Are you sitting comfortably? Good, then I’ll begin. Out of nowhere, it seems, here comes Ash Wilson and his album Broken Machine, and he’s knocked it right out of the park.
By recruiting the likes of 6-string bass maestro Roger Innis and King King’s Bob Fridzema on Hammond to record his debut LP, along with his kid brother (and Laurence Jones sidekick) Phil behind the drums, Ash Wilson set the bar pretty high for himself. But with Broken Machine, he sails over it with ease.
A few songs here would slot seamlessly into an Aynsley Lister album and not let the side down. Both ‘Words Of A Woman’ and ‘Holding Hands’ feature soulful, fluid guitar solos where Wilson sounds well and truly in the zone. I can well imagine Bob Fridzema and his King King buddies nodding approvingly as they listen to the latter, a sensitive ballad on which the guitar work skilfully embroiders the vocal melody. In contrast ‘Lonely Room’ is lit up by some bright bursts of funky rhythm guitar interspersed with a buzzing, ascending, Hendrixy riff.
|Ash Wilson - he plays guitar you know|
But that’s the least of what Wilson delivers here, because as debut albums go Broken Machine is pretty damn ambitious.
The first time I listened to this album, the thought that popped into my mind was – Robben Ford. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the material here reminded me of the imagination that Ford showed on his 2015 album Into The Sun, stretching to craft songs inspired but not constrained by blues motifs. The second is that, like Ford, Wilson may not have terrific range or power vocally, but he still makes the most of what he’s got.
But on further listening, Wilson’s sound becomes more distinctive. Vocally, he sometimes adopts a vaguely Josh Homme-like slur, without lapsing into Homme’s irritating degree of posturing, and it gives his singing a bit of character. More significantly though, there’s a modern sensibility to the writing and arrangements that suggests a kinship with the heavier sounding Dan Patlansky – with whom I gather he's touring in May.
That sense of adventure is apparent right from the git go, on ‘Show Me How To Love You’, which follows a moody intro with background chanting, lurching drums, and squealing guitar sounds that meander around the piping vocals on the chorus. ‘World’s Gone Crazy’ meanwhile, is brief and brisk, with a riff and chorus that echo the neck-snapping catchiness of the Stones’ ‘Under Cover’.
‘Peace And Love’ combines restrained drumming with nagging riffs and swirls of organ from Fridzema, as a precursor to a neat guitar solo that – as elsewhere on the album – is all about serving the song, not showmanship. But that’s just a precursor to the title track, on which interesting guitar tones and subtle washes of background keyboard colour contribute to an aching sense of alienation as Wilson sings lines like “It feels like we’re part of a broken machine / What are we gonna do? / It feels like this release makes it harder to breathe, in different ways”.
There’s still room for the cheerful ‘Out Of Time’, with its skipping rhythm, Stax-like organ riff and crisp, harmonised vocal and guitar lines, as well as the outright bluesiness of ‘The Hitcher’, which has a dreamy, reverb heavy quality suggestive of Chris Isaak. And yes, it features a “my baby done left me” line - in this case down the A1, it seems.
You know what? All those people who do ‘Best Newcomer’ awards might as well hire the engravers now, because Ash Wilson’s going to have his name all over them. Get Broken Machine in your ears as soon as you can.
Broken Machine is released on 21 April, and can be pre-ordered from Amazon at http://amzn.to/2jO3FzN.