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Wishbone Ash: Raw To The Bone (2 disc remaster)
With Uriah Heep bassist Trevor Bolder's brief tenure in Wishbone Ash over by 1983, ex-Trapeze man Mervyn Spence arrived on the scene, not just as bassist, but also as the primary singer on the band's 1985 album Raw To The Bone. With the rest of the line-up still completed by drummer Steve Upton and the long-standing guitar-pair of Andy Powell and Laurie Wisefield, the change should have been relatively seamless. However if 1982's Twin Barrels Burning saw the band move into a more US-centric commercial hard rock sound, Raw placed Wishbone Ash slap bang into the heart of AOR. For long standing fans opener "Cell Of Fame" was an immediate shock, keyboards (by Status Quo man Andy Bown) just as dominant as the twin guitar attack, if not more so. 'Spam' Spence (named after his favourite sandwich filling from his youth) was a more than capable singer and through his high register and clear delivery, perfect for the smooth slick sounds of "Don't Cry" and the positively slushy "Long Live The Night". If Spence sounded right at home in these surrounds, the band he'd joined were less so, the inescapable feeling being that Wishbone Ash were now playing music they thought they should rather than the music they wanted to.
The musicianship on show was clearly good enough to master the black arts of AOR but there's no denying that it's a genre that needs the band concerned to be putting heart and soul into it. If not then smoothness can quickly become blandness and in truth the Little Feat cover "Rocket In My Pocket" sounds exactly that. With a little more life added "Dreams (In Search Of An Answer)" does do a better job of convincing, while "Love Is Blue" is carried along on superb lead vocals from Spence. However, in the end, Raw To The Bone is more an interesting aside than it is a defining moment in the Wishbone Ash story. As with the simultaneously reissued Twin Barrels Burning, all of these tracks and the five bonus cuts can be found on the huge The Vintage Years 1970 - 1991 box which has also just been released. Those five tracks in question came from the early sessions for Ash's proposed next album, and with Spence and Wisefield departing, Upton and Powell were joined by bassist Brad Lang and guitarist Phil Palmer for what is a slightly harder incarnation of the sound the band had explored on Twin Barrels, although "Talk To Me" is almost 80s chart pop.
The second disc of this reissue offers up a further eight selections, four coming from a BBC radio session to highlight Raw To The Bone, all of which improve on the originals by sounding much more like the band people were expecting. While a further four live tracks from a 'local radio' BBC broadcast illustrate that the Raw line-up could do the new ("Cell Of Fame") and old ("Living Proof", "The King Will Come", "Blowin' Free") versions of the band proud and as such will prove to be a real find for fans.
Again, as with Twin Barrels Burning, it's hard to suggest that Raw To The Bone finds Wishbone Ash anywhere near their best and yet for those who like their rock a little softer, there are still a few hidden gems here.
1. CELL OF FAME
2. PEOPLE IN MOTION
3. DON'T CRY
4. LOVE IN BLUE
5. LONG LIVE THE NIGHT
6. ROCKET IN MY POCKET
7. IT'S ONLY LOVE
8. DON'T YOU MESS
9. DREAMS (SEARCHING FOR AN ANSWER)
10. PERFECT TIMING
11.SHE'S STILL ALIVE
THE 1986 SESSIONS
13.VALLEY OF TEARS
15.TALK TO ME
THE FRIDAY ROCK SHOW
1. LONG LIVE THE NIGHT
2. CELL OF FAME
3. LOVE IN BLUE
4. PEOPLE IN MOTION
LIVE AT HAMMERSMITH ON BBC LOCAL RADIO
5. LIVING PROOF
6. CELL OF FAME
7. KING WILL COME
8. BLOWIN' FREE
Added: February 3rd 2018
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Raw To The Bone at Cherry Red
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