Review Summary: One of the most overlooked albums of the 70's. Progressive Rock doesn't get much better than this.
One of the many hidden gems of rock 'n roll, Wishbone Ash's debut is nothing short of breath-taking. Consider the fact that they had only been playing together for about a year, and that makes it even more remarkable. Released in 1970, the album would prove to be a benchmark for all albums to come during that incredible decade.
First of all, I consider Andy Powell and Ted Turner to be the two most gifted guitarists in all of rock music. For two guys who didn't make much of an impact, they could flat-out PLAY better than anyone else I've ever heard (yes, Hendrix included). Take the beginning of "Handy", for example. I have never heard any other players weave their guitars together and create such heart-breaking melodies. It's absolutely hypnotizing. The scorching solo on "Lady Whiskey" is another great example. Martin Turner proves to be a phenomenal bass player, complemented by Steve Upton to form one hell of a rhythm section.
The album begins with Blind Eye, a stomping boogie tune. The groove is just irresistible. Great, jazzy playing from Andy and Ted. Gotta love that stop/start structure. Next up is Lady Whiskey. Built around a wonderful riff, resplendent with some thundering bass and ferocious guitar playing in the middle. From here on out the album delivers the goods in a big way. Errors Of My Way incorporates folk music into their sound, and the result is grand. Those vocal harmonies by Mart and Andy are just divine. Great, emotional guitar solo as well. This song is one of my favorites on the record. Next comes Queen Of Torture, an absolute riff monster. Now THIS is one rocking tune! Just listen to that riff. First solo is good, second one BURNS.
Side two of the record opens up with one of the greatest prog rock songs of all time. Handy is no doubt the highlight and centerpiece of this amazing album. This is one of the most unique songs I've ever heard by anyone. Kind of hard to categorize, it's kind of "psychedelic jazz". It begins with some glorious, un-accompanied bass playing. Let it be noted that I've rarely heard anyone else who can get such wonderful melodies from a bass guitar. Martin was really awesome. Then, Ted and Andy come in and play some of the most beautiful, dreamy, haunting melodies that have ever been recorded. The atmosphere they convey is astonishing. Then Martin comes in with another bass solo, and it turns into a mid-paced rocker with awesome guitar. There's a short drum solo before it turns into a pure jazz tune. The most amazing thing here is the guitar solo. Andy and Ted were only 19 or 20 at the time. The fact that somebody could play that good at such a young age is incredible. Jazz is one of the hardest styles to play on guitar, yet these guys rip it out like child's play. The licks are amazing - fast, stinging and amazingly fluid. The song ends with some crazy scat-singing from Martin. If you had to pick one song to show someone new to Wishbone Ash, this is the one.
Phoenix closes the album in a grand way. No doubt it's a masterpiece, the way it evolves from a slow, eerie ballad to an all-out guitar thunderstorm (courtesy of Ted Turner). Absolutely stunning. The lyrics, of course, are about the legendary fire bird Phoenix, believed to have risen from ashes to fly again. This is, hands down, one of the greatest electric guitar pieces ever made. What Ted does here is amazing - going from lovely and serene to furious and gut-wrenching in a matter of seconds. His bends are almost tear-inducing, and that ear-melting lick at the 6:49 mark is especially devastating. Man, someone get an extinguisher 'cause that boy was ON FIRE!!
Wishbone Ash would go on to have a long and successful career throughout the rest of the 70's, but they never topped this masterpiece of Psychedelic Prog Rock.