“Home” – Aynsley Lister

5 stars (out of 5)

0

HomeWhen I’m reviewing music I always focus primarily on the quality of the vocal, the quality of the playing and the quality of the lyrics.  With blues albums I expect the playing to be good and if you get a great vocal performance as well, that’s a bonus.  Lyrically, it’s easy to fall into old blues clichés and I guess it’s understandable in a musical form that places such an emphasis on performance and improvisation.  On this album, Aynsley Lister nails the playing, the vocals and the lyrical themes; that’s why “Home” (his tenth album) is a great modern blues album.  I mean where else are you going to hear a song inspired by “Life on Mars”?  And I mean Gene Hunt, not David Bowie.

Aynsley has responded to the implosion of the music business (referenced in the album’s second song “Broke”) in the same way as many other performers; he decided to bypass it completely and record and release material on his own label (Straight Talkin’ Records).  He’s an accomplished songwriter and a inspired lyricist, tackling some of the standard rock themes on “Home” and “Insatiable” with a creative, poetic twist and moving into less conventional subjects with “Broke”, “Hyde 2612” (the Gene Hunt song) and “Free”, the very moving tribute to his friend Rod Thomson.  He covers a wide range of blues styles, but the lyrical themes on “Home” are pushing at the boundaries of the blues/rock genre and that has to be a good thing if the genre aims to survive the music industry meltdown.

The album features a couple of covers, placed together in the running order.  The first, the James Morrison song “You Make it Real”, shows that Aynsley isn’t afraid to put his own stamp on a contemporary song while the Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley standard “Feeling Good” is pitched somewhere between the Nina Simone and Muse versions with robust guitar work and a powerful vocal.

And that brings me quite neatly to Aynsley Lister’s vocals.  His reputation is built around his playing (which is faultless), but he has a fabulous voice which isn’t always in the characteristic blues style.  His vocal style is very radio-friendly with a hint of plaintive melancholy which nudges into the territory of Rob Thomas (former Matchbox Twenty frontman) at times and maybe (for those of you with very long memories) he has a hint of Iain Matthews.

So we’ve got some sensitive and quite radio-friendly songs but if you’re into the heads-down, no nonsense mindless boogie there’s a bit of that as well with the barrel-house boogie-woogie of “Sugar” and the album closes with the jazzy “Straight Talkin’ Woman”  where eight bars of stuttering, staccato guitar develops into a powerful flowing solo.

The band is superb throughout.  Andre Bassing (keyboards), Steve Amadeo (bass) and Wayne Proctor (drums) are perfectly at ease with the album’s varying musical styles and provide a rock solid foundation for Aynsley’s guitar and vocals.  I’ve reviewed a few good new British blues/rock albums over the last few months, but “Home” stands above the rest because of its variety, songwriting quality and willingness to move the blues forward in the twenty-first century.  This is classy, blues writing, playing and singing of the highest order.

Out now on Straight Talkin’ Records (STR 2612).