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Issue 1088

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Review

Aynsley Lister: Home (Straight Talkin’ Records)

Aynsley Lister CD Cover Pic

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5.9

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UK release date 08.07.2013

What do I think of when I see Leicester on a map? The clock tower. Brucianni’s ice cream parlour. Treviner's wine bar. The Palais. The Ill Rondo. Family. That’s both my family and Chapman and Whitney’s Family. Many friends. Many great nights of live music as a punter, music photographer and journalist stretching back to the mid 1970s. I moved there when I was 14, and finished my education and got my first jobs there. It may be that if you haven’t lived there, the place is most synonymous with Gary Lineker, Engelbert Humperdinck, Showaddywaddy and a very dodgy football team! Oh, and if you are under 30, maybe Kasabian.Well from now on, when I see or hear that city’s name, I shall add something else to my mental list. The name Aynsley Lister.

The 36-year-old Leicester born and based guitarist, singer and songwriter has been playing guitar since he was eight years old, taught himself to play listening to his Dad’s record collection, copying Peter Green, Paul Kossoff, Freddie King and Clapton et al. He played his first bar gig at the age of 13, played in several bands before forming his own at 18 and has not stopped since. Aynsley has toured the globe several times, in his own right and opening for some big names including Walter Trout, John Mayall, Robert Cray, the Fun Lovin' Criminals, Bryan Adams, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Buddy Guy and many more. In 2007 Aynsley was the only British artist to be named in Classic Rock magazine's "Top 10 Contemporary Blues Artists", alongside John Mayer and Joe Bonamassa. He made two self released albums in 1996 and 1997, and was spotted by German record label boss Thomas Ruf and signed to his label at the age of 22 in 1998, where he stayed for seven albums and two DVDs. His first album on Ruf was produced by Stevie Ray Vaughan’s producer Jim Gaines. (I loved the 1990 album Jim produced for Alligator by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, "Standing My Ground," and the best version of “I Got My Mojo Working,” I ever heard.) Then two albums for Manhaton Records, under the wing of music mogul Alan Robinson. 2009's 'Equilibrium' and then the live album “Tower Sessions” in 2010.

For the tenth album of his career to date, Aynsley has flown the nest of being under contract with anyone but himself. “Home” is the debut release for his own label “Straight Talkin’ Records,” and both the name of the CD and the name of his label may give you a wee clue as to where his head and heart are at right now. No more dancing to someone else’s tune, or allowing someone else to decide what he should and should not be doing. No more being beholden to anyone else. He has literally come home, and I think he is a better recording artist for it. Having been playing the guitar for 28 years and performing live for 23, all of that experience and dues paid have gone into this album. I bet myself I would not find anything as good as Jonny Lang’s new record, “Fight For My Soul” this year, or anything to equal Mike Zito’s “Gone To Texas.” Well, Aynsley Lister gets damn close with his new one; “Home.” It is a very, very impressive album indeed.

What makes it special is the control and less is more approach to the guitar playing. Oh and of course, the awesome skill involved too. The album is song led, and not a vehicle for play it by numbers blues guitar solos every few bars. There are more than enough decent solos here, but it is the brush strokes and the subtle and restrained approach that is far more impressive than an axe fest. He could do that shit with his eyes closed and probably only using one hand. But while everyone else is doing just that and loudly on a rock tip, Mr Lister plays it clever. Like such legends as BB King, Robert Cray and Robben Ford, he adopts the same approach to his playing. Not wasting a single note. Never over-playing or getting too busy. Leaving space and allowing the songs to breath. But when he plays, he gets the tone, the flavours and the feel just right. There’s the thing. Feel. This album has it in heaps. It has soul. But above all else, like Aynsley, it has CLASS.

Aynsley is joined by Andre Bassing on keyboards, Steve Amadeo on bass and Wayne Proctor on drums. Wayne and Steve lend Aynsley a hand on the excellent production too.

The title track opens Aynsley’s account here, in a Gary Moore vibe. The tone is spot on and the mix has that guitar cutting through like a bitch, as it does on the entire album. Thank goodness for that, as his guitar MUST be heard and NEEDS to be heard if you need a fix of sublime playing by a master craftsman. If dodgy production had smothered the guitar, it would be the equivalent of going to see the Sistine chapel ceiling and looking at it through plastic sheeting.
Three tracks in, we get a taste of his Robben Ford vocal phrasing and song structure, on “Insatiable.” That is not to say Aynsley is a copy-cat. It sounds like an innate thing to me. But I am not one to complain about that, as I am a huge fan of Mr Ford. The killer song for me is the most commercial here, and that is “Inside Out.” Maybe a bit John Mayer-ish, it shows Aynsley at ease and in his comfort zone. The vocal matches the quality of the playing on this one, and it is excellent song-writing with a great hook and some tasty twin guitar harmonies. For me, they go on too long on the track, and if they opened up that track again and edited it down to 3.30 maximum and took out a lot of the twin guitar stuff, this song has BBc Radio 2 Play-list on heavy rotation all over it for my ears. And that’s daytime mainstream spins too, not just one shot on a Monday night at 7pm on the blues show. 24 hours after first hearting that song, I was still humming it. It has big potentuial for crossover sucess does that one. Investment in a top radio plugger with the right contacts would be money well spent.

