4 out of 5 Stars!
After the release of 1973’s impressive Live Dates (one of my favorite live albums of all time), Wishbone Ash entered a second phase in its career, with the band not only hiring a new guitarist in Laurie Wisefield (replacing founding member Ted Turner), but also experimenting with its overall sound/style. Although the change in line-up proved more or less successful, since the talented Wisefield fit it nicely, the latter change—the experimentation—resulted in mixed results.
Thankfully, the band’s initial album with Wisefield, 1974’s There’s the Rub, was a noticeable step forward from the previous Wishbone Four, which lacked some of the band’s earlier energy and passion. But now with the band operating at full steam again, showing that the change in personnel had no initial negative effects, the musical evolution slowly began.
Unfortunately, several albums during this phase ended up rather lackluster and sterile, with a noticeable drop in heat and quality. But a few stood out to me, with 1980’s Just Testing being one of them.
On this release, rocking tracks such as “Living Proof,” “Helpless,” “Pay the Price,” the acoustic and electric hybrid “Master of Disguise,” the ballad “New Rising Star,” and the more Progressive “Lifeline” occasionally harken back to the band’s early days, featuring inspired fretwork, with plenty of Blues influences and the band’s signature twin-guitar riffs on glorious display. Whereas a handful of other tunes, such as “Haunting Me” and “Insomnia,” add sound treatments and production techniques often associated with other genres, including New Wave—subtle additions for sure, enough to show the band toying with genre boundaries, but not too far out of the norm as to create an incohesive collection of tunes.
In fact, the general cohesiveness of the tracks, the enhanced production, as well as the sterling performances of each musician and the overall catchier songwriting are what sets this album apart from several of its predecessors during this era of Wishbone Ash. So although Just Testing is not a perfect album, not quite worthy to share the pedestal with classic studio albums such as Argus, in my opinion, it’s still one of the better platters in Wishbone Ash’s vast catalogue.
And sadly, Just Testing also marked the end of this second phase of the band’s history, with long-time bassist/vocalist Martin Turner exiting shortly after this album’s completion. The band’s next release, despite John Wetton joining the line-up, ended up (due mainly to the absence of Martin Turner’s recognizable voice) being a bit too different in sound/style for many long-time fans of the group, including myself, and therefore also marked the end of my further interest in Wishbone Ash’s subsequent albums.