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STEVE ASHLEY - This Little Game

STEVE ASHLEY - This Little Game
Market Square Music MSMCD168

In a recording career spanning five decades, Steve Ashley has displayed a command of themed albums that is unparalleled, whether the subject be family members, the cycle of seasons or nuclear nightmares. This Little Game tackles the big one, life itself, cradle to the grave, from “all the babies born today” to the “resting place we’re heading” – to quote from the opening and closing lines of the CD.

It is a massive undertaking and an ambitious aim over just 12 songs. The main reason why Steve succeeds lies in his huge talent as a songwriter – the songs are at once concise and comprehensive, specific and universal, evocative and imaginative, nostalgic yet unsentimental. All the songs have been created for the project, bar one, Rainsong, a new recording of the B side of his debut (unreleased) single from 1968, programmed to occur at the point in the life-cycle that the album portrays that corresponds to its occurrence in Steve’s own life. That hint of autobiography, or at least drawing on personal experience, is picked up again towards the end of the song-cycle in Be True To You. The song describes a well-seasoned performer deciding on a set list – new songs, old favourites, perhaps even a little rock’n’roll; the choice doesn’t matter as long as you live up to the spirit of the song’s title – which is, of course, a second reason why the album is so successful: this is an album where Steve is singularly true to himself – his beliefs, his approach to life, the things he stands for – That’s Why, for example, is a genuinely non-violent reaction to the deceits of contemporary masters of war.

The album, typically, displays Steve’s directness and integrity. This is emphasised all the more by his decision to make it a totally solo album: we know he can draw on an impressive array of “heavy friends” for musical support (see credits on his previous releases or the names of those delighted to step forward and contribute to his recent biography, Fire And Wine). Here, however, we have the sound of one man and his guitar, voice utterly empathetic to the lyric, masterly instrument perfectly attuned to the songs. The production preserves this essential starkness with a warmth and clarity so often lacking in days when simplicity is eschewed.

It’s an album replete with subtlety, so much so that, while the skill, craftsmanship and (let’s not mince words) simple genius behind every aspect of it are easy to overlook, it continues to reward repeat listens, as new light reveals deeper facets and shades, just as it will continue to do for a very long time, until “you know…the lines of every song…and where they all belong.”

Nigel Schofield

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This album was reviewed in Issue 107 of The Living Tradition magazine.