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.