http://alturl.com/2v7nw to see “Roy’s Bluz” performed live
The UK-based artist Gwyn Ashton remains inexplicably under-recognized in the United States, despite his success across Europe and his excellent recordings. His 2012 release Radiogram is a powerful set of songs that should find a home in the CD and mp3 players of every fan of honest, bluesy rock.
Ashton and drummer Kev Hickman, with contributions from Don Airey (Hammond organ for Deep Purple, Rainbow, Whitesnake, and Black Sabbath) and Honeydrippers Mark Stanway (keyboards), Robbie Blunt (guitar), and Mo Birch (backing vocals), turn in a wide-ranging set. The riff behind “Little Girl,” a bone-cruncher in full AC/DC mode that features Ashton and guest Kim Wilson on harmonica, maintains the all-important swing that separates exciting rock from the soulless variety. “Let Me In,” a stylized boogie with Johnny Mastro on harp, bristles with barely-contained energy, threatening at several junctures to blow both speakers and amplifier alike. With chiming guitars, a gritty vocal, and impressive dynamic shifts, the mid-tempo rocker “Don’t Want To Fall” would, in a perfect world, dominate the airwaves in any decade: its melody line can certainly compete with anything Def Leppard ever cooked up. Pay special attention to the arrangement, which features unexpected touches like the George Harrison-inflected slide work that fills a brief, crucial space in the song.
“I Just Wanna Make Love” recasts the Willie Dixon-penned Muddy Waters number “I Just Want To Make Love To You,” offering grooving, edge-of-meltdown guitar breaks that are perfect in a slightly Hendrix-inflected way. Sizzling tones on Ashton’s funky rhythm guitar keep the track really cooking. “Dog Eat Dog,” a grinding rocker laid over a shuffle beat, affords Ashton plenty of space to break out his bluesiest guitar lines, and he loads the cut with cutting fills and a snarling solo full of unrelenting attitude, groove, and surprising ideas. “For Your Love” splits the difference between “Dog” and “Love,” delivering mind-bending guitar lines over a spare, gritty slow grind.
“Comin’ Home” is the pick hit here from a pop aspect (and who can’t appreciate a genuinely catchy number?). Ashton sings an irresistible melody over a track that develops from eighth-note guitar clicks (shades of The Cars!) to a chunky, Rolling Stones-like rhythm, filled out with solid slide and baritone guitar leads. It’s simply great. On the blues end, “Bluz For Roy” is Ashton’s splendid tribute to the late Telecaster genius Roy Buchanan. Raw-toned, with wildly bent notes, chicken-picking, volume knob swells, and other assorted hand-and-guitar-only effects, “Bluz” captures Buchanan’s creativity and spirit as well as anything I’ve heard. Hats off to Mr Ashton.
On the relatively subdued “Fortunate Kind,” Ashton plays a Weissenborn lap steel, turning over lead guitar duties to the Robert Plant band veteran Robbie Blunt. The country-ish feel of the track lends it a flavor strongly reminiscent of The Band, with its tempo and driving drum part in particular recalling “The Weight.” That’s pretty good company. Along the same lines, you’ll want to pay particular attention to the ballad “Angel,” which serves almost as a continuation of Jimi Hendrix’s song of the same title by employing a similar tempo and melody. While the middle guitar break is evocative and emotional in its simplicity, the heat increases measurably on the extended ride-out solo as Ashton alternates legato and bitten-off phrases and makes masterful use of controlled feedback. The dynamics develop so naturally that when things quiet down again for a final, delicate exit, everything sounds perfectly right, and quite beautiful.
How refreshing it is to be able to celebrate a hard rock album that adults can enjoy. That’s not meant to infer that Radiogram is enervated or predictable–quite the opposite. Nor, at the other end of the scale, is it pretentious or arty. It is just right: nothing here feels either tarted up or dumbed down. Gwyn Ashton’s music is thoughtful and complex when it needs to be, making good use of smart rhythms and splendid tones without seeming flash. And while he wears his influences on his sleeve, he never does so too conspicuously. All that qualifies as good music in my book. Consider that high praise, coming as it does from a listener who rarely programs this sort of music, but who appreciates it when it is done this well.
Digital files for review were provided by the artist.