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When an artist with the profile of Richard Ashcroft lines up a new release, it’s always a big deal. The success of the lockdown-inspired single Bring On The Lucie (FREEDA PEOPLE) earlier this year goes some way to illustrating how hungry long time fans of Ashcroft are for new music from him, but even this release prompts major excitement.

Acoustic Hymns Vol 1 features newly recorded versions of tracks from his time with The Verve and from his subsequent solo career which now spans seven albums, including his RPA and The United Nations of Sound foray from 2010. He has remained active and continues to draw huge tour and festival audiences.

This release kicks off with the lead single, Bittersweet Symphony, a track that remains one of the most iconic in British music. It also includes Sonnet: the sweeping, balanced ballad that almost never made it as a single, as we’re invited back into what many would say is the band’s finest hour.

Strings, arranged by Wil Malone and recorded at Abbey Road Studios, feature on Weeping Willow; probably the best of the so-called Acoustic Hymns. Malone was the mind behind the strings for tracks such as Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy and his touch would be a welcome addition to Ashcroft’s live performances too. He plays Liverpool’s M&S Bank Arena on the night the album is released, where presumably these tracks will be performed.

They’re nice versions of excellent tracks, but the album feels neither a daring take on classic tracks or an uncovering of original recordings or demos. It’s radio-friendly, but is unlikely to satisfy the hunger of long-time lovers of The Verve or Ashcroft. If there is to be a Vol 2, this listener requests that the great man goes all out and channels that drive that made his band such a force in the early 1990s.
    
Take his good mate Liam Gallagher for example, who he collaborates with on C’Mon People (We’re Making It Now), a punchy, piano-led tune that’s the highlight of the album. He has proven that there is more to a solo career after being in a band the size of Oasis, or The Verve, than reworking old tracks. The song is a favourite of both Ashcroft and Gallagher played first to Gallagher in Majorca in 1998.

It’s not to say this record can’t be enjoyed for what it is for now, and few of us would turn down a listen to any version of an Urban Hymns track, but we know that there is bolder and more exciting music in the locker of Ashcroft to look forward to than this album.

Acoustic Hymns Vol 1 is out today, Friday 29th of October.

Lewis Ridley

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