One of the most underrated bands to emerge from Britain in the late 1960s to early 1970s, Wishbone Ash achieved a fine balance between progressive and blues-rock. Its original material made prominent use of tandem lead guitars, mirrored by equally uplifting group harmony singing. These virtues distinguish the sound of the band to this day, as evidenced by comparison between a studio album, Elegant Stealth, and a live recording, Live Dates II, previously available in a variety of formats, but here in its entirety on a single compact disc.
A sequel to a similarly-titled live recording of the original lineup, the concert disc takes flight roughly at midpoint with "FUBB," an instrumental that allows guitarists Andy Powell and Laurie Wisefield, the replacement of Ted Turner, to demonstrate the chemistry they discovered after the latter's departure from the group prior to There's the Rub (MCA, 1974). Their interweaving of alternating fluid and staccato guitar lines, alternated with heavy riffing that acts as a refrain, demonstrate how remarkable it was that Wishbone Ash maintained its style and nurtured it upon the departure of a founding member.
Cuts preceding that extended instrumental, such as "Living Proof "and those following, including the vintage "Time Was," from Argus (MCA, 1972), illustrate how mightily the group's rhythm section contributed to this seamless transition as well. Bassist and primary lead vocalist Martin Turner remained bonded with drummer Steve Uptonless a pyrotechnician than a gritty player more influenced by Booker T & The MGs' Al Jackson and The Band's Levon Helmtogether generating an earthiness that contrasted those elevating qualities of instrumentals and voice that ultimately rendered Wishbone Ash unique as it continued to evolve through the years.
Recorded by the existing quartet headed by founding guitarist Andy Powell, the studio album is comparable in quality and style with the live performances from the Ash era of 1976-1980. Elegant Stealth is uniformly strong from start to finish with the exception of the hidden track, an extraneous electronica mix of the opening "Reason to Believe." The vocal and instrumental trademarks of vintage Wishbone Ash appear consistently throughout, as does the mix of acoustic and electric textures, particularly on "Warm Tears."
Most tracks on the 76-minutes plus disc feature healthy improvisational interludesthe concluding cut "Invisible Thread" clocks in at over eleven minuteswhere the guitarists solo with intelligence mirrored in the rhythm section. All four members of the current Wishbone Ashin addition to Powell, basssit Bob Skeat, guitarist Muddy Manninen and percussionist Joe Crabtreepossess an extensive instrumental vocabulary and this sophistication is indicative of the high standards to which Andy Powell aspires in carrying on the band's name.
Further reaffirming the practical means by which he honors the legacy, the founding guitarist has also forged a tightly-knit unit here. Powell, Skeat, Manninen and Crabtree play well together, but also function stylishly as a unit in the studio; again, this virtue is akin to the professionalism that marked the best of Wishbone Ash's previous work. The performances on Elegant Stealth (an album title as euphonious as the band's name) display a forceful engagement that speaks volumes about the whole group's commitment to the name, the music and each other.
Tracks and Personnel
Live Dates II
Tracks: Doctor; Living Proof; Runaway; Helpless; F.U.B.B.; The Way of the World; Lorelei; (In All of My Dreams) You Rescue Me; Persephone; Time Was; Goodbye Baby, Hello Friend; No Easy Road.
Personnel: Andy Powell: guitar, vocals; Laurie Wisefield: guitar, vocals; Martin Turner: bass guitar, lead vocals; Steve Upton: drums.
Tracks: Reason to Believe; Warm Tears; Man with No Name; Can't Go It Alone; Give It Up; Searching for Satellites; Heavy Weather; Mud-slick; Big Issues; Migrant Worker; Invisible Thread.
Personnel: Andy Powell: guitar, vocals; Bob Skeat: bass, vocals; Muddy Manninen: guitar, vocals; Joe Crabtree: drums, percussion; Don Airey: Hammond B3 (8); Pat McManus: fiddle (4).