Graded on a Curve:
Blue Ash,
No More, No Less

Blue Ash is the power pop group that got away. Hailing from the Buckeye State–that epicenter of power pop that also spawned the Raspberries–Blue Ash delivered the goods, but hardly anyone outside their limited Rust Belt state touring circuit took notice. Like Memphis, Tennessee’s Big Star, Blue Ash didn’t make much of an impression while they were around; unlike Alex Chilton, Chris Bell and Company, they’ve even been denied posthumous immortality.

Blue Ash only released two LPs (if you don’t count the 2004 compilation Around Again and 2015’s Hearts & Arrows), but it’s their debut, 1973’s No More, No Less that matters. Fellow Ohioan and Deadboy Stiv Bators was so taken with Blue Ash he recruited B.A. bassist and chief songwriter Frank Sesich to lend his formidable skills to his own power pop outing, 1980’s Disconnected. Take that Eric Carmen.

Blue Ash’s retro sound relied largely on power chord punch, Byrds-school jingle jangle guitars, and heavenly harmonies–the power pop formula, in short. The songs on No More, No Less push you around, bounce up and down, and are as romance friendly as power pop gets, but the boys in the band have more than girls on their minds; Pete Townshend homage “Smash My Guitar” is a real bang-up, and anticipates the bash’n’pop of the Replacements by a half-dozen years.

The LP includes a pair of covers, the big surprise being an amped up and vamped up reimagining of Bob Dylan’s folksy traveling carnival ode “Dusty Old Fairgrounds.” I kinda figured they covered it because Bobby name-drops Ohio, but upon close listening he doesn’t; Minnesota, North Dakota, Florida, Kansas and Michigan all get their props, but Ohio may as well be Hawaii. Less shocking is Blue Ash’s take on The Beatles’ “Anytime at All.” It retains that classic Lennon/McCartney flavor, but the boys have added some Raspberries crunch to the recipe.

“Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her?)” is a bubblegum metal classic and would make Redd Kross swoon with envy; Bill “Cupid” Bartolin’s guitar flexes its muscles while lead vocalist Jim Kendzor really emotes, and it’s got Buddah Records AM hit written all over it. The LP’s other standout is “I Remember a Time,” which captures the sound of the Byrds in full flight. Nostalgia may be a bit… er, premature coming from a bunch of guys in their early 20s, but “I remember the time we got caught by the cops” is a wonderful summation of many a young man’s adolescence, and with those group vocals Blue Ash can wax nostalgic all they want.

“Plain to See” is basically a revved-up cop of the Searcher’s “Needles and Pins” drenched in Fab Four vocal harmonies, but I dare you to not sing along. Slow dancer “What Can I Do for You?” opens on a gorgeous note, what with Bartolin’s needle-prick electric guitar weaving its way around some acoustic guitar strum while Kendzor pours his heart out.

“All I Want” is more power than pop and brings The Who to mind; Bartolin’s guitar is positively bruising, and the call and response vocals bring it all back home. “Wasting My Time” is yet another lost classic; “I’d spend my time wasting my time,” sings Kendzor, against a musical backdrop that evokes both The Byrds and Beatles. As for closer “Let There Be Rock,” it’s a rip-roaring (if somewhat generic) glance backwards at such songs as “Jailhouse Rock,” and falls into the great tradition of the Raspberries’ pop raucous “I’m a Rocker.”

The rock biz is unthinkingly cruel–it’s prone to making stars out of no talents while capriciously relegating superior bands to anonymity. Anybody can name at least a handful of artists and bands who, for one reason or another, were unfairly denied their opportunity to shine in the klieg lights of stardom; Blue Ash is amongst their numbers. It’s enough to make a guy smash his guitar.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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