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Wishbone Ash : Number the Brave
(MCA - 1981)
Category : underrated
4,5 stars

When it comes to Wishbone Ash, one of Britains most important classic Rock bands, the general concensus is that their best period was the first half of the seventies and that their first four studio albums were also their best. After that the band started to experiment with their sound a lot. They left the Progressive Rock of 'Argus' and 'Pilgrimage' behind and tried their hands at different types of guitar Rock (Folk Rock, Blues Rock, Funk Rock, Hard Rock, Melodic Rock,...) and, when Dance music appeared on the scene, even at Trance. Sometimes the result was good, sometimes not. I agree that an album like 'Twin Barrels Burning', where they had stripped their sound of anything that resembled a personality, are pretty bland.

For many 'Number the Brave' falls into the category of failed albums. But in my case it immediately struck a chord. It became my Wishbone Ash favourite, surpassed only by their 1972 masterpiece 'Argus', where they had perfected their slow and melodic signature Progressive Rock sound I more or less got hooked on for quite a few years.

To longtime fans it must be downright weird to find out that there are people that like this better than 'Pilgrimage' or 'Wishbone Four'. But I can't help it. This pleasant and somewhat funky sounding Melodic Rock (and Pop) is indeed a far way off from the Prog Rock that made them famous. But that doesn't automatically have to mean that it's a bad album, does it? It's not mediocre. It's just different. And to me there actually isn't one song on 'number the Brave' that's any less entertaining than their classics, even if the songs have a production that's definitely lightweight and cold sounding (don't forget. It's the eighties. A clear and cold production would be the standard in Rock and Pop for years to come).

What makes these songs interesting is their surprisingly upbeat sounding nature and the rather strong vocal melodies. Of course the double guitar attack is still there as well (Wishbone Ash was the first band to introduce twin lead guitars, a formula that would later be copied by other greats like Thin Lizzy and Judas Priest), but not as abundant as before. New for the band was also the introduction of a female backing singer, adding a surprising touch to their sound. Her by comparison soulful voice works well together with Andy Powell's.

The weakest track, but still a pleasant listen, is the odd cover of 'Get Ready'. I can imagine people being put off by it, with that cold production that makes it sound quite the opposite of the original and certainly less rocking than that classic version by Swiss rockers Rare Earth. Powell's singing is also somewhat lackluster here. But things only get better from here on, so let me just quickly point out the six standout tracks of the album. They are:

'Underground', a soft melodic thingy that's maybe still a bit reminiscent of their earlier days, but in a light fashion (certainly from a compositional side of things). Take note of the short acoustic guitar solo in the middle.

'Kicks on the Street' is a melodic uptempo Rock track. A heavier production would've made this a Hard Rock song with quite a lot of punch, but it's also quite enjoyable the way it is.

'Open Road' sounds odd coming from Wishbone Ash, but that's also what makes it interesting. Powell's voice definitely has a female aspect here, which adds to the confusion. I'm not sure if I can describe the style of the song, so I won't.

In 'Rainstorm' there's one and a half minutes of that typical slow melodic soloing going on. The song's a tad too long (the chorus is repeated one time too many, I feel), but overall the smooth sound and feel makes for an easy listen.

'That's That' is a jumpy Boogie rocker in overdrive. This is the only song on the album that really suffers from the thin production. What a blast of Hard Rock this would've been if it were given in the hands of a producer like Tom Allom or Ron Nevison. Nevertheless, it's still great fun because the chorus is catchy as hell.

'Number the Brave', an uptempo Melodic Rock song, is driven by a slightly flanged bass guitar and sweeping synths.

That's it. Have a nice day.

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