Album review: ACE – Five-a-Side/Time For Another/No Strings

ACE - Five-a-Side/Time For Another/No Strings

BGO Records [Release Date 12.10.18]

In most people’s eyes, Ace are a curiosity remembered only for an admittedly classic transatlantic hit single in ‘How Long’ and for giving a first break to one of the UK’s most respected blue eyed soul singers in Paul Carrack. However to BGO’s credit, they have pulled together a package that effectively represents their complete works – three albums (if  slightly awkwardly split over two CDs) together with an unreleased instrumental ‘Tastes Like A Fish’.

The presentation is equally comprehensive with album photos- including fascinating pen portraits where Paul reveals his influence was Billy Preston among all the Beatles and Motown name checks- and lengthy liner notes from veteran journalist John Tobler, except on closer inspection there are no quotes from band members, he devotes space to long lists of other bands work, and commits the cardinal sin of more than once saying ‘according to the internet’…… which of course means it must be true.  But I digress.

The aforementioned single was taken from their 1974 debut Five-a-Side, with unexplained football themed imagery including the band’s faces superimposed on what looks like a picture of Liverpool fans at that year’s Cup final.

The single stands loud and proud but the soul influences, while present on the likes of ’24 Hours‘, which features a horn section, are not as strong as I expected. Instead openers ‘Sniffin’ About’ and ‘Rock and Roll Runaway’ epitomise a rootsy sound with a swampy guitar style in the mode of Little Feat,  JJ Cale, Ry Cooder and all those other Whistle Test favourites of the time.

Although the main songwriter on the first and third albums, Carrack fans should be aware that his is not the only featured voice with several other members contributing, though none have a particularly distinctive sound. The jazz-tinged ballad ‘Know How it Feels’ is obviously his, though other songs rock a little more such as ‘Time Ain’t Long’ and the barroom rock of closer ‘So Sorry Baby’.

On the second album, 1975’s Time For Another - which was more of a group songwriting effort- they took their American influences still further into country rock territory. Both opener ‘I Think Its Gonna Last’ and ‘This is What You Find’ would sit comfortably alongside the Eagles’ first three albums and ‘Does It Hurt You’ even featured a  guest appearance on pedal steel from Poco’s Rusty Young.

‘No Future in Your Eyes’ is a classic Paul Carrack vocal but oddly the closing tune- and their only other (minor) hit single-  ‘Ain’t Gonna Stand for This No More’, with its funky, swampy feel  was one of the weakest on the album.

By the time of the third album No Strings in 1977, they were even recording in the USA and featured a new American guitarist in Jon Woodhead. Those countrified edges had been sanded off for a  more mainstream soft rock sound, epitomised by the likes of  ‘Not Taking It Out on You’ which is less distinguishable from the pack, but ’Rock and Roll Singer’ is a brassy opener with a four piece horn section and ‘All That I Need’ has a soulful feel.

Supported by some fine melodic guitar work and with Paul Carrack’s voice having a tinge of namesake Rodgers, the liveliest and most up tempo of the ten songs, ‘Movin’ and ‘Found Out the Hard Way’ reminded me of Bad Company’s contemporary work.

It is a far from bad album but their shot at the big time was probably at an end. They say punk killed this type of music off but the following year Dire Straits took many of Ace’s similar original influences to  begin a stellar career. By that moment Ace’s opportunity had come and gone, but this is an interesting if inessential deeper dive into their catalogue.  *** 1/2

Review by Andy Nathan

David Randall plays a selection of new and classic rock in his weekly show first broadcast 14 June 2020 including reference to the Feature series “2020 Vision”.

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