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Mostly Autumn - Passengers CD (album) cover


Mostly Autumn


Prog Folk

3.71 | 145 ratings

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3 stars Here is a leading example of a group becoming harder to get into as they become more polished, refined and commercially viable. That happens a lot in Progland where external and internal forces create havoc with the original spirit behind the choice or direction of their musical craft. In some cases like Iona, they get better with time, more progressive and experimental, constantly searching new subtleties and taking their sweet time (like fine wine) in doing so. Others like Karnataka simply disband because of a lack of band stamina or perceived fan interest. With Mostly Autumn, we have reverse progression, as many other fans have also noticed the trend away from their fabulous debut album "For All We Shared", a shimmering set of evocative Celtic-tinged, Floyd-fed longish tunes that were sheer pleasure from beginning to end. Their second offering , "Spirits of Autumn Past" had some more amazing tunes but seemed to lack that "spirit" that characterizes their unique brand of prog-folk. In fact, as the lovely and supremely talented Heather Findlay took a larger role on the lead microphone, the third "The Last Bright Light" again was perceived as being just too slick despite a slew of truly great songs. Touring feverishly started giving them an opportunity at mainstream popularity and they altered their once original recipe with this hard to figure album. "Passengers" is again the same conundrum: just too overtly safe, eschewing the unpretentious humor and risk-taking character of that debut album (the pub story opening for "Out of the Inn" or the fiddle led jig). The opening two tracks are poor Josh compositions: "Something in Between" is a short radio-friendly tune that has a blah effect that does nothing in terms of excitement or mood. "Pure White Light" is too brashly trashy, really not suited for this band regardless of the ongoing Floydian influence, with Josh's vocals just too contrived, a sloppy guitar solo to boot. Mostly Awful. Finally, the contrasting "Another Life", (note: an Iain Jennings penned tune) is worthy of the band's finer moments with a melody that has emotion (Josh's solo just soars majestically) and a Findlay delivery that adds a dreamy restrained quality that deserves the highest praise. A little cello doesn't hurt either! "Bitterness Burnt" is a ravishing folkish Findlay composition on par or even better than the previous "Evergreen", with a flute and violin-led lament that conjures convincingly the sorrowful melancholia of forgiveness, proving again that smoky ballads are the band's forte (plus she's an elegant and ravishing beauty, just ask Fish). "Caught in a Fold" is a return to the raunchier material but Heather makes this a convincing exercise with a whopping flute bred melody sounding almost like a Jethro Tull tune but with strong female vocals and a slight bluesy inflection that is utterly charming. Josh's solo is brief but fiery. Nice stuff. "Simple Ways" is a technically simple song that has nevertheless a great amount of appeal, loaded with choppy synthesizers, chopping drums and chirping guitar, swirling winds and an almost bombastic refrain that is hard to resist. The keyboard heavy dreamy finale is one of the highlights, exuding a unique epic quality that has a classic "War of the Worlds" feel to it. "First Thought" is a whirling piece that would have needed a different arrangement as the emotion is just not there despite Heather pleading vocals, with another surprisingly flaccid Josh solo. Hey Bryan, what's going on? Listening to Traffic's "Sometimes I feel so Uninspired" or what? The title track is a grandiose piece that finally showcases this band's strengths, great piano playing, a massive melody that is not easy to master with Findlay showing her considerable talent and a towering Josh guitar excursion that expresses with a few bent ripped notes, the pain of the plaintive universe (There you go, Bryan, that's better). This album's strongest track is the temperamental instrumental "Distant Train", again written by the genial Iain Jennings, a colossal masterpiece that will stand the test of time as one of the greatest pieces of modern prog, containing all those little pleasure buttons all progressive fans wish to have pressed. Swooning atmospherics highly evocative of that faraway railroad, chugging rhythms, fascinating flute and a chorus melody to absolutely kneel to, sliced by a bleeding Bryan Josh solo that has Gilmour's rage, Latimer's passion and Manzanera's flair. Delicious. "Answering the Question" is a return to the harder realms of Mostly Autumn's new direction and it remains unconvincing, to my ears anyway. I rather dislike Josh's repetitively whispered vocals and the simplistic melody, with the plodding drums saved only by some decent piano playing. "Pass the Clock" is a three piece suite that fails to register despite all the proper perimeters (some old Genesis tidbits on flute and organ, gorgeous Uilleann pipe work from Troy Donockley of Iona fame), ruined by poor Josh vocals in Part 2 that again don't pass muster, totally unconvincing, even with some resourceful piano and violin work and a very relaxed exit. The third part plods along with another rather predictable guitar solo that fills the gaps instead of creating new fertile ground. As much as I truly admire Mr. Josh, this album is not his finest hour. We are not progressing here, and I am a fan. Track 3 to 9 is literally 5 stars but the rest could have been so much better. Sigh. 3.5 semaphores.
tszirmay | 3/5 |


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