“How Long,” the song that broke Ace and by many measures defines them, doesn’t necessarily present the most accurate picture of the band or its 1974 debut, Five-A-Side. Sure, Ace had a knack for a soft soulful groove that distinguished them from their pub rock brethren and in Paul Carrack they had perhaps the best blue-eyed soul singer the scene produced (Frankie Miller being a close contender for the title), but neither are the focal point on Five-A-Side, a record evenly balanced between the singer and quintet, as the title implies. Most of the ten-track record doesn’t ride the same easy rhythm as “How Long"; “The Real Feeling” and “Why” come close, containing some of the same ‘70s polyester sheen, but those bear stronger resemblance to the rest of the record, the songs that are heavily rooted in American roots rock, some of which are not sung by Carrack. Ace deftly mimicked the bluesy country-rock of Delaney & Bonnie, choosing to emphasize R&B over shaggy country-folk, thereby sounding quite different than their Band-loving peers. All this gives Five-A-Side a smooth, relaxed quality even on Ace’s relatively harder-rocking numbers like “Sniffin’ About” and that laid-back groove is appealing, partially because there’s just enough grit in their interplay to keep this from being lazy, partially because the songs -- chiefly written by Carrack, who bears eight songwriting credits -- are so strong, excellent pieces of straight-ahead rock & roll and blue-eyed soul that make this album something of a minor gem of its time. [Cherry Red’s 2011 expanded reissue adds a disc of bonus tracks, beginning with the amiable instrumental outtake “Tastes Like Fish,” running through a Peel Session from November 1974, then concluding with a Bob Harris Session from the following month. All the BBC sessions are first-rate, capturing a band just a little rawer and looser than on record, a band making the most of its pub rock classification.] AMG.