Image © Mostly Autumn Records 2006
More Mostly Autumn:
Storms Over Still Water
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*
Live at the Mean Fiddler 2001
Live With Karnataka 2001
1998-2002 Album Reviews
* includes indepth interview
(11 February 2007) The loss of a key member is always traumatic for a band, no matter how amicable, and so it was with the departure of Mostly Autumn keyboard player Iain Jennings at the beginning of 2006. Indeed, early live shows after his exit were tentative at best, with Chris Johnson coming in to supply back up keys while Angela Gordon gamely added more keyboards to her excellent flute work. At the time, Johnson looked like a temporary member, there to fill a gap at a time of need. However, bandleader Bryan Josh clearly had a master plan, and the group's excellent new album Heart Full of Sky (Mostly Autumn Records (UK) AUT0933, 2006), and the first on their all-new label, introduces Johnson as a new creative force in the invention of Mostly Autumn music. Not as a keyboard player, but as a writer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist. In doing so Josh and Johnson appear to have invigorated the band.
Two versions of the album have been released, a limited edition double CD set with extra songs, and an eleven track standard edition with just one CD. The standard edition begins in classic Mostly Autumn fashion with the dramatic "Fading Colours, a Bryan Josh song with lead vocal by Heather Findlay. The keyboards here are interesting--played by Bryan using slightly different sounds and textures to Jennings, with a huge Mellotron sound especially satisfying. Heather's vocal--combining with Josh on the chorus--shows the continuing development of her voice to excellent effect.
Heather's charming "Half a World" is up next. This is a simple ballad with a big finish and a lovely chorus. Some very effective Hammond from guest David Moore bolsters its strong retro feel. "Pocket Watch," with lead vocal from Josh, is a slight departure for the band, a slice of psychedelic hard rock with a powerful chorus. However, it is one of those songs that might well polarise fans into "love it" or "hate it" factions. "Blue Light," however, is superb. Written by Chris Johnson, it is a gentle piece with vocal by Heather contrasting beautifully with guest Anne Marie Helder's high register backing vocal and some lovely flute and clarinet from Angela Gordon, before a big finish with a trademark Bryan Josh guitar solo.
The epic "Walk with a Storm" a vehicle for both Bryan and Heather's vocals may also split fans. The early part of the song is dramatic but plods somewhat, before leaping into life around the four and a half minute mark with a stunning Celtic rock workout featuring Peter Knight on violin and Troy Donockley on Uilleann pipes. "Find the Sun" is the calm after the storm, a hauntingly beautiful song, with a faint surreal feel reminiscent of KD Lang at her best. Peter Knight's violin is astonishing throughout. "Ghost" is a sinister piece, with breathy, tension-filled vocal from Bryan on the verse, giving way to a climactic chorus sung by Heather.
"Broken" is another high point--a dramatic ballad with an edge, sung by Heather and with Bryan's piano particularly effective, while "Silver Glass" has already become a live favourite – a vehicle for the talents of Chris Johnson, who provides lead vocals, keyboards and guitar. It's quite superb, giving Mostly Autumn a contemporary edge while still providing the atmosphere and emotion fans expect. "Further From Home" is largely instrumental, giving Bryan the opportunity to stretch out on guitar, before reprising the chorus of "Fade Away", while the album closes on an interesting note with the epic "Dreaming", a dramatic opening verse from Heather continuing into a rather mannered second section sung by Bryan, while Heather and Bryan share the chorus, before the song relaxes into lovely finish.
The band has also released the album in what some fans consider a somewhat overpriced two-CD edition. The first CD omits "Further from Home" but was otherwise the same as the single-disc version, with very similar packaging. The second CD includes "Further" and seven other tracks. It opens with the excellent "Science and Machinery" from Chris Johnson, while "Open Road" is pleasant enough with a dual vocal from Bryan and Heather, but is probably slightly substandard. "Gaze" is far better, another fragile Chris Johnson song with lead vocal from Heather and a beautiful Mellotron and acoustic guitar arrangement. Heather's "Yellow Time" is glorious, and it's real shame it didn't make it onto the single disc version, it's mix of Joni Mitchell and Heart giving it a real 70s vibe, with some terrific flute from Angela.
Bryan's "Broken Soldier" is fine, but sounds suspiciously like it might have come from the last Dave Gilmour solo album, with its laid back vibe. Like "Open Road", "Bright Green" is pleasant but just could use a little further development. It does contain an unusual solo from Bryan, though. "Softer than Brown" another Bryan Josh song, also suggests Dave Gilmour, and has a characteristic Josh solo to close.
So, what to make of this album in context of what has come before? Chris Johnson is a real find, giving the band a contemporary edge without diluting the atmosphere and emotion we have come to expect. Heather Findlay, too, continues to develop as a singer and songwriter. Bryan Josh orchestrates the band will skill, and his playing remains as good as ever, with his keyboard playing a revelation. Yet his song writing seems a touch under par, here. Certainly, there's nothing of the emotional sweep and melodic invention of "Pass the Clock" or "Storms Over Still water", though that may be intentional. The album was sadly mastered very loud, which means that any dynamics in the louder moments--especially the closing section of "Walk with a Storm"--are almost totally lost. That said, this is a sterling effort
during a difficult period for the band, and it is gratifying to see them come through it with such confidence.--Stephen Lambe in Tewkesbury, England and Russ Elliot in New York