Review by Cameron Arndt
Broken Machine is an exceptional debut album, loaded with excellent performances, and even better songs. It sets out mining a seam of dynamic blues/rock, but infuses this with some heavier fare, tender balladry, and even hints of funk and soul. Plenty of unexpected twists make for a fascinating and involving listen.
Living, as I do, way up in the wilds of Scotland, it can be quite easy for an artist like Ash Wilson, from Lincolnshire, to escape my notice – at least until his rise to greater prominence, which on the evidence of this album, is inevitable. Fortunately in the modern day there are a huge variety of methods for discovering new music, from still-kicking music magazines to the ubiquitous internet and social media, to good old fashioned word-of-mouth.
Ok, so maybe Glasgow isn’t that far off the beaten track, however it was still a fortuitous combination of the above that alerted me to Ash Wilson. King King’s Bob Fridzema – who guests on this record – mentioned Wilson as one to watch in his contribution to our Best Of 2016 article saying ‘I know I’m looking forward to what Ash Wilson is gonna do. I’ve been lucky enough to play on his upcoming album, and I think he can do great things.’
Great things indeed. From the opening, Show Me How To Love, this is an immediately impressive listen. Rattling chains – a nod to Wilson’s delta blues influences – and a rumbling, screeching guitar herald in a big, widescreen sound with plenty of space, crashing guitars and a mid-tempo, driving groove. Wilson sings in a stately, expressive voice with plenty of depth. Generally in a lower register, he hits a great falsetto on the title line and the track builds up to a thick wah-infused guitar solo underpinned by a cracking snare drum. It’s a standout track, right off the bat.
Nor is there any let up, as World’s Gone Crazy starts up immediately with a supercharged ZZ-Top drum beat and jagged guitar riff. Clocking in at a speedy two minutes, it decries a world that makes increasingly little sense, ‘I’m feeling confusion as I watch on my TV, this borderline delusion, there’s more fools around lately.’ Halfway through the track morphs into a middle section with hyper-energetic descending riff and sees Wilson hollering ‘You got me watching, but I don’t know what I’m watching you do.’ Suddenly it’s back to the original knife-like guitar part and exclamations of ‘World’s gone crazy! Everybody’s going crazy!’ It’s a rush, and there’s plenty going on even in this brisk couple of minutes. Wish it was longer!
Backing up Ash Wilson’s terrific performance on vocals and guitar is a top notch band assembled for the recordings. Stalwart bassist, Roger Inniss (Chaka Khan, Laurence Jones), joins the aforementioned Fridzema. Meanwhile, Ash’s brother, Phil, turns in an absolutely blistering performance on drums, playing with crushing intensity throughout the hard-rockin’ Hold On Now, and plenty of groove on slyly funky tracks like Lonely Room and Out Of Time – on which Fridzema is let loose to perform a typically exceptional solo.
Phil Wilson also produced the record, and has done a first-class job of it. The drums in particular come through brilliantly, but he’s not scrimped on the other instruments and the entire CD sounds fantastic. It’s little surprise, either, to see it was recorded at Nottinghamshire’s Superfly Studios – a watchword for quality in modern British blues/rock.
Throughout the album Ash Wilson never lets the songs settle, there’s no stagnant 12-bar chord sequences or tired lyrical clichés. A few songs do, however, ride along on a great shuffle beat. One such number is Peace And Love. With lyrics about a relationship breaking down, and sweet lead guitar licks that dance around the vocal, the choruses feature a final plea given extra heft by a choir of voices singing the word ‘howlin’ before Wilson cries ‘for peace and love.’
The title track also explores a damaged relationship, likening the two people involved to pieces of a broken machine, two parts that should work together but do not match. The tale is told within a simply tremendous song, with an atmospheric intro, striking hard rock riff, great Hammond organ backing and more stellar drumming. In the chorus short, stabbed, ascending guitar chords give an epic feel to match the soaring melody. Capped off with a brief but perfectly formed guitar solo, this is very much the top pick of the record for me.
Jesse Davey of The Hoax makes a guest appearance on The Hitcher, providing a slightly more biting second solo to contrast with Wilson’s polished, restrained effort earlier in the track. The song itself has an ethereal, dreamy vibe and light shuffle beat. Floating backing vocals in the choruses begin to overlap more and more as the track seems to dissipate towards the end, finally vanishing like a comfortable, hazy mist slowly clearing away. It’s almost hypnotic, and enthralling.
There’s a lot going on on this album, but Ash Wilson is unquestionably the star of the show. He’s crafted a set of vibrant, absorbing songs, and delivers them with a unique, passionate vocal and rich, expansive guitar playing – check out the haunting Words Of A Woman which kicks back in with a terrific wah-pedal solo just when you think it’s over, or the closing Holding Hands, a tender ballad laced with Clapton-esque guitar. I’m delighted I happened upon this record and can absolutely endorse Mr Fridzema’s recommendation. This is one you need to hear!
Broken Machine is released 21st April 2017, pre-order on Amazon: