Wild End 2015
Going up the country, British prog stalwart finds a higher and more solid ground.
You never know where you’re gonna stand next with Colin Bass. From laying exquisite bottow-end foundation for the likes of Steve Hillage and CAMEL to singing riveting, if deliberately schmaltzy, exotica, international dangdut, and then whipping up an acoustic six-string to deliver blues, the veteran’s been reinventing himself time and again, but this album is the first for Colin to directly address the matter of identity. And what’s more English way of a soul-searching than quiet reflection in the countryside? That’s what Bass did and that’s what the animal noises on the title track suggest, yet even though the artist emerges as a scruffy squire on the cover, “At Wild End” is not songs from the wood; it’s rather music from big… think.
At 64, Bass is preoccupied not with the “Will you still need me? Will you steel feed me?” frivolity but with mortality and finding one’s genuine core. “Better know yourself before it gets too late,” he singsn in “Walking To Santiago” whose hymnal beginning is only an introduction to three pilgrims’ spirited discussion on how volatile life can be, set to a Renaissance strum courtesy of Andrew Latimer, before the boisterous “Darkness On Leather Lake” lands on the “I hope it’s not too late” spot, with a bluesy solo from the CAMEL guitarist. The inner dialogue may get contradictory in a truly human manner so, while there’s wishful, elegiac abandon to “If I Could Stay,” the album concludes with a ruthless “No-one is here to stay” admission.
There’s no remorse, still, and the record’s opening line “If you could go and change what you regret / Would you still be who you are?” is a rhetorical question which needs no answer just because reversing past events doesn’t seem a valid option for Bass. This lucid piece isn’t light on pity, “Return To Earth” a dedication to CAMEL’s Guy LeBlanc who passed away in 2015, and whatever gloom lurks in here has a folksy stripe to it that’s even more prominent in “Girl From The Northwest Country” – merrily channeling “Scarborough Fair” via certain Dylan’s song. Coming from the same place, the vocal harmonies of “We Are One” embrace baroque solemnity as well as mantra quality, whereas “Up At Sheep’s Bleat” finds Colin in a jazz recital mode, reciting verses and plucking his four-string.
In other circumstances, the sharply detailed “In Another Time” – a piano-led reminiscence of the musician’s hectic early days in the business, done THE BAND-style – would contrast the bittersweetly romantic, and static, “Waiting For Someone” with its distant march rolling off Dave Stewart’s drums, yet here they’re merely two sides of the same coin, the same vital currency. It’s observation, albeit not as a means of escapism, like a retreat to a rural comfort is, but as an attempt to dig the meaning of life. “I returned to the place we used to meet,” Colin used to sing, and Wild End is a point where he can find a peace of mind without losing himself. “The journey is the way,” states Bass: yes, it’s a way back home.