Just A Name, suggests a so-what attitude, but such is often the introverted soul’s way of fobbing the world off so it doesn’t get close. Across the twelve tracks that encompass this album, there’s much outpouring of the heart, frank exchanges made regarding well-being, but a brimmed hat worn casting a shadowy doubt that this is the nu-woke metrosexual man. Less the reluctant modern-day messiah, more the troubadour trying to find where he belongs in today’s world.
I get the impression that Mancunian Ashley Sherlock began his musical career as a solo performer, singing and playing guitar to his own self-penned songs. Bass player Charlie Kay and drummer Danny Rigg have been with him four years now, following the suggestion he needed a regular band, on record it’s a good fit, the three are all credited collectively as songwriters and producers. That stated, it’s through the eyes of the singer that a band’s identity is framed. Or more precisely, what comes out of their voice, even if they’ve not themselves penned those words.
Guns N’ Roses, The Cadillac Three, Dire Straits, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jeff Buckley are offered as influences. I get that a little, particularly with Buckley, but there’s a British edge there, intentional or otherwise. You can add the melancholic loneliness of Nick Drake in there skirting certain themes, whereas add in the warm rhythmic guitar chords and I reminded of Dark Matter-era John Sloman. There’s a hip young blues rocking vibe at times, but there’s as much pure pop of the kind that used to catch a nation’s hearts back before it all became far too departmentalised.
Brushed guitars chords and flickering notes gather momentum on ‘Trouble’, a tidal wave of sound ebbing and flowing as Sherlock relates in modern parlance how those time-worn bad luck blues stalk him. It all leads to a raging scream of despair of the kind I naively thought were now banned in this tattoo-bicept-ed He-Man world; but he hits those notes, heading out for whence last we heard Jeff Buckley wail, but with more of that 70’s Brit-bloke nuance ala Plant and Gillan in their youth. That we also get a winding guitar solo that blazes its own signature sound, rather than the latest preset soundalike, all helps this number serve as an interesting introduction.
‘I Think She Knows’ implies the reason for the awesome fear of the first number. Subtler, it ruminates, the pulsing bass and ticking cymbals indicating time might be running out for this cheating heart. Soulfully folkish, with a tinge of the blues.
Loud busking jangly guitar chords, as a rhythm section lollops heavily underneath, ‘Realise’ is a more jubilant number, with the line “I’m going home” expressing the safety and warmth of the metaphorical womb where what we know is a safer place. ‘Empty Street’ initially echoes that introverted storytelling of vintage Don McLean before building to a warmer Britpop resilience, with a lyrical solo whistling its way through. That modern Englishness continues with ‘Time’ while also being imbued with both a gypsy jazz rag and a more traditional folk dance-aspect via the bass line; to give it a timeless understated charm.
Gilded-strung ballad, ‘Our Love’, finds Sherlock’s voice almost choking initially as he pours out frustrated emotions of the heart, a more serious narrative issued as he deliberates options, with a soaring cry felt come the choruses. The following ‘Goodbye To You’ could be declared the results of the previous number’s concerns, a more full-on Free-like blues rock blowout.
‘Dear Elizabeth’ dutifully busks and breezes, then roars and rages, as the singer offers belated advice, escalating into a high-ended solo that shifts from the blues to more classical motifs, bleeds through as the final verse returns. It’s followed with another more forceful number, in ‘Something’s Got To Give’ where subdued backing harmonies still entice. There’s another heartache expressed in ‘Last Call’ followed by more clutching at straws in the surging soul blues of ‘What If I Said To You’.
Laying Just A Name to rest is ‘Backstage Wall’, wherein the album finds its title within the lyrics, and like a loaded gun it’s potent; a finality waiting to be shot, as it leads towards the chorus punchline: “Can’t you understand I’m married to the band!” Shimmering shyly, then brazenly pronounced, it moves easily through pain from ballad to hard-on delivery, and reveals itself that inexplicable dichotomy whereby we’d lose everything for a dream. Or, as Ian Hunter wrote in ‘The Ballad of Mott’: “Oh I wish I’d never wanted then, What I want now twice as much.”
Thwarted relationships are the name of the game for this album, Sherlock one minute perpetually trying not to get his fingers burnt as he salvages love from its dying embers, the next running hell for leather from its exhaustive rage, but here, on this final number, he tries to rationalise the madness that burns within the creative force of the troubadour – Like gypsies, tramps and thieves, always on the run, the minstrel has no home, but is always seeking answers, endeavouring to share if you’ll them chance. Yes, they may elaborate, get things wrong, as do we all, but once in a while, they get to the essence and say things that resonate with us. Of course, others might consider Ashley Sherlock too self-observed.
There’s a voice here. Not just the way the words come out the mouth, or the short, tempered guitar solos that don’t automatically ape a million others that have gone before, but in the words being expressed. How far that voice travels, we’ll have to see’ but I’ll be listening.
- I Think She Knows
- Empty Street
- Our Love
- Goodbye To You
- Dear Elizabeth
- Something’s Got To Give
- Last Call
- What If I Said To You
- Backstage Wall