Testing the waters

John Illsley
John Illsley
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John Murray on the musical pedigree of John Illsley ...

Immediately on hearing any part of the new solo album from John Illsley you will recognise the lineage.

It was he who won multiple Brit & Grammy awards as part of Dire Straits but since their demise has been active as a solo performer.

His fourth album and first in four years is Testing The Water (Creek), and the distinctive guitar work, the rhythm arrangements and even the sand paper vocals are so like his own band and even more so than his old leader Mark Knopfler who has adopted the Americana road.

The single When God Made Time was released last month as a teaser and has all the elements of a Straits hit and sounds like it could have been a long lost studio take but it is completely new and conceived by John and his co-producer Guy Fletcher.

Railway Tracks sounds like that same distinction and This Is Your Voice closes the album as a personal memoir and a gentle ballad with slide guitar.

He had time to reflect of course as his battle with cancer was kept secret and now recently pronounced clear after chemotherapy and stem cell treatment a celebratory concert just last week at the Jazz Cafe has been followed with some tour dates later in the year.

So while his former band mates Alan Clark and Chris White continue with the old set as The Straits, Illsley produces new songs while still in the style he has always played.

The distinctive voice of Mike Rosenberg has been the trademark of his project known as Passenger.

Following the smash Let Her Go was always going to be hard but his charm shines through on his fast little stories like 27 or the folk simple sincerity of Hearts On Fire.

Although primarily a solo performer when he builds up choir and brass for the anthem Scare Away The Dark it becomes live gold.

The album Whispers (Black Crow), is released ahead of his tour with Edinburgh pencilled in for November but of course T in the Park in July and a US tour.