Fistful Of Blues EP
Singer-guitarist Gwyn Ashton follows last year’s rock epic Radiogram with a splendid little package. Fistful Of Blues, a four-song EP, explores blues rock from several angles, always with Ashton’s characteristic taste and nuance.
“Take You Home Tonight” kicks off the program with style. A shuffle boogie taken at medium tempo, it’s played with such vigor that it feels like it’s accelerating. Ashton plays slide with assurance, here echoing his vocal line, there dazzling with cascades of notes during the breakdown section, wisely keeping the groove paramount. His tone, toppy on the single notes, grinds into throaty breakup on double-stops and chords. Thoughts of Rory Gallagher are certain to arise.
“On The Borderline” sketches the story of a breakup over a sparse rhythm: one could drive a truck through the minimalist bass line and jazzy traps. The pace picks up, moving into a walking blues as the track progresses. Ashton dials in a snappy Strat tone and, squeezing out truly wild bends and spitting short bursts of notes, constructs a vivid solo that echoes Richard Thompson as much as it does Buddy Guy.
“Waiting For The Day” is a rocker with effective dynamics in the music, and a lyric that moves from dark to defiant. Except in the choruses, which are played as a straight shuffle, the drumbeat maintains a martial feel. The solo is typically imaginative, with upper-register bent notes emerging like rays of light from tangled phrases and twanging low-end notes. No Blues Riffs 101 here: Ashton maintains an improbably high level of creativity.
The minor-key love song “When You’re Alone” opens with a Univibed tone, moving easily into a haunting, subdued frame that works off the West Side blues riff patented by Magic Sam in his songs “Easy Baby” and “All Your Love.” The hushed, almost stately, verses make the guitar breaks stand out that much more. The middle solo opens quietly, with Ashton playing chunky phrases at low volume; he turns up for a hairier tone and a keener attack just before slipping back into another vocal verse. The watery, vibed guitar sound reappears as the music crescendos behind the vocal, and then–well, the outro solo is simply incredible. Ashton pulls tremolo picking, slides up and down the neck, rubbery bends, and more from his bag of tricks. All the while, the amplifier sounds as if it is melting down amid bomb bursts. It’s a harrowing performance.
A palpable energy runs through the EP. The sessions feel like they were cut live, and the unadorned trio format yields plenty of space for Ashton’s voice and the instruments, which have a remarkable presence. The drum kit sounds fantastic, with the snare and cymbals right there, and the guitar jumps from the speakers. Even in its most florid moments, Ashton’s guitar playing is never gratuitous. Instead, it plays an essential role in developing the mood of these well-crafted songs. Fistful Of Blues is a fine set.
Digital files for review were provided by the artist.