Genre - Classic Rock / melodic Rock / Blues
Label - Creek Records
01 - Railway Tracks
02 - Nothing To Do
03 - Testing The Water
04 - Sometimes
05 - Run For Cover
06 - Darling Heart
07 - When God Made Time
08 - This Is Your Voice
JOHN ILLSLEY is best known as one of the founders of Dire Straits, playing bass and providing backing vocals on many of the band’s most famous songs. Illsley had a major role in creating the sound and the success of Dire Straits - he and Mark Knopfler were the only original members to remain with the band from its beginnings in 1977 right through to 1995 when it folded.
But this multiple Brit & Grammy award winner never stopped writing songs, releasing own albums and touring.
Now, recovered from a serious illness and after four years since his last album, JOHN ILLSLEY returns with "Testing The Water".
"Testing The Water" it’s actually his fourth solo album, but this one comes with a high profile tour and a significant push to bring our attention to quality songs full of substance and feel.
It is no surprise that there is a Dire Straits touch to many of the song on the CD. That speaks of Illsley’s influence on his former band with its slow, bluesy, roots influenced Classic Rock. But there is much more here too.
As well as the fine bass and guitar work you would expect there are many elegant harmonies and lovely sax solos throughout the record and the often deeply personal lyrics are delivered in a velvety and emotional voice.
The first three compositions here are all very strong. The opening "Railway Tracks" sets a fast pace as the guitar melody stands out over a solid rhythm section. This could almost be a Brothers In Arms outtake, although the chorus with strong female harmonies gives a very different tone.
Acoustic guitar opens "Nothing To Do" and a saxophone melody winds through the track. Illsley’s vocals here are more expansive and he delivers them well. Next, title track is perhaps the album’s highlight.
"Testing The Water" begins with a military style drum beat as sax and guitar provide the melody. It simmers along nicely without ever quite coming to the boil, and its solid songwriting skeleton showcases Illsley's Classic Rock pedigree.
The variety continues in several other good tracks. "Run For Cover" has political lyrics, served with a biting rocking tone that emphasises the content, and a big chorus.
The funky "Sometimes" is a fun uptempo rocker and the guitar work has a Knopfler feel behind the smooth lead vocals, while "Darling Heart" is a tender track, keyboard filled with a cool twangy guitar sound.
Closer "This Is Your Voice" has a breezy and sentimental feel, the bass strong throughout, ending the album on an upbeat note.
John Illsley has been an influential musician for several decades, and the combination of experience and craft he shows here makes "Testing The Water" a really good Classic Rock album.
Illsley is a thoughtful lyricist, an emotive singer and a fine harmony arranger, and it is the latter quality that infuses the album with a magical strand of continuity.
"Testing The Water" will obviously appeal to Dire Straits fans, but anyone who likes carefully crafted, arranged, performed and produced 'real' Classic Rock music should take a listen.