along to Wishbone Ash, which may help explain why they work so well together.
The pace changes again with “Empty Man” which has a folk, or even a country, feel to it. The empty man of the title is torn apart in the lyrics and the off-kilter guitar riff underlines just what the band think of him.
I could go on raving about each track in turn but I will instead highlight three of my favourite tracks, “Too Cool For AC” and “Back In The Day”, and the last track, “Personal Halloween”, a song that slithers like a snake while a fabulously fat horn section pushes it along. Each one of them outstanding in its own way.
Far from resting on their laurels or touring a greatest hits package, Wishbone Ash have released an album full of new and interesting material… and they’re touring it. Brilliant!
Coat Of Arms is out now – grab it on Amazon and support this site.
On tour now: tour dates