Forty Years. It might not look like a huge amount on the page, but it’s half a life-time. Forty years will see most readers progress into middle age, a career and a mortgage and yet that is how long British rock band Wishbone Ash have been treading the boards. Over twenty five albums, Wishbone Ash have seen the highs and lows of fame, lost and gained myriad members, inspired generations of musicians and even engaged in a dispute over the use of the name and yet what stands out most on ‘Blue Horizon’ is how fresh and alive the band sound, with the warm, liquid guitar of opening track ‘take it back’ and the hard, driving rock of ‘deep blues’ proving to be the sound of a band alive with inspiration and offering no hint at all at the length of the band’s career, except, perhaps, in the depth of skill and experience displayed.
The opening gambit, ‘take it back’ sets the tone of this album perfectly. A gently progressive composition, it sees Andy Powell and Muddy Manninen trading beautiful guitar licks over a gently insistent beat. The music recalls the mellifluous melody of Caravan and the delicately worded introspection of David Gilmour, whilst the addition of Pat McManus on fiddle lends a pastoral, dreamy-folk element to the whole that will have you hooked even before the band enter into a chorus that is beautifully irresistible. In contrast ‘deep blues’ proves the band haven’t lost their will to rock, and the hard-driving riffs are nailed to Joe Crabtree’s rock solid beat, providing the perfect backdrop for some stunning solo work from Andy and Muddy. ‘Strange how things come back around’, written by former Wishbone Ash guitarist Roger Filgate, sees the band wander gently up another stylistic avenue with a gently funky bass groove underpinning sweet, smooth guitar work that ensnares the listener in fine threads of liquid silk whilst the vocals drift slowly across the surface. It’s a lovely song and offers a perfect moment of calm before the rumbling, progressive ‘being one’ with its King Crimson feel and rich harmonies.
A desire to drift seems to permeate the lyrics of ‘blue horizon’, as ‘way down south’ sees the narrator escape his debts with a trip down south that is laden with hope but liable to end in despair. Musically the band trip on Dire Straits with a gentle, chugging rhythms guitar underpinning the deceptively bright pop melody only for the bitter ‘tally ho!’, an intelligently caustic comment on the financial crisis, wreathed in gently progressive clothing that recalls Roger Waters’ unerring ability to clothe his most seething condemnations in music of the utmost beauty. ‘Mary Jane’ is a great slice of vintage blues delivered with just the right amount of grit and then ‘American Century’ heads back into dreamy progressive territory touched with the spirit of Jazz, the nimble guitar work and complex drumming demonstrating a band at the very peak of their powers. The title track, one of four tracks written by Muddy, returns to the strong bluesy feel evident on ‘deep blues’ , albeit offset with a richly progressive vein that only truly becomes evident on a chorus so beautiful it sends shivers down the spine, while Andy’s warm tones do perfect justice to the elegant lyrics and the stunning harmonies. The final track, the lengthy ‘all there is to say’, has a strong folk feel that dances brightly over the various themes of the album and draws the whole together leaving you bereft that the music has come to an end. With stately guitar work, the band conjure up memories of Floyd, Crimson, Genesis and more, and you’re left once again stunned that a band that has seen so many years’ service can sound so utterly vital, so brilliantly beautiful and inspired that you’re left with the feeling that ‘blue horizon’ should be played as a blueprint to all aspiring bands, as a demonstration of what a deep-seated passion for music can allow you to achieve.
‘Blue Horizon’ is an album to treasure, not just for Wishbone Ash fans, but for all music fans. Covering a wide variety of genres from jazz to blues via progressive and even a touch of funk, the album is a beautifully coherent artistic statement that stands tall both as a musicians’ album, thanks to the devastating prowess of the members, but also as an album that demonstrates the power of the song. At no time does the instrumental dexterity of any member get in the way of a heartfelt melody or key lyric and as a result this beautifully timeless, wonderfully melodic album strikes to the very heart and soul of the listener. There is not a single dull moment, not a wasted note or over-arranged piece, rather ‘Blue Horizon’ is a sublime piece of work that we can only hope Wishbone Ash tour in its entirety. Intelligent, memorable, perfectly played and recorded, you could not ask for a more beautiful piece of work from a band and there is no question that Wishbone Ash, some 40 years in and twenty-five albums down the line, have crafted a masterpiece that will stand tall in their illustrious back catalogue for years to come.