'Fistful Of Blues' EP
Roger Berzerk Fauske
I first came across Gwyn Ashton via recommendation from Magnum keyboard player Mark Stanway, a high recommendation indeed and as it turned out, more than justified.
And he wasn't alone recommending him. In 2001 French Guitar Magazine voted him the 3rd best guitarist of the year, behind only Jeff Beck and Gary Moore. In 2007 his album 'Prohibition' was voted album of the year by the British Guitar and Bass magazine.
Gwyn himself hails from Wales and emigrated to Adelaide, Australia at an early age, relocating to Europe in 1996, via Sydney and Melbourne. He has toured with the likes of BB King, Johnny Winter, The Yardbirds, Peter Green, Buddy Guy, Robin Trower and Status Quo.
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In 2006 he recorded 'Prohibition' with a star studded band, Ted McKenna on drums, bassist Chris Glen and Don Airey on keyboards. Bands don't get much better than that. Since then he hasn't stopped recording and gigging extensively.
So to 'Fistful Of Blues'. This is his first new material since the acclaimed 'Radiogram' came out last year and short though it may be (it is an EP so not something you can say you weren't expecting!), it is blues to the core.
This isn't your industry standard derivative blues though – Gwyn takes the music, and you, off in different directions, sometimes entirely unexpected and if you like your music to innovate, inspire and enthral, then carry on reading... and if you don't, then it is time to start.
First up is 'Take You Home Tonight'. It takes approximately eight seconds for my feet to start going and before I know what is going on a full on stomp has developed. "My body shaking, it just won't stop", Ashton sings. He ain't kidding. There are little bits of so many different things, a little ZZ Topish in places but that is about the feel, not the style or melody.
Ashton's almost understated slide guitar gives it that extra push, that deeper feel. It's blues alright but no anti depressants needed here. Understated slide that is until he lets rip in the middle – a word of advice, if you have neighbours in the flat downstairs, pay for a night out for them and give your stomping and shaking a free reign.
'On The Borderline' calms things down, moody, pensive and upbeat. Contradiction in terms to some blues purists, but Ashton does it supremely well. Thought provoking lyrics, passion, feeling and groove all rolled into one. Beautifully crafted progressions and almost before you realise it, that foot is off again, this time the head and the rest of the body coming out in sympathy. A superb piece of writing and playing – this is obviously someone at the top of their game.
'Waiting For The Day' kicks off with a killer riff, echoing into the background before it comes at you again. This one is a little more straightforward, a bluesy rocker to grab you by the nuts, swing you around and leave you screaming for more. Bass line almost military in precision rumbling in the background, hypnotic, entrancing, driving everything forward. I say straightforward but it seamlessly shifts gear, guitar taking over, Rory no doubt nodding approvingly from his place on high.
So to the last one, 'When You're Alone', possibly the closest to the style a lot of people would associate with mainstream blues. But again Gwyn cannot be accused of lack of originality, the song has elements of styles but is derivative of none. This is unmistakeably him, with more note bends in this song than a mountain road, lyrics both meaningful and passionate, voice tinged with raw emotion, getting you right where it counts.
But the real mark of the talent on show is the music alone spirals its way into your very soul, and that is a talent that is not always present. This is music in its pure linguistic form, yet as an entertainment tool as well.
'When You're Alone' is rich in tempo changes, shifting at ease from slow blues to piercing blues rock guitar, and the fret work is something to marvel at on this one.
Musically 'Fistful Of Blues' is a storming update to Gwyn Ashton's catalogue and for those whose first taste of his music is this EP, then I suggest you start doing the lottery as good fortune is definitely on your side.
He is in the very top tier of guitarists of any genre yet one of those who doesn't feel the urge, or need, to prove it at every turn – less can be more on occasion. But even in these four songs, there is everything to keep everyone happy from the widdly widdly addicts to the slide aficionados.
This guy is good. And what's more, his songwriting is up there with the best of them.
The feel of the songs and the production has a live quality to it which makes a change from the far too often over engineered releases these days. But that is indicative of the way Gwyn plies his trade – he is primarily a live performer (it is what musicians do contrary to the opinion of large parts of the modern music business).
Somehow he is not as mainstream as his undoubted talent deserves, but then that is how the industry works these days. I would suggest you go and see him live as soon as you can, you will thank me.