Blue Ash, “No More, No Less”
Original release: 1973
Reissued: October 28, 2008
Yeah, that’s about right. Blue Ash’s major-label debut, now on CD for the first time ever (danke, Collectors’ Choice!), is about as tight a pop album as you’re likely to hear, with each track yoked to a three-minute time limit, and arrangements and vocal harmonies cinched so snug we understand the Bowflex folks are studying its grooves as we speak.
The band hailed from Youngstown, Ohio, about 265 miles northeast of the actual town of Blue Ash, a humble suburban outpost (pop. 12,513 as of 2000; ranked in two editions of 50 Fabulous Places to Raise Your Family) they likely whipped past many times en route to Cincinnati. They were part of a ’70s rock contingent that included The Flamin’ Groovies, Badfinger, and, what the hey, Rockin’ Horse: rather than stretch the form to arena-strength super-sleaze, these groups kept it simple and bright, still reveling in their impressionable British Invasion youth (The Beatles, Who, et al) — although Blue Ash weren’t entirely averse to modern rave-ups, as evidenced on the rip-roaring “All I Want,” the snaggletooth’d lead of guitarist Bill “Cupid” Bartolin that propels “Let There Be Rock’s” Leiber/Stoller jailhouse strut, and the album’s opening slap-boom-bang, “Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her?).”
In power-pop terms, if we’re to speak the critical vernacular, Bartolin and bassist Frank Secich were Blue Ash’s Lennon/McCartney, penning all but three of “No More, No Less”’s 12 cuts. Lead belter Jim Kendzor scribbled himself a for-the-ladies smoov in “What Can I Do For You?” and the other pair came from third parties: the rare-Dylan “Dusty Old Fairgrounds” and, for kicks, Bartolin/Secich doppelgangers Lennon/McCartney’s “Anytime At All.” All carry the trademark Blue Ash tang: thorny jangle tickling the edges of Kendzor’s yelp on loan from Roger Daltrey, complemented by delicious Cupid leads and quartet harmonies compressed into one warm voice. Speaking of Daltrey, the group indulges a Who-ish fantasy in “Smash My Guitar,” hoping their heroes’ destructive luck rubs off. (Interestingly, two years later said BMOCs mused, perhaps in response, “I may go far if I smash my guitar” on The Who by Numbers.) Through Bartolin’s nimble paws, the instrument delivers its own eulogy and a final impassioned plea for life. To no avail, of course: it’s zealously thrashed to splinters upon a “big grey brick surrounded by microphones,” according to Secich’s accompanying essay. The track ended what was originally vinyl Side One, a break that gave Blue Ash ample time to invest in another six-string for the flip, which begins with the aforementioned “Anytime At All,” which if you ask humble moi doesn’t get covered enough.
I must admit to considerable ignorance of Blue Ash before this delectable beast power-popped into my life. I’m happy to report those days are over. As a listener, you could do far worse than “No More, No Less” (lest you question the unimpeachable palate of the late Paul Nelson, Mercury A&R man and the greatest of all rock writers). But if you happen to do better, SEND IT TO ME, because I think you’re lying.
(NOTE: Click the Blue Ash link above to check out music from the album.)