Gwyn Ashton’s Sonic Blues Preachers will convert you

The Shorter Oxford Dictionary defines a fanatic as “A person with an obsessive interest in and enthusiasm for a particular activity”. This just about covers yours truly: since Deep Purple split (the first time!) in 1973, I have collected every member’s output as they went about their musical business: offshoots and offshoots of offshoots and every solo, session, guest appearances and production credit. The result is a collection that has grown exponentially as the numerous members and ex-members lent their musicianship to a wide range of artists. With Steve Morse and Don Airey in particular, the number of appearances is expansive and expensive! No regrets however as, apart from keeping the collection complete, I have also discovered a lot of new music. The point of this that it was a Don Airey session that first introduced me to the Antipodean genius that is Gwyn Ashton. I bought his Prohibition album because of Don’s appearance therein and found a blues guitarist of serious skill and originality…even on his brilliant cover of Gallagher’s brilliant Secret Agent; which inevitably led to me buying up his entire catalogue. Now onto his ninth studio album Gwyn has, on Sonic Blues Preachers, again provided a diverse collection of blues-rock that more than satisfies the blues and guitar lover in me and, I would suggest, in you.  Gwyn has decided that a “power duo” is all he needed to put together nine tracks of slide driven blues of the electric and acoustic variety. On this new album, he has recruited Jon Freeman on drums. Jon was with Bon Scott in his pre AC/DC band, Fraternity, and is in demand down under. (A note here for Liz: Gwyn was actually born in Wales before moving to Australia when he was still very young).

It all starts with the traditional 1, 2, 3, 4 count in and then She’s What I Like explodes into a raw riff and some great single entendre lyrics. The immediate thought is that the lack of bass guitar is not apparent as the structure of this song (and the rest of the album) has space for the guitar and drums to shine. Although un-credited, the sound is also filled out by some subtle and fitting backing vocals. It is already irresistible and the solo may be short but is stunning in its originality and the way he employs the bottleneck. Candy Store is even better: it’s slower and dirtier in its sound and innuendo-filled lyrics. The reverb filled solo is just simply clever! Fool In Your Life has a delightful slide riff intro before the adroit melody behind the lyrics. When the slide takes centre stage in the middle section, you just wish it would last forever with its neck exploration and neat inflexions teased from the bottleneck. Soul For Sale sounds like it is played on a 12-string acoustic and, despite the Floydian echoes, it rises above with a laid back piece of playing that has an Eastern tinge especially in the solo. The Old Fool is next and could well have been written for me…once again an acoustic slide lights up every phrase and soon gets into the mind and doesn’t let go. As I opined recently, I refuse to use earworm as a description; it’s aural sex…simply brilliant, modern Delta blues with a unique twist. Take Yourself Away has a blues-rock base crossed with a sort of 60s R’n’B flavour that somehow ends up like a seriously heavy pop-rock song. It is still worth the entrance fee for the riffs and short solos. If I Don’t Feel It brings some funky blues as the song bounces along and Gwyn injects some neat slide patterns into the melody and the too-short solo is stunning: the bottleneck is rampant and yet he still pulls some rapid runs that, when I tried it, my fingers ended up in a knot! She’s Lost Her Power has another slight 60s feel but with heavyweight blues behind it all. The playing here illustrates even more than the others, how Gwyn can play bass, rhythm and lead all at the same time and doesn’t let the complexity of the task detract from the overall result. The final track, Waiting Game, starts with some crystalline slide before the guitar sets the rhythm and the snare merge to make a brilliant, traditional and yet unique blues song emerge. The slide solo is spine-tingling and packed with a lyricism that perfectly matched the words.

So here we have a guitarist of real skill, matched note for note by a drummer in complete accord, supplying a blues album that is not the norm. It is the kind of album that rarely surfaces as it challenges the standard tropes and moulds them into something new…it still pays deference to the Delta and the cities that helped birth electric blues but manages to bring a new twist to the story. Quite simply a brilliant album that may take some a few listens to truly appreciate…but believe me, the time spent will be repaid on so many levels. Give it a try and you will not be disappointed.

NINEpawprint half inchdoodle paws out of TEN …

Track listing:

  1. She’s What I Like
  2. Candy Store
  3. Fool In Your Life
  4. Soul For Sale
  5. The Old Fool
  6. Take Yourself Away
  7. If I Don’t Feel It
  8. She’s Lost Her Power
  9. Waiting Game

Musicians:

Gwyn Ashton: guitars, vocals

Jon Freeman: drums

Gwyn Ashton’s Sonic Blues Preachers will convert you

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