(26 December 2007) Iain Jennings' 2005 Breathing Space album (review) was happily received by Mostly Autumn enthusiasts despite disappointment that the keyboard player had left the band. The nine-track collection of keyboard-rich numbers veered away from the Mostly Autumn sound. The project included contributions from Olivia Sparnenn (vocals), Liam Davison (guitars), Andrew Jennings (drums) and Bryan Josh (guitars). Jennings continued to develop material while Olivia continued to sing backing vocals for Heather Findlay at Mostly Autumn.
The Breathing Space lineup has evolved around Jennings (keyboard and synthesizer) and Sparnenn (vocals) with the welcome addition of Mark Rowen (guitar), Paul Teasdale (bass), Ben Jennings (keyboards and percussion) and Barry Cassells (drums and percussion). The band's live work over the last two years has expanded their audience across and outside the United Kingdom. The band's new album Coming Up For Air (Breathing Space (UK) BSO701CD, 2007) has 10-tracks of song-based progressive rock certain to delight the most critical listener.
Olivia Spermann's well-trained crystalline voice is clearly as at home with the Breathing Space as it would be gracing a West End production. Writes Heather Findlay, "From a very early age Olivia knew that she wanted to be a singer. She has been lucky enough to be surrounded by music for as long as she can remember, her father being an accomplished drummer being in various bands and her uncle is also a vocalist. Her first live performances began when she was the tender age of just thirteen and has since continued to captivate audiences with her stunning voice. The age of thirteen also opened the door to Olivia’s debut studio performances. At fifteen she went on to join an already established well-respected pop/rock band from York singing both original material and an array of vocally demanding tracks from the likes of Heart and Guns and Roses."
After a period of intense French and German studies at college Olivia decided to dedicate even more time to her voice, song writing and playing the guitar and so began working with various new musicians and songwriters in broadening her own skills therein. On an international scale, Olivia worked with Danish songsmith, Soeren Itenov whose group successfully charted in Denmark. Upon her return to the UK, she based herself in the south of England for some months collaborating and refining songs with a writer who has worked with artists such as Bonnie Rait and the Eagles. Olivia joined Breathing Space in time for the recording of the self-titled album, but has really found her voice in the arrangements of Coming Up For Air.
Coming Up For Air is a significant step forward for Breathing Space. The album is a cohesive collection of well-produced tracks ranging between upbeat rockers and soft ballads. The album is vocally rich, Olivia singing solo or self-harmonizing across her vast range and delivery tremendous power to the tunes. Well arranged instrumentals never swamp the vocal work although there are some sections where an extra bit of vocal in the final mix would have been appreciated. Guitar and keyboard solos echo choruses but never overwhelm or bore the listener. Tracks flow nicely from one to another building to crescendos and gently returning to heartfelt ballads.
Many listeners will like the West End-sounding edge that some of the songs on the album deliver. For example, the opening and title track begins with just a soaring voice atop piano before opening into a rocking and memorable chorus. Olivia's voice and Iain's keys work especially well together. We admired the way that Jennings bookended the album with a return to this theme in the closing number "Turn Of The Tide." Others will appreciate the classic rock arrangements that harken back to 70s rock tunes.
While Olivia's voice is a common thread linking the tracks together, the album's diversity is sustained with gentle yet evocative ballads such as "On The Blue Horizon, the everso gentle "Rain Song" and acoustic guitar-backed almost-country sound of "Don't Turn A Blind Eye." Backing vocals add great texture to soft arrangements and Olivia's lead. Jennings' keyboards contribute progressive influences to the tracks, perhaps most notable in the standout and upbeat rocker "Time Tells All The Unknown," a track that must be tremendous to see the band perform on stage. Similarly lively is "The Senses" whose guitar lines are vivid in the song's arrangements.
Olivia's vocals continue to delight in "Head Above The Water" a mid-tempo rock song laced with guitars, swirling keyboards and even a touch of vocal effects. "Searching For My Shadow" is a highly accessible album standout. Olivia's evocatively delivered vocal soar well above the keyboard arrangement build as the song progresses through its three discrete passages. We loved the vocalise sung against the guitar solo midsection. The lyrical conclusion is delightful. The album closes with the sweetly sung "Turn Of The Tide," the opposing more instrumental and rhythmic bookend to the opening track.
Breathing Space have clearly broken through with their new album Coming Up For Air. It offers production consistency and maturity above the band's debut but a
diversity of sound that will greatly expand the band's listener base. We look forward to hearing and seeing a lot more from Breathing Space.