Image © Classic Rock Productions 2005
Photo © Chris Walkden 2005
Photo © Chris Walkden 2005
Photo © Chris Walkden 2004
More Mostly Autumn:
The Next Chapter
Live at The York Opera House
2004 Spring Tour
Live at The Boardwalk 2002
Live at the Classic Rock Festival 2002
Heroes Never Die
Music Inspired by Lord Of The Rings
The Last Bright Light
The Story So Far CD and DVD*
Live at the Mean Fiddler 2001
Live With Karnataka 2001
1998-2002 Album Reviews
* includes indepth interview
(15 May 2005) A few eyebrows were raised when it was announced that Mostly Autumn would play the Bloodstock open-air heavy metal festival in June 2005. Despite a strong crossover following, a metal band they are certainly not, yet listening to Storms Over Still Water (Classic Rock Productions (UK) CRP1745, 2005), the bands’ fifth studio album proper, it is easy to see why such an appearance might be considered appropriate.
Structurally, this new album has many similarities to its 2003 predecessor Passengers (review), with the shorter, more single-friendly songs beginning the album, while the real meat lies in its last 25 minutes. However, where the sound of Passengers was warm and wholesome, in the classic rock tradition, Storms has a big, bright, live sound. Indeed, the subject matter, while, in the main, retaining the traditional Mostly Autumn life affirming message, has a much darker, almost neo-gothic quality. Bryan Josh, Heather Findlay and Iain Jennings have again written all the material in various combinations, while Andrew Jennings makes his studio debut on drums. The darkness of the music means that Angela Gordon is underused on flute and recorders, though her contributions are excellent when they arrive, as is the contribution of Troy Donockley when called into service on Heather's "Carpe Diem." Indeed, "Carpe Diem"--seize the day--might be considered a theme for the whole album, and lyrically it is an especially strong record.
"Out of the Green Sky" is a hard rocker with some searing slide guitar. Bryan and Heather sharing lead vocals, in its call for us all to live life to the full. "Broken Glass" with its wonderful, poppy chorus is up next, though the lyrics, brought across by one of Bryan's best lead vocals, are somewhat down beat and Gothic. The urgent "Ghost in Dreamland" features some excellent synth and piano from Iain Jennings, plus a lead vocal from Heather, using her lower register, that owes a great deal to Julianne Regan of All About Eve.
"Heart Life" will be familiar to all those that have seen the band live in the last year or so. Its pretty recorder and acoustic guitar introducing a slice of bluesy rock sung by Heather that would not have been out of place on Passengers, with a typical Bryan Josh solo over its closing bars. "The End of the World" is a real departure, another shared lead vocal led entirely by the poignant yet gritty narrative--reminiscent of Raymond Briggs' "When the Wind Blows"--within the lyrics over a gentle, Genesis-inspired arrangement. This becomes crunching hard rock on the second, Bryan sung, verse. "Black Rain" is the natural closer to the first half of the album, a Deep Purple-influenced, thumping slice of heavy rock with a rasping lead vocal from Heather. Its lyrics make an impassioned call for environmental change. Bryan provides a powerful riff, and Iain's organ is eerily reminiscent of John Lord.
The doomy Iain Jennings instrumental "Coming to…" bridges the two sections of the album wonderfully, its sinister opening developing into a slice of dramatic, orchestral metal. "Candle to the Sky" takes us uncannily into “Dark side of the Moon” era Pink Floyd, with Bryan again giving us his impressive Dave Gilmour vocal impersonation. The song then diverts into an up-tempo, sing along mid section, and follows it with a progressive excursion with some great flute, and a gentle, if slightly superfluous, coda. Heather's "Carpe Diem," with Iain's lovely piano refrain, is the closest the album gets to a ballad. Its lyrics reflect on the Tsunami Earthquake disaster in Asia in a very personal way, and, with the aid of Troy Donockley's typically atmospheric uilleann Pipes and low whistle, it builds in stature to a wonderful Bryan Josh guitar solo, played over some impassioned, wordless vocals from Heather. "Carpe Diem" is a genuine Mostly Autumn classic, and the album highlight, combining the spirituality of “Passengers” with the emotional resonance of "The Gap is too wide." Andrew Jennings must also be praised for his spectacular drumming on this song.
The introduction to the magnificent title track is reminiscent of the rearranged live version of "Somewhere in Between," before a beautifully serene opening lead vocal from Heather gives away to a triumphant vocal section from Bryan. This leads to a beautifully fluid guitar solo, blossoming into an up-tempo guitar workout in "Evergreen" style. The album ends on a relatively low-key note, with the melodic instrumental "Tomorrow" which allows Angie some effective "Spirit" style multi-tracked flute.
The rest of the package has both good and bad moments. The booklet features stunningly reproduced photographs by Chris Walkden, though Bob Carruthers' sleeve notes are unnecessarily lengthy, and the cover itself, though pretty, is something of a mess. The accompanying DVD is entertaining, though hardly essential. A brief making of video accompanies the two--frankly, misguided--promos of "Ghost in Dreamland" and "Broken Glass." The DVD extras are interesting, with two projections from the last batch of multi-media concerts accompanying good live versions of "The Last Climb" and "Shrinking Violet" from the Mean Fiddler in 2002, and an audio-only version of "Mother Nature" from the marvellous York Opera House concert in 2003. The DVD hardly makes the package worth double the normal album price, in America almost $60.00 ppd. Patient enthusiasts should wait for the CD-only version due out from the band this autumn.
Under the guiding hand of Bryan Josh, Mostly Autumn have produced an album with variation, craft and very little padding. However, where Passengers was relatively safe and mainstream, on Storms the band have dared to move in a slightly new direction, without running the risk of alienating their growing fan base. With the material as strong as it has ever been, that might just be the best move of their career. Dark, beautiful and uplifting, Storms Over Still Water is something close to a masterpiece. It is a shame that the additional DVD does not quite do the album justice.--Stephen Lambe in Cheltenham, England and Russ Elliot in New York. CD DVD