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Mostly Autumn - Dressed In Voices CD (album) cover

DRESSED IN VOICES

Mostly Autumn

 

Prog Folk

3.85 | 189 ratings

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MELNIBONÉ
4 stars Since "The Last Bright Light" (2001), Mostly Autumn had not released a studio album worthy of their talent and know-how. Even though each of the 20 studio and live albums released since the turn of the new century has a few gems, most of their content doesn't deliver much more than beating around the bush or go much further than well beaten tracks. That said, it must be pointed out that many of their live albums fared better than those from the studio, despite some occasional faltering in sound engineering in some of those live recordings.

This time, Josh and his band have decided, at long last, to venture away from too familiar grounds. Not a 180° course change, but a definite reassessment of the band's musical raison d'ętre. The love story between Olivia Sparnenn and Bryan Josh (they were married last summer) cannot be mere trivia in regards to Mostly Autumn's new opus. Not only does Sparnenn literally sings her heart out on the album, but she has contributed (lyrics and/or music) four songs that express the very soul of Mostly Autumn's musical identity : "Running" (4:33),"Skin On Skin" (5:54), "The House On The Hill" (4:24) and "Box Of Tears" (3:52). Granted, she's not knew to this, since she started writing for the band on "Go Well Diamond Heart" (2010) after she took over from Heather Findlay? although this time, on "Dressed In Voices", she seems much more at ease, confident not only when delivering the songs, but imbuing their themes (whether in the lyrics or the music) with soul, passion or delicate grace that are not present with such power and truth in her former contributions. As regards to the other half of the loving couple, Josh's lyrical and musical motifs are definitely more inspired, muscled and diverse than they've been for more than a decade. Also, his voice has shed the hoarse tone it had developped over the years. His guitar playing is richer than ever : without getting rid of what he proudly owes to Gilmour and Latimer, he now reaches farther or, rather, in a more eclectic fashion, which all for the best because it enhances the end result.

According to the liner notes written by Josh , the album revolves around this : " If you take somebody's life, I believe you must be forced to feel the full weight of what you are taking away : their past, present, what could have been, and the effect it would have on family, friends, loved ones. In this story the killer is forced to witness all that, as time briefly comes to a standstill." Thus, it makes for a dramatic theme. The opening song, "Saturday Night" (5:10), sets the stage without fretting too much : up-beat, sudden shifts, sound snippets, verses almost narrated more than sung, until Sparnenn's voice soars, reaching for the heavens. "Not Yours To Take" (5:01) is even more dynamic, Iain Jennings arrangements on keys providing perfect support for Josh's vocals. Typical Prog Folk ballad with Celtic overtones, "Running" (4:33) is a brilliant showpiece of balance between soft, delicate moments and vocal crescendos illuminated by Josh's guitar playing. "Home" (4:39) is built upon high contrasts : thick and unrelenting rythm vs waves and swirls of keys, and Sparnenn's voice vs Josh's guitar solo. "First Day At School" (7:28) starts in duet almost like a tender lulaby, opening further on on some breathtaking horizon, vibrant, brimming with emotions, and eventful. Rockiest and heaviest song on the album, "Down By The River" (4:42) is a confrontation of sort, where Sparnenn's voice spars (no pun intended) with the rest of the band going full drive. "Skin On Skin" (5 :54) is most probably the most surprising song of the lot : it matches up a Celtic ballad? with rockabilly ŕ la Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" !... And it works. Not only is it fun to listen to (Sparnenn's vocals are irresistible), but it's to Mostly Autumn's credit to have made it possible and great. "The House On The Hill" (4:24) pushes farther down the country sound (or road) with pedal steel guitar twanging delightfully along. "The Last Day" (6:28) starts slowly, and then builds up at mid-point with Sparnenn taking off ; I couldn't help but be reminded of Annie Haslam and Renaissance, but here the whole venture is much heavier, and holds a more menacing tone. Shifting between anthem and ballad, the beauty within the title-song (5:49) rests entirely on Sparnenn, not only because of the range of her voice, mais also the power of its delivery that fuses with Josh's fiery guitar solo. "The Library" (4:30) is a magnificent blues (Clapton- and Gilmour-inspired in equal parts) that Sparnenn and Josh sing together? with an ending that is remiscent of Knopfler's picking style !... In "Box Of Tears" (3:52), the vocals gather momentum gradually, but they're subdued to a certain degree under piano parts wrapped with delicate flute. All in all, there are no "epics" on Mostly Autumn's album? simple because, due to its thight thematic unity (lyrics and music), "Dressed In Voices" is an epic album of 63:17 !

4 aural robes? because the past has been cleared, the present is brilliant? but it remains to be seen if the future will hold the promises contained within "Dressed In Voices".

MELNIBONÉ | 4/5 |

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