Aynsley Lister has a lot going for him. He’s a top quality singer, with a clear voice that’s easy on the ear. As a guitar player, he’s even better, capable of real fireworks. When he puts his mind to it, he’s an imaginative songwriter. He has a crack band, with Bennett Holland on keys, Boneto Dryden on drums, and Steve Amadeo on bass. Oh yeah, and he’s a good-looking sod too.
Eyes Wide Open is an album that shows what Lister is capable of, with songs that explore different avenues and are delivered with style, and the opening couple of tracks show off some typical Lister qualities. ‘All Your Love’ enters with pulsing bass and a steady beat,
some injections of guitar climb, but it’s the clear and easy vocal that marks
him out – Lister has a distinctively English singing voice, lacking any
American affectations. ‘Everything I’ll
Have To Give’ meanwhile, is a piece of soulful blues that’s right in his
wheelhouse, with a rolling, easy rhythm and a piercing guitar solo with enough
twists and turns to keep Jeremy Clarkson happy.
|Aynsley Lister, eyes wide shut|
But he mixes it up a bit after that. ‘Il Grande Mafioso’ has a cinematic vibe, with a Mediterranean feel instigated by the acoustic guitar intro, some seriously twangy guitar work, and piano lines that evoke the Harry Lime Theme. Later, the halting and moody ‘Dishevelled’ recalls his previous cover of Nina Simone’s ‘I’m Feeling Good’. It may not have the climactic peaks of the latter, but it does have a sinuous guitar solo, woven around the melody and elaborated with changes of pace. It also evokes a late night sleazy bar encounter beautifully, Lister’s languid vocal perfectly delivered.
In between these, Lister occupies more straightforward territory with ‘Won’t Be Taken Down’ and ‘Time’. The former has a restrained verse, offset by a surging chorus with seriously big guitar chords bringing the oomph. The latter is light and sprightly, with twitchy guitar licks and one of the best hooks of the album in its soaring chorus.
For me, the second half of the album doesn’t quite maintain sustain the standard set over these first six songs. This isn’t to say that the track list includes any duds; Lister is far too professional for that, and there are always interesting things going on, not least in his guitar work. But a ruthless advisor might have advised pruning a couple of the slighter songs in order to push the quality threshold to the max.
As I say though, he still does interesting things. ‘Troubled Soul (Intro)’ is a delicate, Mark Knopfler-ish guitar vignette. ‘Kalina’ has a lovely, mellow guitar refrain, and here as elsewhere the interplay of Lister’s guitar with Bennett Holland’s keys is delightful. I’d have liked a stronger melody and chorus, but it still achieves lift off by means of Lister’s guitar solo. Meanwhile ‘Other Part Of Me’ is a relationship celebration with a tune and arrangement that bathe the lyrics in sunshine – the Commodores' ‘Easy Like Sunday Morning’ springs to mind.
Aynsley Lister isn’t easy to pigeonhole. He shifts shape fluidly around a soulful, bluesy, rocky style. I’m beginning to think he might be Britain’s answer to Robben Ford – someone who wants to push the songwriting envelope and find new ways of expressing himself, and has the top-drawer musicianship to match. Hell, he’s a better singer than Robben Ford too. If you haven’t been giving Aynsley Lister your attention before, you should start now.
Eyes Wide Open is released by Straight Talkin' Records on 7 October. Check Aynsley Lister's tour dates for a gig near you.