Monday, October 22, 2018

Exclusive - Bitter Sweet Twilight

Bitter Sweet Twilight
A Rock Legend Embraces Middle Age
By J. Adams

Twenty years ago, in the hits from The Verve’s Urban Hymns, Richard Ashcroft tapped into a pastoral strain of classic rock that briefly made him a superstar. It was an unlikely triumph that Ashcroft the solo artist has struggled to follow up ever since, attempting universal anthems without one of the last great rock ‘n’ roll bands behind him.

Natural Rebel, Ashcroft’s sixth solo album, takes the classic rock fixation to a new level, channeling his influences more explicitly than ever. If it’s unlikely to change the minds of resentful diehards, it is a strong, mature, and surprisingly adventurous effort from a defining voice of his generation that will reward longtime fans.

The Verve are sorely missed—as always—but with his latest hired hands Ashcroft has assembled something closer to a real band than he’s previously managed. He’s written better songs, but his solo work has rarely benefited from the grit and élan of these players as recorded by his producers Jon Kelly and Emre Ramazanoglu.

Album opener “All My Dreams” sets the stage with a soaring ode to Ashcroft’s wife (one of several on the album) that could pass for a more romantic Tom Petty, while lead single “Surprised By The Joy” is a sophisticated gem, a whimsically arranged celebration of escaping modernity into nature. “Man in Motion” is a cosmic road epic that’s equal parts Bruce Springsteen and Gene Clark, one of Ashcroft’s country-rock heroes. And, the ferociously catchy “Money Money” is a gloriously glam raver that could be a hit if alternative rock radio still existed.

Becoming more bruised and craggy with years of experience and smoking, Richard Ashcroft’s voice is one for the ages, and more than makes up for some occasionally spotty songwriting. Little on Natural Rebel will rewrite Ashcroft’s history, or make it to his festival setlists in a year or two, but for fans and perhaps some neophytes on YouTube or Spotify it is an abundantly worthy addition to his deep catalog.

Grade: A-

Track by Track:

All My Dreams – A chiming guitar riff kicks off Natural Rebel with a heartfelt tribute to Mrs. Ashcroft that could be mistaken for a posthumous Tom Petty single. Clearly the man loves his wife, and by the end of this passionate testimonial listeners might, too. A-

Birds Fly – A surprise revival of a beloved demo from the early Urban Hymns sessions, the song on the album that will most divide fans. For some Verve aficionados this country-rock revamp will undoubtedly betray the charm and vulnerability of the unfinished original, but for more open-minded listeners it’s a rootsy gem. A-

Surprised By The Joy – A literate anthem of escaping the madness of modern times for pastoral serenity, evidently inspired by William Wordsworth and/or C.S. Lewis as well as, no doubt, Ashcroft’s own historic estate as a 21st century country gentleman. One of Ashcroft’s stronger solo singles. A

That’s How Strong – An overblown tribute both to Mrs. Ashcroft and Mr. Ashcroft’s cornier influences, a retro devotional that combines Neil Diamond, Vegas-era Elvis and Darkness on the Edge of Town-era Springsteen. A curious guilty pleasure with decidedly selective appeal. C+

Born To Be Strangers – Ashcroft struts with the best of them over an effortless Stonesy groove. The lyrics have little discernible meaning, but it sure goes down smooth. B+

That’s How It Feels – The auteur’s latest attempt at turning out an inspirational anthem along the line of ’90s standard “You Get What You Give,” like the earlier “C’mon People We’re Making It Now” and “Born Again,” the song lacks a certain oomph despite a promising chorus. B

We All Bleed – Over a moody chant closely related to the These People b-side “How The West Was Lost,” Ashcroft evocatively describes a flight to Japan and his purpose in life as a performer. It’s a masterful performance and a song unlike any other in his catalog. Just singing the word “bleed” Ashcroft channels decades of rock ‘n’ roll history. A

Man In Motion – A psychedelic western and better Springsteen song than The Boss has produced in at least 20 years, Ashcroft delivers a country-rock epic of the road. Something of a pastiche but a really solid one. A-

Streets of Amsterdam – An idiosyncratic reminiscence on a past trip to Amsterdam with Mrs. Ashcroft, and the passage of time, with decades of emotion packed into just over five minutes. B+

Money Money – A rock ‘n’ roll barnstormer that concludes the album in timeless style. It’s hard to tell whether the song is a condemnation or celebration of cash, but either way it’s the most convincingly solo Ashcroft has ever rocked out. A-

