From the South Bend Tribune
From the South Bend Tribune Wishbone Ash returns with ‘Elegant Stealth’ By Andrew S. Hughes South Bend Tribune Sunday, April 29, 2012
When Wishbone Ash played Mishawaka’s Midway Tavern last May, the band was in the process of finishing its new studio album, then with the working title of “Searching for Satellites.” But sometime between then and its release on Nov. 25, it became “Elegant Stealth.”
“We often like puns for album titles,” guitarist Andy Powell says by telephone from his home in Connecticut. “We had one album called ‘Clan Destiny.’ ” Puns aside, he says, “Elegant Stealth” also speaks to Wishbone Ash’s identity.
“There’s a feeling that what we do now — the gig in Mishawaka kind of sums it up — is we have a global brand name, but we operate a bit under the radar,” Powell says. “We know how to make records and we believe we do it elegantly. … We just do what we do really well with quiet confidence.” That’s true of both “Elegant Stealth” and last year’s concert at the Midway, where the band plays again Thursday.
The album and last year’s concert prove that the current lineup — which has been together since 2007, when drummer Joseph Crabtree joined Powell, Manninen and bass player Bob Skeat, who had been together since 2004 — has the creativity, musicianship and tightness of the band’s original, early-’70s lineup that produced the classic 1972 album “Argus.”
“At its very basic form, we get together and make music,” Powell says about the current lineup. “It’ll touch on many different genres because as musicians we can do all things. … To be in Wishbone Ash, you have to have a broad palette.” The album kicks off with “Reason to Believe,” a forceful rocker that features Wishbone Ash’s signature twin-lead guitar approach by Powell and Jyrki “Muddy” Manninen, dynamic instrumental breaks, a catchy pop melody and fine harmony singing.
Other highlights include “Warm Tears” and its driving bass groove; the dynamic “Can’t Go It Alone” as it shifts from an almost-Celtic opening to hard rocker to a long but focused guitar solo with some Celtic fiddle fills sprinkled throughout the song; the harmony vocals and contrast between the acoustic rhythm guitar and electric lead guitar on “Give It Up”; and the early-’70s progressive rock groove that Deep Purple Hammond B-3 player Don Airey’s heavy organ washes and melodic solo provide to the instrumental “Mud-Slick.”
Lyrically, the album’s as varied as its music, hitting on such themes as the dissolved love affair of “Warm Tears,” the sympathetic portrait of the titular “Migrant Worker,” and the philosophical investigations of “Man With No Name” and “Searching for Satellites.” “Love and relationships get mined quite heavily in pop songs, and there’s a good amount of that,” Powell says. “But if you travel around, you can’t help but touch on social issues. ‘Heavy Weather’ was sparked by the number of tornadoes that were happening, but it’s really a metaphor for how to weather the stresses in a relationship.”
While the band wrote the songs for “Elegant Stealth,” a documentary film crew made “This Is Wishbone Ash: A Rockumentary,” a behind-the-scenes DVD released in early 2011. “On this album, the brief was, ‘Let’s rely on what comes out,’ ” Powell says. “That was the cornerstone for the whole project, us going into a room and seeing what popped up. … We might do another album later on this year, and it might start with a few songs being submitted to the group (instead of improvised as a foursome). There are no rules anymore.”
The band also plans to meet soon with a conductor to discuss a possible orchestral project, and Powell and Manninen have “chucked” around the idea of doing a blues album next. “We are nothing if not blues oriented,” Powell says. “Our music is all about the emotion. … There is a feeling in the band that we want to experiment.” But the band isn’t in a rush to “just put out another album” after spending two years on “Elegant Stealth.”
“We’re still in the midst of the release of ‘Elegant Stealth,’ so we’re breathing a sigh of relief that we completed it and we’re in the sales part of it,” Powell says. “I see that album as having a shelf life of a year, so there’s no reason we can’t really enjoy playing those new songs, as well as the older classic songs.”
Besides, there already is another new album available: Along with “Elegant Stealth,” Wishbone Ash concurrently released “Road Works Volume 2: Live in Hamburg,” taken from a February 2011 concert. “I think we wanted to put out a bunch of different material that showed all the facets of this band in a short period of time,” Powell says about the double release and adds that he thinks the band will continue the live series. “We really wanted to lay out what the band is and how it’s developed.”
That’s always been the case with Wishbone Ash, which formed in 1969 when guitarists Powell and Ted Turner both answered an ad that bass player Martin Turner — no relation to Ted Turner — and drummer Steve Upton had placed in Melody Maker. As part of Britain’s early-’70s progressive rock movement, Wishbone Ash’s sound favored the genre’s harder-edged sound that was an outgrowth of the British blues boom of the ’60s. Minus the Hammond organ, the band’s early albums fit into the same end of the progressive rock spectrum as those of Uriah Heep, Deep Purple and — among many other unfairly almost-forgotten bands of the period — Atomic Rooster and Captain Beyond.
Departures, however, began early, with Ted Turner’s surprise exit in 1974. Laurie Wisefield replaced Ted Turner through 1985, and the band released such well-regarded albums as “There’s the Rub,” “New England” and “No Smoke Without Fire.” But after Martin Turner left the band in 1980, Wishbone Ash entered more than a decade of instability: Since 1969, 19 people have played in the band, not counting second and third stints for some members. In 1988, the band’s four founding members reunited for the instrumental album “Nouveau Calls” and a successful tour followed by 1989’s “Here to Hear” album and another successful tour. As the band prepared to record a new album, however, Upton, who had been with the band since its founding, quit as Wishbone Ash’s drummer and retired from music. Martin Turner was replaced in 1991, and Ted Turner left the band in 1994, leaving Powell the only remaining original member since then.
Despite all those lineup shifts, however, the band’s core fans have remained faithful, and Wishbone Ash rewards them with a touring schedule of 150 to 200 dates a year and a taper-friendly policy that allows the fans to trade recordings of their shows. “My feeling is that we’ve created a fan community and they’re fans and friends and they’re not going to rip us off,” Powell says about bootleg recordings. “You could say all or nothing, and if you say nothing, then you spend all your time being a policeman. By being fan-friendly, I think it engenders enthusiasm for the band. … My experience is that those fans will support you.”
They seem to: Last year’s show at the Midway drew fans from Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Such traveling to follow the band is common among the band’s fans, Powell says, and he already knows of some fans from the U.K. who will be at the Midway on Thursday.
“It might be a tad smaller than some of the places we play in, but we know some people in the area that are organizing it,” Powell says, referring to a local fan who was also the promoter for the 2011 show. “It’s a different kind of place for us, but it has some personal connection for some fans. As you can imagine, we’ve made some connections with fans, and some are in the area.”
The guitarist also remembers the Midway from Wishbone Ash’s visit last year. “It’s an interesting old place,” Powell says. “It’s got some history to it. … It’s fun in the middle of a tour to do that small of a gig and stay locally. It’s like getting off the treadmill. We get to chill out and hang out with some friends. When we do those kinds of shows, we often play our best shows because it’s low-key and we get to hang out as if with family.”
Wishbone Ash performs at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Midway Tavern, 810 W. Fourth St., Mishawaka. Admission is $20. For more information, call 574-255-0458 or visit the website themidwaytavern.com.