Wales-to-Los-Angeles transplant Michael Aston cited the usual “creative differences” when he quit the glammy, likable-but-mindless Gene Loves Jezebel in 1990, leaving fans to wonder what musical direction the singer would follow in his new project, a quartet called Edith Grove: back to his gothic roots? Maybe a move into less stylized territory? Nah, the slick, mainstream rock on Edith Grove is almost indistinguishable from the two albums GLJ made after Aston departed. Only the funk-beat suavity of “Under Your Spell” comes close to standing tall, but it’s hauled under by insipid lyrics and a swelling anthem vein. Even Aston’s singing is less exuberant and emotive than usual. Edith Grove didn’t last, and Aston moved on to a solo career.
Following such a highly produced commercial effort, the pretty, folksy Why Me Why This Why Now is truly refreshing. With Edith Grove’s bassist and a very tasteful drummer as support, the acoustic guitar structures (played by Mick Rossi, ex-Slaughter and the Dogs) are variously embellished by sparing amounts of violin, cello, piano and flute. Aston sounds relaxed for the first time in years, letting his tenor lilt and soar effortlessly through the melodies. He reveals a previously unknown talent for writing serious, reflective lyrics with depth and grace. In the leadoff “Avalon SW10,” he pauses to “wonder what I did with my life.” The clever collision of family and politics in the gentle “Trade Winds” is affecting, and “Notre Dame de la Fleur” has a gentle solemnity that suggests Leonard Cohen, although the song’s religious pro-life stance may be an impediment to those of different outlooks. Why Me Why This Why Now sounds like the work of a man who’s finally grown up and discovered himself.