Album review: WISHBONE ASH – Two Barrels Burning/Raw To The Bone (reissues)

WISHBONE ASH - Two Barrels Burning

Lemon/Cherry Red [Release date 02.02.18]

Back in the racks for their first official outing on CD in some years, two eighties “lost classics” from the band who are currently receiving renewed attention largely thanks to the massive limited “vintage years” box set release.

Two Barrels Burning and its successor Raw To the Bone can be seen as interim statements from a band who, in 1982, had long lost mainstay Ted Turner and, more recently, Martin Turner. A band in transition. And on the basis of the evidence presented here, one that succumbed to the production values of the day and in the process redefining their direction.

With Martin Turner’s departure from the band in 1980, John Wetton was called in for Number The Brave (1981) but it was only a temporary stint. For Two Barrels Burning, Trevor Bolder was recruited on bass/vocals. Bolder only stayed for this outing, within a year he would join Uriah Heep.

Andy Powell admits that this album was heavily influenced by a nascent ZZ Top with whom Ash had worked in the States. This is perhaps best exemplified on opener ‘Engine Overheat’ and ‘Streets Of Shame’ and throughout there is a straight-ahead rock approach characterised by the fluid guitar duelling of Powell and Laurie Wisefield.

When the band slow things down – as on ‘Hold On’ and ‘No More Lonely Nights’ – it remains impressive. In fact this could easily be Little River Band in disguise. It is not surprising that the band’s USA label thought the album should be remixed for the US market – at a time when remixing was the fashion for different territories – and a second disc includes these mixes. Three bonus tracks and informative liner notes round out this excellent package. ****

WISHBONE ASH - Raw To The Bone

Raw To The Bone continued the heavier approach of its predecessor and featured bassist/vocalist Mervyn ‘Spam’ Spence who had been in a latter-day Trapeze and, after Mel Galley’s departure for Whitesnake, was “between bands”.

Spence had a very wide vocal range which lent itself to a harder rock feel, and also when set against the then current vogue for NWOBHM. For some hardened fans, his contribution will be regarded as overpowering and to the detriment of the usual twin-guitar harmony.  In that sense this is not your typical Ash.

Songs like ‘Don’t You Mess’ and ‘Dreams (Searching For An Answer)’ have a very transatlantic feel and it is surprising that in the States the album failed to chart like its predecessor (although Two Barrels Burning was more successful in the UK).

This reissue may be more interesting for fans for the several bonus tracks (including the excellent non-album ‘She’s Still Alive’ and the previously unheard ’1986 sessions’). A second disc brings together live sessions for the BBC (July 1985) and a gig broadcast on local radio in December 1985. ****1/2

During this period, with label, financial and management issues and fluctuating personnel (Laurie Wisefield would leave after this album) Wishbone Ash faced uncertain times. Their fortunes would revive in 1987 under the stewardship of Miles Copeland when they made an all-instrumental album ‘Nouveau Calls’ and with the return of the two Turners.

If both these reissues sit slightly proud of the Ash canon, they demonstrate that the band has always been characterised by its musicality and tenacity, not least demonstrated by original member Andy Powell who would take up the band’s management in the mid-1990s as well as, ultimately, the band name which continues to this day.

Review by David Randall

David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.


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