Friday, April 19, 2024

Review: Aynsley Lister – Eyes Wide Open

Looking like a young Ben Affleck cradling his guitar as it were a baby on publicity shots, you can see why Aynsley Lister would appeal to the opposite sex. The choice of painted covers for his latest album, Eyes Wide Open widens this allure further; brushing aside vanity to intimate he’s interested in those aesthetically finer things in life with him viewed reposed in deep thought. So, so far so good: a marketing man’s dream to around half the world’s population for the British Blues award winner.

Bopping out of the speakers an incessant bass line and tight snare drum with ‘All Of Your Love’ awaits a just-got-out-of-bed croaky sigh to come out of the speakers. Yeah, women will fall for a voice like that too, I decide. It’s a catchy number that will have you clicking your fingers, then just as you think the riff’s about to end a slow there’s a slow string slide, a series of notes trickle forth and your ears prick up. Maybe, you think, this boy can play the blues.

We’re more earnestly in that neck of the woods with the slow rocking beat of ‘Everything I Have To Give’, a bruised love torch song with horn section and organ adding upbeat swing while teasing lyrical guitar notes ease out. Two songs in I think I have this guy sussed; he’s a blues rocker performing on the smoother side of the street, from his guitar there’s a touch of that aching pain Fleetwood Mac’s Pete Green could summon at will but there’s a loin-shrugging soul rumble like Robert Cray’s too. Later, on ‘Won’t Be Taken Down’ he adds in a little Gary Moore showmanship for good measure.

aynsley_listerThere’s a Mediterranean influence presented in ‘II Grande Mafioso’  with classical guitar embellishments and organ swelling behind a  crime noir narrative that doesn’t truly convince, with too sweet a voice going on to convince us life’s great white underbelly is being revealed here. Companion scenario ‘Dishevelled’ a few tunes on scores highly however: musically a sultry take on Rory Gallagher’s ‘Calling Card’ with bleary-eyed come-hither-to-bed observations that draw you in. This is music for the end of a night as you pour your last chilled glass of wine, just don’t go to bed without listening to the extended guitar solo.

It’s easy to appreciate why Lister has British Blues Awards like Songwriter awards on his sideboard. Apparently, the self-produced Eyes Wide Open is a return to his roots, with all the grit of traditional blues. “I wanted to keep the raw edginess and energy of a band,” he’s quoted as saying, but it sure sounds slick to me. More it’s about going for the take that works than technical precision. “To me, music isn’t supposed to be perfect,” he’s declared: “It’s supposed to grab you and move you both emotionally and physically; it’s supposed to connect with you.”

To me, this is easy listening music. That doesn’t make it crass, far from it. It’s smooth, considered and elicits effective emotion where appropriate. Vocally comparisons can be made to Michael Bublé and Jamie Cullum, substituting blues inflections for their jazz. It’s the acceptable mature face of modern pop music, a term that’s much maligned and is simply an abbreviation of popular. That the vehicles Lister uses to express his voice through are tunes defined by genres we’ve come to call the blues, rock and a little soul stirs things rather nicely.

You want some rockier tunes? Take ‘Time’ – its big chords and a tricky flick of an infectious riff, like FM playing a Free tune; really blasting out come the solo while the rhythm section keep you dancing.

‘Handful of Doubt’ finds him in Hendrix-lite funk rock riff mode with a noisy solo that cuts through album’s niceties. ‘Hold You To It’ is in the classic James Jameson Motown mould but fits right in as a bopping sing-along.

aynsley_lister
Aynsley Lister by Alexandre Coesnon

‘Troubled Soul’ is little more than a cluster of notes acting as intro to ‘Kalina’, one of the records highlights. A seductive melody line, close chopping chord work, beautifully sung with harmonies and aching long noted solo, listen closely and it’s not a song of regret over a love that could not be but relates the true story of a woman who took her own life after suffering depression. Similarly, the funky upbeat ‘Stay’ actually reveals itself to be about a destructive relationship where neither partner can make the break, the ironic crooning of his “Yahoo!” helps make this song.

The smooth strutting blues rock of ‘Right as Rain’ is a nightclub come-on, cutting into the notes of his guitar Albert King style, ‘Other Part Of Me’ being its morning after bed partner, though you’ll be wide awake once the guitar lets rip.

You need a record to make-out late at night? Want something to sing along to during a lazy Sunday morn? Is Richard Curtis looking for something with more depth as soundtrack for a new movie? On all counts I suggest Eyes Wide Open fits the bill.

Paul H Birch
Paul H Birch
RAMzine Senior Writer - Writer of fiction, faction and fact, has edited several newsstand magazines. He declares himself a hack for hire but refuses to compromise on the subject of music.

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