WISHBONE ASH – PILGRIMAGE: Developing The Ash Approach, Volume 2

Like a lot of second albums from this era, Wishbone Ash’s Pilgrimage feels like a “part 2” continuation of a memorable first album. Ash members have mentioned not having the time they wanted to record it and the label added a live track to close out the album, thus giving an odds and sods feel to the album’s second side. That said, the group continues to make their novel, ambitious approach to rock felt throughout all its tracks.

The group decided to minimize their singing on this album, smarting from some criticism of the vocals on the first album, so Pilgrimage‘s first side is primarily instrumental.  “Vas Dis” translates a Brother Jack McDuff jazz tune into a driving, proggish opener where wordless scat vocals double nimble guitar leads in a clever manner and the drums set a barnstorming pace. More pastoral tones are explored on “Alone” and the ambient-guitars intro to “The Pilgrim,” though the ladder shifts into a tight rocker with complex, angular rhythms and interlocking guitar lines that have a stunning, Philip Glass-style minimalism. The sole vocal number is “Jail Bait,” a steamy boogie-style rocker that piles scorching riffs atop a throbbing bassline.

Side two can be divided into two halves. The first half is two studio pieces: “Lullaby” is another folk-inflected rock instrumental but the loveliness of the melody combined with the distinctive, interlocking two-guitar style keeps it fresh while vocals return on “Valediction,” an introspective ballad where the drums signal the shifts in intensity while the guitars carry the song’s emotional heft.  The second half is “Where Were You Tomorrow,” a ten minute-plus rocker recorded live.  It rambles in the middle with some low-key noodling but offered many listeners their first taste of live Ash: they could recreate their intricacies on stage with the same intensity as their recordings.

In short, Pilgrimage isn’t as elegantly sequenced and consistently sturdy as the debut but it retains all the signature elements of Wishbone Ash at this stage: a unique folk/rock/blues/prog hybrid approach, sometimes tempered by boyish vocal harmonies, and a focus on dual-guitar textures that range from delicate intricacy to raw power. Like the previous album, it benefits from crisp production by Derek Lawrence that minimizes sonic trickery. Its individualistic style carries it through any rough spots… and at its best, it sounds disarmingly timeless.

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