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STEVE ASHLEY - Time and Tide

STEVE ASHLEY - Time and Tide
Topic TSCD569

Over the course of any durable creative arc, there often comes a time when the map of an artist’s musical terrain can begin to seem familiar, a sense of ‘I’m sure we’ve come this way before.’  A once-compelling garden-freshness is replaced with a mustiness that leaves one hankering for a more challenging vision to storm the flight deck and set the controls for the heart of the big picture. Not so when it comes to Steve Ashley however, and the songs and delivery here, whilst bearing his hallmarks of deftness and élan, crackle with ingenuity and are brave enough to explore themes and moods that self-obsessed writers would not countenance.  Such invention, when reflecting on Ashley’s debut, Stroll On being released as far back as 1974 is pretty hard to sustain when that initial album chimed with threads and motifs, which still inform his work.  The natural world, the seasons, the ordinary lives (his 2001 album title) and minutiae of the characters that populate this earth, this realm, have always informed his writing.  He’s never felt the need to remodel himself and he sounds like no one else.

To ascribe the term, um, ‘protest songs’ to much of this material would be naive – Steve makes his points in an astute manner, whilst never keeping his eye off the target. As Richard Thompson has said, “subtle works better than slogans.”  The Demo Tapes albums made in the Greenham and Molesworth days had set out unequivocally his feelings on nuclear issues and here ‘Ships Of Shame’ echoes down these Trident days.  “Our scanners and our schools they take, our welfare and our pensions. Our international rules they break, our treaties and conventions.”  Elsewhere the mere titles ‘Lands End’ and ’Birds Of The Country’ may seem to infer a pastoralism that adheres to an earlier time but these are elegies not eulogies – all is not well in Ashley’s world and it makes for uneasy listening. He’s no polemicist – we all, (apart from G. Dubya who gets a mention in the first track!) know about rising sea levels, carbon emissions, and human rights agendas but we need caring and deep songcraft such as this to make its point on a far more personal level than a G8 summit.

Temper these global concerns with pub carpets, Dylan-like Forever Young affection and the wit to rhyme Boadicea with ‘see her’ and you have warm, distinctive and above all, honest music that calls for repeat-play.

Clive Pownceby

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This album was reviewed in Issue 75 of The Living Tradition magazine.