ward one: along the way

REVIEW: Bill Ward – “Straws”, “The Dark Half Hour”

STRAWS

BILL WARD – “Straws” (mp3: October 9, 2002  CD: October 11, 2003)

A true rarity indeed, this is one that I wished I owned a physical copy of.  Sadly I do not.  Only 2200 were made.  1200 were sent out to the heads of state all over the globe, including George W. Bush.  The other 1000 copies were sold at billward.com, and are so rare now that Discogs doesn’t even have a listing for it.  Each copy was signed and numbered with the proceeds going to your choice of five charities.  For all the details, check out Joe Siegler’s excellent article at black-sabbath.com.

Jesus Murphy!  George W. Bush owns a Sabbath related CD that I don’t??

I’ve had to make due with a mere mp3, also purchased directly from Bill’s site.  The charity I chose was the National Veterans Foundation.  Now, even the mp3 is unavailable for purchase, making this a true rarity today.  We can hope that Bill’s Beyond Aston solo album will one day be released, as over 10 years have passed since this single from it was released!

Previously on LeBrain’s Record Store Tales & Reviews, we took a look at Bill’s excellent debut, Ward One: Along the Way.  “Straws” is reminiscent of that and his second solo album, When the Bough Breaks.  Like much of his solo work, it is complex and passionate.  Understated but powerful.  It begins jittery but soon evolves into an anthem of sorts with some very heavy Bonham-esque drums performed by Ronnie Ciago.  On this track, like When the Bough Breaks, Bill does not play drums.  He is only singing on Beyond Aston.  He did, however, write all 17 tracks slated for that album himself.

“The Dark Half Hour” (2005)

According to Joe Siegler’s information, Beyond Aston has been completed but shelved.  I hope this is not a permanent situation.  The only other track released was called “The Dark Half Hour (web mix)”.  It was made available for free in 2005 and is still available for free.  It too has the stomping Zeppelin drums, but is much heavier than “Straws”.  This is Sabbath-level heaviness.  It has some solid riffing and some amazing buzzy noisy solos on instruments I can barely identify!  This is one heavy track, saturated with distortion.  Since this is “not the final version” I would expect the sound to be cleaned up for CD.  I kind of like it overdriven and noisy though.

If these two tracks are any indication, Beyond Aston is going to be an incredible album, if it is ever released.

5/5 stars for each track

BEYOND ASTON

REVIEW: Bill Ward – Ward One: Along the Way (1990)

A companion piece to my previous Record Store Tale, a video blog, seen above!

BILL WARD – Ward One: Along the Way (1990)

To date, since leaving Black Sabbath (the first time) in 1980, Bill Ward has released precisely two full solo albums (plus the single “Straws”).   This is especially unfortunate, since both solo albums are particularly fine pieces of work.  The finest and most noteworthy was his first, Ward One: Along the Way, released a decade after his Sabbath departure.  A long time in the making doesn’t begin to sum it up.

Bill himself provides drums, lead vocals, and piano, but not on all tracks.  Some tracks feature guest vocalists (Ozzy Osbourne, Jack Bruce, guitarist Rue Philips) and a guest drummer (Eric Singer, also ex-Sabbath, but best known for being in Kiss).  Other notables include Marco Mendoza (Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake), Lanny Cordola (House of Lords), Gordon Copley (Black Sabbath), Bob Daisley and Zakk Wylde (both of Ozzy’s bands).  Jack Bruce of course also plays bass!  It’s a smorgasbord of integrity.

Aside from some production issues (this album could use a nice, clear remix) this is among the best solo products issued by any ex-member of Black Sabbath, including Dio and Ozzy.  It has its Sabbathesque moments (a few crushing guitar chords, pounding drums, peacenik lyrics) but it truly is an animal of its own.   Bill Ward received a co-writing credit on every original Black Sabbath song, and it’s clear why.  The man has a vivid imagination, creating swirling soundscapes of music.  There is nothing here that is outright commercial, nothing straightforward, everything is just slightly fucked up.  I think most likely it was Bill that gave Black Sabbath its oddball experimental edge in the early days.  An edge they have lost now that they have given him the boot.

The obvious standout track is “Bombers (Can Open Bomb Bays)”, the thunderous single featuring none other than Ozzy himself on lead vocals.  But even that is strange and offputting, as the pitch of Ozzy’s voice is manipulated in the mix, giving him an otherworldly sound at times.

But there’s nothing wrong with Bill’s own soft vocals (aside from being mixed too low), as he proves on the standout tracks “(Mobile) Shooting Gallery” and “Pink Clouds An Island”.  He often layers his vocals, thickening them up, but it’s a pleasing effect  “Pink Clouds” is a particularly great track, featuring some nice unusual percussion and vocal bits.

Jack Bruce’s “Light Up the Candles (Let There Be Peace Tonight)” is a beautiful song with a great little guitar melody that weaves in and out, but Jack really delivers on the vocal.  If you hate lyrics about world peace, avoid this album!  “Snakes and Ladders” is another standout track, perhaps the closest thing to a straightforward rock song, although Marco Mendoza’s fluid bass keeps it slightly off-kilter.

Ozzy returns to sing lead on “Jack’s Land”.  I heard a while ago that a reissue of this album was being planned, sans the two Ozzy tracks.  What a shame that would be.  Must be due to rights.  “Jack’s Land”  is a driving song, made all the more powerful with Ozzy behind the mic.  Once again, his voice is manipulated for effect.

The core riff of “Living Naked” could have found a home on many a Sab platter, but the song is otherwise very different from anything Sabbath have done.  This flows directly into “Music For A Raw Nerve Ending”, one of three songs written solely by Bill.  While there is a chugging guitar audible beneath the layers of vocals, piano and bass, it is not the driving force of the song.  Bill’s hypnotic vocal is.  And this song melds directly into “Tall Stories”, which continues the key hooks, adding Jack Bruce, even more hooks, and a soulful female backing vocal. There’s even a frickin’ didgery doo!

“Sweep” (also written solely by Bill) is a bright, fast little number, perhaps the most mainstream track on the album.  Bill’s speedy little drum pattern propels the song forward, all punctuated with an oddball guitar solo by Richard Ward (any relation?).   While the album is loaded with great tracks, it closes with one of the best, “Along the Way”, followed by Bill’s haunting “goodbye”.

There’s nothing straightforward about this album, but there’s plenty to be enjoyed.  Bill clearly had plenty of ideas to get off his chest, and often he chooses to load many ideas within a single song.  I remember it was one of the first major releases of 1990 and it definitely started the year off correctly.  (Thankfully, Bruce Dickinson followed it with his excellent solo album a couple months later!)

5/5 stars

Part 142: VIDEO BLOG! Quest For Bill Ward

RECORD STORE TALES PART 142:  Quest For Bill Ward

Full review of this CD coming soon…