Blue Ash: No More, No Less

Power-pop classic finally on CD after thirty-five years

At the time of its 1973 release, No More, No Less, received glowing reviews from Rolling Stone, Creem and Bomp, and the band was on their way with opening slots for Aerosmith, Bob Seger and Nazareth, and even Dick Clark gave them a spin on American Bandstand. By the following year, however, a lack of sales led to the dissolution of their contract with Mercury. The band managed one more album in 1979, but essentially disappeared without making a lasting popular mark. Further, unlike fellow cult pop heroes such as the Rubinoos, Blue Ash’s unreissued catalog left their legacy in the hands of a small but influential cadre of fans: Chicago columnist Bob Greene mentioned Blue Ash in an end-of-the-70s best-of column, the Records covered “Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her?),” and Scram’s Lost in the Grooves highlighted the No More, No Less as a lost treasure. While the band’s debut continued to languish in the vault, a 2004 two-CD set Around Again served up demos and outtakes that suggested what we were all missing.

Apparently the haggling over rights and the location of master tapes appears to have been settled, because thirty-five years after its initial release, the original dozen tracks are finally on CD. Best of all, this is a rarity that lives up to its hype, delivering on all the promises of early-70s power pop. Blue Ash, like Big Star, The Raspberries, Badfinger and less commercially successful peers such as the Flamin’ Groovies and Hot Dogs, melded the best of mid-60s harmony with the beefier guitar and drum sounds of the early-70s. They then pressed this combination into the compositionally economic mold that commercial FM borrowed from its AM cousins and used to dethrone its free-form older brothers. The results are effervescent three-minute radio gems that pack musical adventure into a tightly scripted form: guitar solos that sting with energy rather than drag with excess showmanship, Keith Moon-inspired full-kit drumming that serves as a motor rather than an gaudy accessory, melodies that lay their barbed hooks in the first verse, and choruses that lend themselves to immediate sing-a-longs.

As much as the band set out to make pop music that reflected the Beatles, Kinks and Beau Brummels, they did so in a new context. The album’s two covers are instructive: Dylan’s then-unreleased acoustic-and-harmonica travelogue “Dusty Old Fairgrounds” was rearranged into a blazing Who-styled drums-and-guitar rocker, and the Beatles’ “Any Time at All” mimics the original’s gentler verses, but lays down heavier rock for the choruses. That stretching between the sweet pop and rock dynamic characterizes much of the album, as the group employed Byrdsian jangle, Left Banke harmonics and even Brewer & Shipley styled country folk-rock, and then turned around to lay on guitar and rhythm section muscle. The opening “Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her?),” the wishful “All I Want” and the closing “Let There Be Rock” offer the glam-guitar energy of Mott the Hoople and Slade, and though “Smash My Guitar” never attains Who-like ferocity, it still manages to play out its angst with a one-take real-life smashup.

The traditional hard-luck broken hearts of power-pop turn up on “Plain to See,” and the nostalgic tone of the Flamin’ Groovies is heard on “I Remember a Time” and “Wasting My Time.” There are country influences on “Just Another Game,” bubblegum on “Here We Go Again” and West Coast folk rock (with wonderful accents of volume-pedal guitar) on “What Can I Do for You.” It’s easy to tag all these influences and fellow-travelers in retrospect, but in 1973 these sounds were simply part of the atmosphere, rather than icons already ripened for imitation. Blue Ash interpreted their ‘60s influences in the context and conventions of their times. What’s surprising is how undated it still sounds, particularly compared to the radio pop of just a few years later. By sticking to the basics of guitar, bass, drums and a hint of piano, by relying on classic pop melody and craft, Blue Ash minted a timeless classic. [©2008 hyperbolium dot com]

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