Winner of Guitarist of the year in 2015 (as well as both Songwriter and Song of the year in 2014) at the British Blues Awards, Aynsley Lister is an artist who has garnered commercial and critical respect, not to mention the support of one Joe Bonamassa. At the age of thirty-nine, Aynsley has already had one hell of a career, releasing seven studio albums to date (‘eyes wide open’ is the eighth) and three live albums in the eighteen years in which he has been active and now he looks set to cap it all with ‘Eyes wide open’, a twelve track (plus bonus track) record that captures the raw, edgy nature of the blues cut live and adds in a touch of contemporary rock for good measure. The songs here are addictive, energetic and full of attitude, and it seems that this may be the moment that Aynsley’s name becomes etched into the public consciousness.
The album gets off to a flying start with the blues-edged psychedelia of ‘All of your love’, a track that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Doors album with its shuffling rhythm, throbbing bass and echoing guitar licks. Ansley’s guitar work is impressive right from the off here, and the solo, redolent of longing, is the perfect introduction to the album. Rather more traditional in style, ‘Everything I have to give’ is a cracking blues track complete with horn section and a soulful vocal from Anysley. Digging into the rich vein of blues mined by the likes of Robert Cray and Joe Bonamassa, ‘everything I have to give’ is a perfect example of Anysley’s impressive skills as both songwriter and a guitarist. Following on from a short, Spanish-guitar introduction, ‘Il grande mafiosos’ once again heads off into psychedelic territory with the central melody recalling a mixture of The Doors and Nick Cave with its sense of mystery and insistent melody. Inspired by Aynsley’s love of Gangster movies, there’s a sense of unease, much like those famous characters experience, that underpins the track. ‘Won’t be taken down’ opens with the sound of late-night heartache (perhaps the regret that one feels at being done down by a friend or loved one) only, as Aynsley’s voice starts to break, a massive riff (with overtones of ‘Comfortably numb’) emerges as if to say that there is hope after all and that one has to fight against those who would do us wrong. Moving away from the blues, ‘time’ may be tethered to Aynsley’s parent genre, but it’s much more rooted in the alternative scene of the early nineties offering up hints of the Stereophonics, the Spin Doctors and even REM in its DNA. Aptly titled, ‘dishevelled’ is a treasure, based in traditional blues but informed by a pop sensibility that recalls Eric Clapton’s collaboration with Sting, it’s probably me’, with its laid-back vibe and yet fiery solo. Smokey and sensual it rounds out the first half of the album on a high.
The brief ‘troubled soul (intro)’ offers a pretty introduction to the slow-burning ‘Kalina’, a soulful ballad with a heart breaking guitar line. Based on Aynsley’s own experiences with a troubled individual, the pain that echoes through the music is real and all the more potent for it. It’s a moving tribute and a poignant attempt by Aynsley to keep her memory alive. Funky and fiery, ‘handful of doubt’ is an album highlight whilst Aynsley draws vocal comparisons with Sonny Landreth. It’s a great, foot-stomping tune (not least thanks to Boneto Dryden’s taut percussion) and it ups the pace after the restrained beauty of ‘Kalina’. Aynsley and his band continue to keep you moving with the funky groove of ‘right as rain’ (a Tommy Castro cover) whilst the nimble ‘other part of me’ and the glorious melodies of ‘stay’ are tracks that would, in a better world, live on the radio. The latter in particular is stylistically reminiscent of King King’s similarly infectious ‘waking up’ and Steve Amadeo’s bass work is a particular delight here. A perfect example of a moving story set to the most infectious of melodies, ‘Stay’ marks the official end of the album, although a bonus track in the form of ‘hold you to it’ can be found on the digi-pack CD. A bright, breezy to the album, ‘hold you to it’ offers up one last taste of Aynsley’s sunshine-fuelled muse and it ends things on a high note.
Overall ‘eyes wide open’ is one of those rare albums that offers up both lyrics with depth and music with heart. Aynsley’s music draws liberally from established artists, but what makes it his own is the emotion that he pours into his solos. A perfect example is the way that opening track ‘all of your love’ offers up a sun-kissed melody, only for Aynsley’s wrenching solo to darken the sky as thunder clouds loom heavy on the horizon. It’s music to soothe the soul and, thanks to a sympathetic production job courtesy of Aynsley himself, a sumptuous set of songs to dig into. Best played late at night when the demons threaten, ‘Eyes wide open’ has much to commend it, and its memorable melodies stay with the listener long after the disc itself has ceased its revolutions. 9