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Paice Ashton Lord = Malice In Wonderland (LP)

Paice Ashton Lord = Malice In Wonderland (LP)

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Genre: rock
Rating: 3 stars ***
Title:  Malice In Wonderland
Company: Warner Brothers
Catalog: BS 3058
Year: 1977
Country/State: UK
Grade (cover/record): VG+ / VG+
Comments: original inner sleeve
Available: 1
Catalog ID: 6321
Price: $15.00

Maybe because I was so disappointed by Deep Purple's mid-1970s dysfunctional, I remember being quite enamored by this spin-off project. I can actually remember getting into arguments with high school friends trying to convince them that it was superior to Ritchie Blackmore or Tommy Bolin's solo projects (Rick - sorry about being such a jerk). Not sure I'd be so obnoxious about it today, though I have to admit that listening to this set for the first time in a decade, I still enjoyed most of the album.

Following Deep Purple MK It's 1976 breakup, keyboardist Jon Lord and drummer Ian Paice decided to continue their musical collaboration. Their choice for a collaborator came in the form of singer/keyboardist Tony Ashton who had an extensive recording career that included stints with The Remo Four and Ashon, Gardner and Dyke. After an extensive round of auditions former Stretch bassist Paul Martinez and former Babe Ruth and UFO lead guitarist Bernie Marsden were added to the line up.

So if you were expecting to hear a set of Deep Purple-styled rockers, 1977's "Malice In Wonderland" was probably going to come as somewhat of a disappointment to your ears. Mind you, judging by tracks like 'Ghost Story' and 'Remember the Good Times' these guys could certainly rock a-la Deep Purple, but song-for-song the album had a much lighter and musically diverse sound including stabs at blues-rock ('Dance with Me Baby'), pop, and even funk ('Arabella (Oh Tell Me)'). Ashton didn't have the world's most appealing voice; his occasionally flat and dry delivery took awhile to get accustomed to, but on tracks like 'Malice In Wonderland' he made the most of his talents. To be totally honest, Marsden was actually a better singer, though he was only featured on a handful tracks. Elsewhere both Lord and Paice were unexpectedly subdued throughout the set. That left Marsden as the unexpected standout. He wasn't front and center very often, but made the most of his limited opportunities, showcasing a lean and understated style ... wish he'd been featured more often.

- Opening with some driving Lord keyboards (and some major league cheesy synthesizers), 'Ghost Story' was a first-rate rocker with a suitably goofy lyric and some surprisingly sunny group harmony vocals. My only real complaint with this one stemmed from the needless horn arrangement. YouTube has a live performance of the song at: rating: **** stars- Built on an infectious Marsden guitar figure, the group composition 'Remember the Good Times' was probably the album's most outright commercial number. A tight rocker with a pop-tinged edge, this one would have sounded great on mid-1970s radio. A band like Whitesnake would have killed for something as good. rating: **** stars
- Maybe because it was simply so weird, 'Arabella (Oh Tell Me)' has always been a favorite for me. Kicked along by a funky beat (seriously) and Ashton's clipped lead vocal, this one had everything going for it. Okay, I'll admit it ... the first time I heard the song I though Ashton was singing 'Alabama'. rating: **** stars
- 'Silas & Jerome' found the band dipping their collective toes into a strange mix of BS&T horn rock and bar band moves. The song's best feature came in the form of a brief, but sweet Marsden solo. YouTube has a rehearsal performance of the song at: rating: ** stars - Another group composition, 'Dance with Me Baby' was a pedestrian blues-rocker that suffered from a flat, echo filled vocal, shrill female backing vocals, and the absence of any original ideas. The album's dullest performance ... rating: ** stars
- Lyrically 'On the Road Again' wasn't about to score the band a Pulitzer Prize, but the song had an enjoyable, slightly funky edge with Marsden handling most of the lead vocal, along with providing a great lead guitar segment. Ah, life is so tough when you're a rock star ... The video and sound quality sucks, but YouTube had a live performance of the song at: rating: *** stars
- Basically a throwaway blues number, 'Sneaky Private Lee' didn't have much going for it other than kind of a funny lyric and a reference to Washington D.C. Forgettable. rating: ** stars
- Another bluesy number, with a surprisingly somber lyric, 'I'm Going To Stop Drinking' was also one of the few tunes to spotlight Lord's contributions - in this case some tasty, Church-styled organ fills. rating: *** stars
- The closing title track also served up the band's best rocker with a snarling Ashton vocal and Lord's most prominent keyboards - he turned in some impressive, pseudo-jazzy moves followed by some Uriah Heep-styled organ that would have made Bruce Hornsby smile with delight. Shame the song faded out just as Lord was picking up steam. rating: **** stars

This is one of those album's hat I still enjoy, though I'm hard pressed to explain why I find it so enjoyable ... relic of my youth ? Who knows. Time to play 'Arabella (Oh Tell Me)' again.

"Malice In Wonderland" track listing:
(side 1)
1.) Ghost Story (Ian Paice - Tony Ashton - Jon Lord) - 5:47
2.) Remember the Good Times (Ian Paice - Tony Ashton - Jon Lord - Paul Martinez - Bernie Marsden) - 5:48
3.) Arabella (Oh Tell Me) (Tony Ashton) - 4:06
4;) Silas & Jerome (Ian Paice - Tony Ashton - Jon Lord) - 3:26
5.) Dance with Me Baby (Ian Paice - Tony Ashton - Jon Lord - Paul Martinez - Bernie Marsden) - 3:26

(side 2)
1.) On the Road Again (Ian Paice - Tony Ashton - Jon Lord - Bernie Marsden) - 3:58
2.) Sneaky Private Lee (Ian Paice - Tony Ashton - Jon Lord - Paul Martinez - Bernie Marsden) - 6:10
3.) I'm Going To Stop Drinking (Ian Paice - Tony Ashton - Jon Lord) - 5:15
4.) Malice In Wonderland (Ian Paice - Tony Ashton - Jon Lord) - 6:06

The band actually went into the studio recording a bunch of material for a projected sophomore album, but the project was shelved when the group called it quits. Several of those unreleased tracks along with a couple of live tracks showed up as bonus tracks on a 2001 CD reissue of the album.
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