Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Aynsley Lister - Along For The Ride

I’ve got a lot of time for Aynsley Lister.  He’s a really talented guy.  But . . . well, we’ll get to that later.
When you hear tracks like ‘Eve Part I’ and its counterpart ‘Eve Part II: Love You To Death’, as well as ‘World Is Falling’ and ‘Made Up My Mind’, plus ‘No One Else But You’ and ‘Masquerade’, it’s clear the man has some handy tools in his bag as a songwriter, singer and guitarist.  These songs are stylistically diverse, but they all carry a kitemark of quality.
Aynsley Lister gets all moody and atmospheric
Pic by Alexandre Coesnon
The ‘Eve’ pairing, inspired by the TV thriller Killing Eve, exemplify a cinematic vibe that Lister has explored with success in the past, notably with ‘Il Grande Mafioso’ from his last album Eyes Wide Open.   “Part I’ conjures up a moody, mysterious atmosphere, with a high-pitched vocal from Lister over isolated piano chords, sparse guitar, ticking drums and bendy pulses of bass.  The lyrics produce a character sketch in smart and economical fashion, and Lister adds an elegant, thematic solo, which after a pause he elevates to ramp up the sense of drama.  And ‘Part II’ gradually turns the mood from merely sinister to threatening, with tough, ominous chords, bigger bass and drums, more urgency, and ultimately a blazing solo to close the album.
In contrast to these brooding, epic affairs, ‘World Is Falling’ is a brisk, staccato injection of energy into the middle of the album, with crunching chords and surges of organ the accompaniment for an oblique reflection on pandemic confusion, topped off with a gutsy, edgy solo.  ‘Made Up My Mind’ rocks too, but with a sidestep into funkier territory.   Hendrix-toned chords are played off against a kinetic, twitching rhythm from drummer Russ Parker in a manner redolent of Jimi’s ‘Fire’.  It’s tough and snappy, with a good hook, a weighty tug of war bridge beefed up by swirling organ, and some driving, wiry guitar soloing to which producer Scott McKeon makes a contribution.  At which point it’s worth noting that McKeon and Parker, plus Gavin Conder who adds backing vocals here, have previously combined in the band Rufus Black.
Contrastingly, ‘No One Else But You’ is a minimalist slow blues delivered with warmth and personality, demonstrating how simplicity can work.  ‘Masquerade’, meanwhile, is a musically playful jaunt into a European-sounding milieu, for a tale of escape from relationship deceit, which Lister decorates with a couple of solos that play around with the main theme to good affect.
But – yes, there is a but.  As good as the above songs are, elsewhere things get rather too comfy at times.  The title track is just one example of a song that feels stylish, but ultimately a bit thin, with a melody that’s tasteful, and nicely sung, abetted by some nice harmonies.  Nice, but not something to grab your attention, in spite of some sparkling, glittering soloing.  ‘Bide My Time’ and ‘Wait For Me’ concern different kinds of stuff getting in the way of relationships, but for all their qualities neither generates real traction.  The former exhibits subtle changes of pace and has a restrained, silvery guitar solo, and the latter includes an appealing guitar break with a vaguely Steely Dan-like jazzy leaning (a direction he could probably explore further), but both could do with more dynamics to make a real impact.  And our Aynsley could also do with being a bit more biting on the lyric front now and then, a bit more salty – even if he does observe on ‘Amazing’ that the online world “fucks with your mind”, underlined by a stinging solo and some swooping guitar on the outro.
There are other good moments, but over the course of 13 tracks Along For The Ride leans towards cruising along safely a mite too often, when sometimes a heavier foot on the gas is needed.  Meantime Aynsley Lister is still a really talented guy, who I look forward to seeing live in a few weeks.
Along For The Ride is out now on Straight Talkin’ Records, and can be ordered here.

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