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John Wetton – Akustika & Akustika II (2 CDs/Reissues)

Songs without camouflage . . . 

Reviewed by Brian McGowan and released by Cherry Red Records, November 2017.

The late John Wetton’s two Akustika albums have now been brought together by Cherry Red, (why did nobody think of this before?). New versions of old material perhaps, but as albums they are arguably the strongest he’s cut.

There’s a thread of repetition running through all of Wetton’s live & acoustic albums – he’s done so many – with the usual suspects making a regular appearance. It must be frustrating, plundering your own back catalogue in readiness for a live performance, knowing there’s so much good stuff to choose from. But also knowing your audience have clear expectations.

Still, if Akustika – Live In Amerika had been Wetton’s only “live gig” album it would be lauded as an almost perfect selection of songs picked from a hefty volume of work. All of the landmark moments of Wetton’s writing collaborations are here, most notably ’30 Years’, written with Eddie Jobson for UK’s debut album in 1978, ‘Hold Me Now’, written with Bob Marlette for the Voicemail release in 1994. And of course, title track from Asia’s 9 million selling debut, Heat Of The Moment, written with long time bandmate, Geoff Downes.

The complete set was recorded and released in 1995. Never has a stripped down sound filled the air so completely. The sonorous sounds of a grand piano and the sweet strum of an acoustic guitar are pretty much all that Wetton’s expressive vocals need. ‘Voice Of America’ and ‘Rendezvous 6:02’ are sung by a voice haunted by real life experience. Real sentiments that strike a chord, even in the hardest heart.

And it’s not as if you could accuse him of milking the personal moments for emotion. When the pomp and grandiosity could easily take hold, as on ‘Christina’ and ‘Battle Lines’, the startling immediacy of Wetton’s vocals keeps the songs anchored to solid ground. This is material without need of mixing desk trickery or studio camouflage.

The Second CD, Akustika II – Return To Amerika, was recorded in 2005. Ten years of wear later, Wetton’s voice has toughened, coarsened even, creating welcome new textures in old material. ‘Sole Survivor’ sounds vigorous, triumphant, and he turns ‘Heat Of The Moment’ into an almost whispered prayer, exploring spaces never heard before in his recordings, a stunning finale to a stunning album.

And interestingly, the new booklet is filled with recollections from close friends and fans, rather than ex bandmates. Plus many of your “previously unseen” photographs …de rigueur.

Track Lists:

Akustika – Live In Amerika:

  1. Voice Of AmericaJOHN-WETTON ak1and2
  2. Hold Me Now
  3. Rendezvous 6:02
  4. Christina
  5. Thirty Years
  6. Only Time Will Tell
  7. Book Of Saturday
  8. Don’t Cry
  9. Battle Lines
  10. The Smile Has Left Your Eyes
  11. Heat Of The Moment
  12. You’re Not The Only One

Akustika II – Return to Amerika:

  1. Walking On Air
  2. Meet Me At Midnight
  3. Sole Survivor
  4. Book Of Saturday
  5. Emma
  6. Days Like These
  7. Thirty Years/ Hold Me Now
  8. Arkangel
  9. Rendezvous 6:02
  10. Starless
  11. Voice Of America
  12. Woman
  13. The Night Watch
  14. The Smile Has Left Your Eyes
  15. Heat Of The Moment
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