When the Bough Breaks

REVIEW: Bill Ward – When the Bough Breaks (1997)

BILL WARD – When the Bough Breaks (1997 Purple Pyramid)

If anybody in Black Sabbath is an under-sung genius, it must be poor Bill Ward, the drummer on the outs with the legendary band.  Not only did he release the cult classic Ward One: Along the Way, but also its lesser known followup When the Bough Breaks.  Much more than just a drummer, Ward writes music and lyrics.  He also sings lead on every song, unlike its guest-laden predecessor.  What he didn’t do on When the Bough Breaks was plays drums — at all.  Maybe there is something to this talk from Ozzy about Bill not being able to hack it?

Folks who know little about Bill or Sabbath usually assume it’s all doom and gloom.  Track 1’s song title is “Hate”, but fear not, Bill has not changed his tune.  Hate is the easy way, not the right way, is the message.  Meanwhile there’s a cool sax lick and chunky guitar, and I swear that Bill must have arranged the drum parts because even though it’s not him, it sounds like him.  Ronnie Ciago does a fine job on the skins, all over the album.  Then, “Children Killing Children” is clumsy lyrically, but backed by lovely music and a heartfelt vocal performance.  A pretty ballad with mandolin, dobro, cello and violins is not what many would expect, but When the Bought Breaks is a mellow listen as a whole, and it can’t be pigeon-holed.

“Growth” maintains the soft trend, but it also cascades into massive waves.  Bill sings with a high, whispery quavering voice.  It lends itself best to quiet drama, interspersed with maniacally heavy rock.  That’s what “Growth” is, with a progressive bent and female backing singers.  It seems to form part of a suite, “When I Was a Child” emerging directly from it.  Though the title misleads, this is actually one of the heaviest tracks — a sludgy heavy metal blues born from the steel mills of Birmingham.  The childhood theme is continued with “Please Help Mommy (She’s a Junkie)”.  It also continues the blues with swampy dobro…before it transforms in a space age gospel-soul-metal slam dance.  It has a hell of a lot more life and rock and roll than anything Ozzy’s produced since then.  The sludge remains on “Shine” which I like to think of as ending a side.  Oddball Bill rock is the best way to describe it.

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“Step Lightly” has a soft touch to it but the heavy guitars leave no doubt.  A potent mixture of influences and genres, “Step Lightly” defies categorization except to say it’s rock, but it’s a lot of things.  “Love and Innocence” is a strange name to a brief percussion instrumental, and it’s an intro to the song “Animals”.  A drummer’s wet dream, “Animals” is a heavy percussion blast with less emphasis on guitar.  A fine song, “Animals” is only hampered by a weird tribal-y front section.  “Nighthawks Stars and Bars” commences as we wind down.  This beautiful song feels like dusk, serenaded by saxophone.  Bill wrote a lovely soul ballad here, and the ladies singing on it are incredible.  “Try Life” is Floyd meets Lennon with a teeny tiny sprinkle of Sabbath, creating a light concoction of classy progressive rock balladry.

One last epic, the slow building title track (almost 10 minutes) leaves no doubt in mind that Bill Ward is a unique talent.  Of all the Sabbath solo records, Bill’s have been the most ambitious.   They’ve also been the fewest.  Bill’s long awaited Beyond Aston has no release date, but another solo album called Accountable Beasts was finally released in 2015.   Meanwhile, of Beyond Aston, Bill says it’s his best since Master of Reality in 1971!

Of When the Bough Breaks, I can only close with this.  It takes time.  It takes a lot of listening time invested, to pay back its full dividends.  When it does, you’ll be glad you bought it.  Of note however, there are multiple pressings and the one I have has liner notes and lyrics so tiny, that I fear I might irreparably damage my own eyes if I try to read them.

4.5/5 stars

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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