As has been the case with any scene, the blues rock resurgence in recent years has led to an oversaturation of acts, the majority of whom see fit to exercise their musicality within a tried-and-tested, formulaic context; adhering to retro motifs and stagnant paradigms. Few have shone through the pack. While I'm no blues rock connoisseur, my own listening proclivities, as with any genre, veer towards the innovative and genuinely progressive, rather than the stylistically stale and generic. Artists such as Wilson T King, are parameter pushing musical geniuses within the scene; standing head and shoulders above all those who exercise their chops within the more commercially viable, traditional route. This is where it's at, for me.
So, just where does Aynsley Lister fit into the scene? According to press blurb, he's lived through "18 years of hard touring, 11 album releases (eight studio and three live)" and has brought "all his experience as a musician to fruition" on his latest work, 'Eyes Wide Open'. I'm a newcomer to his music, I'll admit that right now, but he's a name I've been aware of before this one turned up for review. And, with press materials also stating "the 39-year-old British guitarist says that this raw, energetic album is a return to his roots; a record that at its heart boasts all the grit of traditional blues"... my pre-listening mindset is already primed with expectations of everything I find all too tedious about the genre.
It is, therefore, a pleasant surprise when 'Eyes Wide Open' actually offers up a listening experience that's rich with both emotion and fine songwriting. Compositionally, the album's undeniably generic and dips into "easy listening" blues on occasion, such as on 'Dishevelled'; but, on the whole, it's a fairly engaging work. Partially, this is to do with Lister's voice. Tonally, he doesn't have the widest range, and even less so stylistically, but the man's smooth-toned vocals are certainly likeable, and convey enough emotion as to connect with the micro-narratives found in the lyrics of each track. His guitar work is also great. Derivative of retro blues idioms, for sure, but well executed and loaded with feeling.
Another positive of 'Eyes Wide Shut' is its organic sounding impetus; not quite the antithesis of an over-produced, overly polished record but, nonetheless, this is music that sounds alive. Lister asserts in liner notes that minimal takes were recorded, and he favoured "the ones that had the most spirit and passion over those with technical perfection." It's an admirable move, and one that's worked a treat, which helps explain the music's natural sounding emotional depths.
Highlight of the album for me? The quasi-sleaze blues of 'Il Grande Mafioso' is a fantastic cut and standout track. Apparently inspired by Lister's love of gangster movies, it provides an awesome audio homage to such. Deviating from the paradigmatic nature of most other compositions on the album, it also offers something different.
There's no denying Lister's talents as a songwriter, vocalist and guitarist, but I can't help thinking I've perhaps come into his discography at the wrong time, for what is his self-proclaimed more roots based approach on this outing. Had I the contrast of his regular output, then perhaps he could be forgiven for dipping into traditional blues waters for album number eight. As such, genre pastiche and mimicry ultimately is a more disconnecting experience for me. Having said that, there are enough emotional depths in the music on 'Eyes Wide Open' for me to connect, at least, on some level. Not a mindblowing album by any means, but a solid enough effort, and those who revel in traditional blues will undoubtedly love this significantly more than I do.
Straight Talkin' Records
EYES WIDE OPEN
Review by Mark Holmes
7th Oct 2016
1) All of Your Love
2) Everything I Have to Give
3) Il Grande Mafioso
4) Won't Be Taken Down
5) Time; 6) Dishevelled
7) Troubled Soul (Intro); 8) Kalina
9) Handful of Doubt
10) Right as Rain
11) Other Part of Me
13) Hold You To It
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"Compositionally, the album's undeniably generic and dips into "easy listening" blues on occasion... but, on the whole, it's a fairly engaging work."