“Sugar” features some slick piano from the ultra talented Andre Bassing – a name to watch out for in his own right methinks - and has a slinky New Orleans feel to it. Aynsley shows off on guitar and is in fine form. His vocal is strong, the players do the business behind him, and it’s a very pleasing end result. “Free” is a song destined to become an Aynsley Lister anthem, perhaps. It features some strong emotional vocals and lots of space around the controlled feedback on guitars. Maybe with a slight Southern rock Eagles/Allman Brothers feel to it. The drums are exemplary, and on this track as on the whole album, the drums sound like drums in the mix. As the playing and the production are so solid, it gives a concrete foundation for everything else to sit on top. Wayne Proctor on drums and percussion gets about a bit, and is here, there and everywhere on drums and as a producer. He is the perfect choice to sit on that stool for this collection.

There are two covers among the 12 tracks here, the rest penned by Aynsley. He has a stab at “You Make It Real,” and destroys a great song for my taste. It doesn’t come close to the original soulfulness from James Morrison on the vocal, and knowing James personally and having heard him sing that live a few times, I can say with conviction that the original was perfect in arrangement as it was, so it didn’t need tampering with. But it’s Aynsley being real (see what I did there?) and true to himself, and that’s the way it should be, no matter what I think. But it’s the one song that just does not work for me. However the bonus is; we get some lovely restrained blues licks though. Shivers up the spine time. But the next track and his second cover, really is an outstanding piece of work: Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good,” penned by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. A dark and moody treatment, power chords and distortion galore and the whole thing builds into a spine tingling epic. The vocal is commanding and passionate; this whole track is stunning. Play this loud, close your eyes and imagine the credits rolling on the big screen for the latest "Bond" blockbuster. This’d fit perfectly and it is that good. Maybe the best version aside from Nina’s I have ever heard.

He reminds us how natural it is for him as a blues guitarist to really let rip if he wanted to; on the closer, with some fabulous blues on “Straight Talking Woman.”

This album makes a very loud statement about several things. First of all it says Aynsley Lister is an artist and not just a guitarist. It says just like the brilliant Matt Schofield, Aynsley isn’t shackled to 12 bar blues and ventures into all sorts of territories from jazz, blues, rock, funk, soul, roots and beyond. He fears nothing. He takes risks. Now I do not mean this to be disrespectful to other blues guitarists; but he just doesn’t sound British. Apart from his vocal. His playing is up there with the best of any of the axe stars from across the pond. No he is not confined to the blues, but bases all he does on that genre. It shouts loudly about him as a songwriter. This album is song led, and not a vehicle for play-it-by-numbers blues guitar solos every few bars. There are more than enough decent solos here, but it is the brush strokes,the subtle and restrained approach that is far more impressive than an axe fest. One could probably say he has blasted us with a guitar frenzy on some of his previous albums.

Yes, there are some very good songs here that will stand the test of time and be covered by others to earn him a few bob on royalties in his retirement. It says his vocals have improved and developed enough to be as near to the same standard as his guitar playing. (I would have thought a few more backing vox would have added value to the album, but that’s an observation not a criticism.) But more than anything, it says he is comfortable in his own skin, he is loved up with life and ready to take full control of his own destiny. With his own label and working with his partner Stephanie Wildey to manage his career and recording efforts. I have not heard all nine of his previous albums, so I cannot say with total confidence this is the best album Aynsley has ever made. I very much suspect it is, but I like to be honest. And being totally honest, I will tell you that what I have heard previously on record and when I caught him live on a few songs at a festival a few years ago, he just did not blow me away. I thought then that there may well have been a little over indulgence on the hype machine in his case. But “Home” has put all that out of my mind. It is a mighty record.

So I wish him the best of luck steering his own course, and thank him for this fantastic album. A record that will feature massively on the end of year “Best ofâ€Â¦.” lists in many blues and music mags around the globe. If there is any justice, and if the blues writers can stop obsessing about Joe Bonamassa for a moment!
Words SIMON REDLEY

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