June 22, 2023

Manchester singer/songwriter Ashley Sherlock released his first, self-titled EP in 2019, followed by a second, named If You’re Listening, in 2021. Now he fronts a power trio signed to Ruf Records, and they have unveiled their first full-length album, Just A Name. In addition to writing the lyrics and fronting the band, Sherlock also plays lead and rhythm guitar in a chunky, old-school blues-rock vein – but don’t hold your breath for a hearty helping of good-time dance music; this is a young man’s angst in all its forlorn glory.  

Photo by Charlotte Wellings

The set bullies off in fine style with the slow, bluesy rock of Trouble, (not a cover of any of the celebrated songs by this name), in which Sherlock’s excellent, gritty-edged voice rises to a stratospheric falsetto in a couple of places. The title gives a clue to the content, and it’s fittingly played in a minor key – he stumps up a nice solo too, although it’s mixed a little quiet for my taste. The album doesn’t leave the minor keys for any appreciable length of time over its whole length; all the better for baring one’s tortured soul. I Think That She Knows has more of a pop feel, despite its ominously suspicious title and lyrics, accompanied by a retro-toned guitar with the tremolo effect turned on. They launch into the hard, grungy intro to the album’s lead single after this, the 2½ minute Realise, in which the protagonists try to decide between hanging on to what they have, or gambling it all on the hope of something better.

Empty Street showcases a different side to the band, starting straight in on the vocals over a sparsely-picked folky guitar line, before the band powers in on a pop-rock number recalling such bands as The Blow Monkeys or The Zutons. The lyrics show the singer sympathising with the plight of a down-on-his-luck busker playing on the corner, and wondering how he can help, having been there himself – this song is an album highlight in my book. They stretch even further in this direction with the jazzy folk of Time, which features a gypsy acoustic guitar solo.

The indie-pop influence returns with the Kaiser Chiefs-like Goodbye To You, with the whole album moving in the direction of the gritty pop of Alanis Morissette or KT Tunstall. Second single Dear Elizabeth is more emotionally direct and easy to understand than some of the opaque, darkly ominous musings presented elsewhere on the album; more tunefully hooky too, recalling Eagle Eye Cherry’s Save Tomorrow, or even the hits of David Gray. It also features the longest and most stridently overdriven guitar solo on the album, mixed a bit higher too, taking the accolade of best song on the album from this reviewer – see the video at the foot of this page.

The main challenger to that title is probably the closing song, Backstage Wall, in which the singer proclaims himself “married to the band,” and wonders why it’s so difficult for human relationships to encompass that fact – this song features some smooth bass work, and encroaches on some of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ heavier territory; Dani California maybe.

It’s always good to hear new guitarists making their way, end even better to hear them boldly baring their soul through their lyrics, with the album presenting 12 songs over the course of a little over 40 minutes. Sherlock has an excellent voice too, supported in this case by the rock-solid back line of Charlie Rachael Kay on bass and Danny Rigg on drums. They have already supported such artists as Kris Barras, The Quireboys and Laurence Jones; look out for them this year at festivals and on tour.

Just A Name by Ashley Sherlock is out now on Ruf Records