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New England album review - Melody Maker, October 1976 by Harry Doherty

The sleeve hints at it; the music states it.  New England is the beginning of a new era for Wishbone Ash, an album possibly more important that their previous acclaimed work Argus.

 

The attractive but simple cover depicts pioneers of a new, barren land sharpening a self-made spear, preparing for survival.  So Ash, too, obviously see it as a new beginning.  What’s past is past and, as shown by the figure on the back of the sleeve, who stares at the mountains in the distance, Wishbone Ash want to forget it.

 

The popular theory is that it has taken Wishbone Ash Mark II (Laurie Wisefield took over from Ted Turner on lead guitar a couple of years ago) three albums to hit a peak similar to that of the original band when Argus was hailed as its climax.  I can’t really adhere to that deduction.

The predecessors to Argus (Wishbone Ash and Pilgrimage) reflected that Ash were building to a definitive work.  In contrast the later albums (There’s The Rub and Locked In) were on the straight road to oblivion.

 

Locked In (and to a slightly lesser degree There’s The Rub) portrayed a wasted and uninspired band, whereas New England evokes quite the opposite response.  So whatever happened to Wishbone Ash to make them think so positively again has seriously happened in the latter half of this year.

 

Certainly, those two previous albums gave no hint of what was to come on New England.  It has all the characteristics that set the early Ash albums apart, except that there is a lot more attack and a lot more guts in the feel of the music.

But, as always with Ash the vocals are weak in comparison to the instrumentation.  Martin Turner, despite all the help on echo from the mixing desk, is not a great vocalist and that deficiency is made all the clearer when he battles against the excellence of guitarists Andy Powell and Laurie Wisefield.

 

Apart from that, the weaknesses on New England are few.  Only one track, ‘Lonely Island’ fails to make any impact, and it’s a song so laboured and tedious that I suspect the band were running out of ideas.  There’s also a dual guitar run on ‘When You Know Love’, an otherwise superb and melodic tune, which is so contrived and unnatural to fit comfortably into the song’s structure.

Drummer Steve Upton and Turner provide the healthy, hard-hitting rhythm section on which Powell and Wisefield build, and from whence they announce that Ash is still a band where guitar work is of the primary importance, an argument best supported by the raunchy and instrumental ‘Outward Bound’, easily the best on the album.

 

And to the hard rock of that track, ‘Mother Of Pearl’, and ‘Runaway’, there’s soft and sensitive melody in ‘(In All Of My Dreams) You Rescue Me’, ‘Lorelei’ and ‘When You Know Love’, as well as another superlative instrumental, the Shadows-esque ‘Candlelight’.

But I still don’t think that this Ash has fulfilled its potential on New England.  That’ll come when vocals and melodies are brought up to scratch with the instrumentation.  So New England isn’t the culmination of this line-ups other two albums.  It is, as the sleeve tells us, the first of a new breed.