Erstwhile Rare Bird leads a flock of his own and kisses the sky.
Everybody heard Mark Ashton, even those who’s not familiar with his name: it’s him infusing RARE BIRD’s classic “Sympathy” with percussive tension. Yet to measure his talent in full, one has to dust off a couple of albums by HEADSTONE, a ’70s band where Mark sang and shared guitar duties with ex-ATOMIC ROOSTER Steve Bolton, or track down three stars-studded solo albums Ashton recorded thereafter, “Modern Pilgrim” being a lost ’80s classic. An established painter and a French resident now, the veteran felt the need to wrap himself in ensemble once again, after years away from music, so he teamed up with young local players, and here’s the result of their endeavor, every bit on par with the artist’s past glories, albeit the gloss is spared this time.
And Mark doesn’t take his time to prepare the listener for what’s been boiling in him for about two turbulent decades, so “Trust” brazenly starts things off in a heavy funk manner, sharp with its “communication breakdown” message, to catch the skin with a clavinet-and-guitar zip. It resolves nicely in the bluesy wail of “Back In The Day” attacking the showbiz mores of yore – bad, yet somehow better than today’s money talks, as a serene solo suggests before wah-wah’s restore the sarcastic stance. If that doesn’t sound threatening enough, the pungent “Clear Mind” picks up where THE KINKS’ “Wicked Annabella” left off and taps into a truly dystopian nerve, but the acidity level is raised even higher with “Calm & Thunder” which rings with Eastern, sitar-kissed drone and turns a tremulous strum into a trembling riff that rage together over an organ bedrock.
Those who miss such a Bird-like mix should find their respite in the enchanting, folk-derived drift of “Take Me Down” that packs a new kind of anger in its acoustically driven rucksack, while “Celtic Road” proudly – Ashton grew up in Scotland, after all – waves its fiddle-spiked flag with a rocking gusto and waves goodbye to utopia. But if the march is over, the dream is not, “Overcome” offering a hypnotic, although anxious, eight-minute reverie, slightly desperate and dirge-like yet ultimately full of Hammond-helped hope and devoid of remorse. This would be too gloomy an end to the album, still, so “Sanctuary” sets the mood straight with a soft raga that signals a real homecoming. Welcome back to roost, pilgrim!