Rare Vibration – One of two bonus tracks from a promo, a lovely country-rock ramble reflecting on life, love, and loneliness. There’s a loose, almost demo-like quality to it that features Ashcroft at his finest, free-associating with the rich melodicism of the Alone With Everybody b-sides. A-

Guilded Halls – In the other bonus song, chiming 90s guitars introduce country-inflected jangle pop about learning to let go of expectations. Vintage Ashcroft that could have been a b-side at any point in his illustrious career. A-

Hey Columbo – A raw acoustic track recorded in response to the internet assuming something that fell out of his pant leg on live television was a baggie of cocaine, Ashcroft defends himself scathingly with reference to the rumpled Peter Falk character. An interesting curio. B

Richard Ashcroft releases new single "Born To Be Strangers"

"Born To Be Strangers" is the second single from Richard Ashcroft's latest solo album, Natural Rebel.

Monday, September 10, 2018

New Richard Ashcroft video "Surprised By The Joy"

"Surprised By The Joy" is the first single from Richard Ashcroft's forthcoming solo album, Natural Rebel, due out October 19, 2018.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

BMG signs Richard Ashcroft for new solo album, out in October

Richard Ashcroft will release his next solo album through BMG.

Ashcroft is an iconic figure in British music, both across his work as frontman of (The) Verve and as a solo artist.

Natural Rebel will be released on October 19 on Ashcroft’s own label, RPA, via BMG.

BMG says that pre-orders of the album, which launched today (August 15) through Ashcroft’s own website – tied to a ticket pre-sale opportunity for live shows – have already exceeded the lifetime D2C (Direct to Consumer) sales of his last LP.

Ashcroft’s previous solo album, These People, reached No.3 on the UK’s Official Albums Chart in 2016 and was released via Cooking Vinyl.

Richard Ashcroft said: “For me this is my strongest set of songs to date. All my favourite sounds distilled into something that will hopefully give my fans lasting pleasure. It is for them. Music is power.”

Alistair Norbury, President Repertoire & Marketing at BMG UK said: “Richard Ashcroft is the archetype of the kind of iconic artist BMG likes to work with. Natural Rebel marks a new peak in Richard’s solo work and it is incredible to see how fans are already responding – the pre-orders this morning have been extraordinary.”

Other Ashcroft solo records include Alone With Everybody (which reached No.1 in the UK in 2000), Human Conditions (#3, 2002), Keys to the World (#2, 2006) and These People (#3, 2016).

Featuring ten new songs, all of which were written by Ashcroft, Natural Rebel was produced by the singer-songwriter alongside Jon Kelly (Paul McCartney, Kate Bush) and Emre Ramazanoglu (Bobby Gillespie, Jarvis Cocker).

‘All My Dreams’
‘Birds Fly’
‘Surprised By The Joy’
‘That’s How Strong’
‘Born To Be Strangers’
‘That’s When I Feel It’
‘We All Bleed’
‘A Man in Motion’
‘Streets of Amsterdam’
‘Money Money’

Ashcroft is set to play as special guest to Liam Gallagher at Lancashire County Cricket Club this coming Saturday, August 18, as well as the Hampshire leg of Carfest in benefit of BBC Children in Need on August 25.

To support the release of the new album, he will play a series of intimate shows at Glasgow Barrowlands (Oct 26), Middlesborough Town Hall (Oct 28), Nottingham Rock City (Oct 29), Manchester Albert Hall (Oct 31) and London Kentish Town Forum (Nov 2).

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Fan shares previously uncirculated 1992 Verve radio session

Twenty six years ago, Martin aka mrdisposablerazor recorded Verve performing live in the studio for the weekly Radio 5 show 'Hit The North,' presented by Mark Radcliffe. 'Hit The North' aired on Wednesday nights from 10:10pm to 12:00am.

Recorded on cassette, the unmarked tape was left in a drawer awaiting discovery many years later. Martin recalls having "no memory of recording it, and it's before I remember seeing them for the first time (supporting Ride at Liverpool Royal Court), but as soon as I heard it again while sorting out old tapes, I sensed it was a bit special."

Last month, English rock band The Charlatans put on a ten day exhibition (May 10-20th) at Barons Quay in Northwich, England which showcased instruments, memorabilia, and merchandise from the band's near-30 year history. Martin caught up with Peter Salisbury of The Verve at the exhibition's opening night. Peter has played for The Charlatans both on tour and in the studio. "I was able to tell Pete about the tape, and he recalled being in a different studio to the usual one at Oxford Road, and as the exhibition was opened by Mark Radcliffe, he later said they'd had a chat about it," says Martin.

Verve's debut 'Hit The North' radio session aired on February 5, 1992 and included performances of "Slide Away," "She's a Superstar," and "One Way To Go," plus an interview with Mark Radcliffe. The following week on February 13, 1992, the band would record the canonical John Peel Session which made the A Storm In Heaven box-set released in 2016. Many thanks to Martin for sharing this with The Verve online community.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Forthcoming Sunstack Jones album mastered by Nick McCabe

The Liverpool band’s third album, out June 29 via Deltasonic Records, has been mastered by The Verve guitarist Nick McCabe.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Richard Ashcroft to support Liam Gallagher in Manchester

The former Oasis frontman will be heading to Manchester on August 18, playing to 50,000 fans at the legendary Lancashire County Cricket Club. He'll be joined by Richard Ashcroft. Tickets available here.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Review: The Rolling Stones at Murrayfield Stadium with support from Richard Ashcroft

Richard Ashcroft supporting the Rolling Stones (Image: Getty Images Europe)

Murrayfield Stadium
Edinburgh, Scotland

A multitude of hits, blues and thrilling rock power from the old masters

The Rolling Stones have been around so long their music has soaked into popular consciousness via osmosis. Even if you don't own a single album most people could probably name 10 Rolling Stones tracks off the top of their head. It's no exaggeration to state they were integral in shaping and defining what we now think of as rock'n'roll.

Support act Richard Ashcroft's style is obviously indebted to prime era Stones. There's obviously no animosity remaining regarding the rights (and profits) from 'Bitter Sweet Symphony' (though Mick and Keef ended up quids in so no complaints at their end). He sensibly packs his set with Verve classics. 'Sonnet', 'Lucky Man', 'The Drugs Don't Work' and the aforementioned 'Bitter Sweet Symphony' are big slices of widescreen indie that go down a storm.

It's become a cliché to mention how old the Stones are (current combined age 296). And over the last 20 years every time they've announced a tour people have predicted it will be their last. But even if this isn't their final road trip it's probably the last worth seeing unless they head for dignified sit-down acoustic theatre shows in the future.

Appropriately the main event kicks off with a growling 'Start Me Up.' 'It's Only Rock'n'Roll (But I Like It)'. 'Tumbling Dice', 'Under My Thumb' (sarcastically introduced as a 'feminist anthem') and a shimmering 'She's a Rainbow' (tonight's fan voted choice) keep things ticking over but it's 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' that really brings everything and everyone together. 60,000 fans transformed into an informal gospel choir singing back every word en masse.

The Stones practically invented these big stadium shows, and corporate sponsorship is emblazoned around Murrayfield. It would be so easy for them to just go through the motions and cash the paycheque but they genuinely look thrilled to be playing live. It's their obvious love of the music that really sells the entire show.

For such a huge production it feels surprisingly raw, and the band changes up their set each night. An early cover of Jimmy Reed's 'Ride 'Em on Down' is a gritty slab of real blues; 'Honky Tonk Women' and 'Midnight Rambler' are transformed into stomping extended jams; an understated 'Paint it Black' emphasises the middle eastern rhythms at its core; 'Sympathy for the Devil' simply explodes with energy.

Again, we don't want to dwell on their advancing age, but at 74 Mick Jagger is astonishing. Everyone knows the caricature that exists, but live, every hand clap, bum wiggle and shimmy feels fresh and spontaneous. He also demonstrates a damn fine sense of dry humour quipping about trams, salt'n'sauce and giving it 'laldy'. Keef still strides the stage like a guitar colossus; Ronnie Woods is on hand to pick up any slack while drummer Charlie Watts is a meticulous metronome keeping the entire performance tight.

Unsurprisingly their horn section is world class; Chuck Leavell on keys and bassist Darryl Jones in particular deserve recognition for their stellar contributions. As does backing vocalist Sasha Allen who stepped up for a powerhouse duet on 'Gimmie Shelter'.

The Stones bring it home with 'Jumpin' Jack Flash', 'Brown Sugar', 'Gimme Shelter' and '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction'. After tracks of this calibre performed with passion and power it's hard to agree with Jagger: satisfaction guaranteed.

Richard's setlist:
  1. Hold On
  2. Sonnet
  3. This Is How It Feels (Purple Rain excerpt)
  4. Break the Night With Colour
  5. Space and Time
  6. Lucky Man
  7. The Drugs Don't Work
  8. Bitter Sweet Symphony

    Friday, May 25, 2018