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Mostly Autumn - Storms Over Still Water CD (album) cover

STORMS OVER STILL WATER

Mostly Autumn

 

Prog Folk

3.52 | 103 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

greenmanpublications
3 stars There are many watersheds in life and that is as relevant to a band as an individual human. As a band is an entity and art form made up of human qualities, both for better or worse, it goes through the same trials and tribulations as us mere mortals and is affected by those out comes in the same way. Mostly Autumn appear to be at one of those watersheds. Their website has been reporting a split from their original record label, Classic rock Productions, which released their early work which now seems to be complete as this album has been released by Autumn records, a label owned by the band itself. What appears to have been the problem is that in an effort to push the band into a bigger market, Classic rock productions seemed to have exerted a corporate influence on the band resulting in shorter and more rock orientated songs. The previous album, passengers, bore testament to this and whilst it is as good an rock album as you could hope to find on the shelves, it does appear to be lacking some of the clever subtleties of their earlier work. Always a healthy and individual blend of folk and progressive rock, their work had an immediate identity all of its own, and whilst progressive music by its very definition is ever evolving, many were sorry to see this era come to an end. However with such a collection of wide ranging instruments and talented players making up the various pieces of the Mostly Autumn jigsaw, is it gone for ever or is this more straight forward version of the band just a passing phase. The latest release "Storms Over Still Water" might just hold the answer.

As the band slips from its no signature gentle opening into a big rock number, "Out of the Green" all seems familiar, that is until the vocals kick in. Bryn Josh, by his own admission a singer of feeling rather than technique seems to be struggling to find either and the normally ethereal Heather Findlay seems lost. Aiming for a sort of big rock chick sound she is definitely not doing what comes naturally. Still the big progressive-rock sound is there, and why not let the band settle for a short sharp opening number. The shock comes in the fact that the song is only three and a half minutes, very short by their standards. I guess what you have to bear in mind is that the songs were written under the watchful eye of Classic Rock Productions corporate plan and so we can expect more of this sort of thing. Hopefully the old Mostly Autumn will emerge as the album moves along.

And if I was hoping to find ghosts of the past emerging from the second track "Broken Glass" I am sadly let down. This big guitar and keyboard opening settles down to a sparse drum and bass rhythm, the harmonies seem to have landed closer to their desired mark, though still somewhat lacking by the standards that the band have set in the past. The keyboards seem to capture the spirit of albums past with its big space-rock riff that runs over the non- vocal passages, but still its not the band that I remember. The lyrics are still as well crafted as ever but the music seems to have settled for the easy option of hard-hitting rock. More of the same from "Ghosts in Dreamland" and now the sudden changes of direction and movement between time signatures that worked so well on the earlier albums seem contrived and clumsy. None of these first songs are in any way bad, they remind me of Ghostdance a band that moved from Goth to pop-rock and released only one great album and that's fine by me. I guess that when any band moves away from the sound that you first noticed them for it takes a while for to adjust to the new direction, I just feel that three songs in and I have been listening to what in the pasted would have ended up on the cutting room floor as it were.

Then it happens, "Heart Life". An acoustic guitar leads in, reminiscent of the first All About Eve albums mellower moments, recorders join in reminding us that as far as we are aware, Angela Goldthorpe, flutist and recorder player, seems to have been so far absent from the recording. When Heather Findlay begins singing its almost as if they have started a new album. Her voice is spot on and the music less forced, the gaps created in the instrumental backing, even when it hits its crescendo, seem to create a bigger sound than all the over blown guitar work and power play of what has gone before. Josh's lead solo is back to its crystal clear resonance and for this track at least he regains his title of best unknown guitar god in the world. This is what I have been waiting for, but is it enough to redeem the album, that remains to be seen.

"End of the World" continues in positive way for those trying to find the band they thought lost. Clean picked guitar and a keyboard wash back Findlay's voice, the music seminal Marillion, the voice Julianne Regan at her finest. A typically progressive style mix of gentle intricacies interspersed with powerful Josh fronted rock kicks tell the last story ever told as mans wave of technological advancement comes back to destroy its creator. However just when you thought that everything was going to be alright, "Black Rain" takes us back to a mainstream rock place. By now its obvious that we have sadly left the Celtic fringe far behind and the band seem content to play at being Pat Benatar, which is OK if you are Pat Benatar, but when you are Mostly Autumn is a real shame. Like most of what has gone before there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the song it just seems that they are content to coast along using 25% of their talent.

More in your face rock in the form of "Coming To?" but this time it sounds a lot more original thanks to Iain Jennings but at only two and bit minutes you have got to ask yourself why its on the album. In the past small musical passages seemed to combine to form much bigger pieces of music, the sounds would flow and evolve from one theme or idea to another. "Coming To?" just seems to sit there on its own a disembodied idea with nowhere to fit in. Josh's vocals sound gruff almost like Bob Geldolf with out the accent on the opening passages of "Candle to the Sky" the music opens up and that old "Dark Side of the Moon" comparison becomes so obvious its embarrassing. A good song with some nice musical tricks but too derivative of another band and another time. The play out section and the vocal arrangements are fairly original, the later being almost Beatle-esque but that's not enough to rescue it from the Pink place, as it where. The piano and Uilleann pipes join forces in a riff reminiscent of times gone past on "Carpe Diem" setting the platform for Heather Findlay's voice which here sounds the finest on the whole album. The swirling mists of musical creation are reminiscent of Celtus in their ethereal and mood setting manner. The song takes its time to build, there is no rushing into things, something that other songs found here are guilty of and by the time the guitar joins the song and Findlay's voice rises high above the music recent musical misdemeanours have been temporarily forgotten. At over seven minutes they have remembered some of the lessons of the past and given us the long slow burning passion and skill of their earlier albums.

The title track starts in a similarly promising way, a delay affected acoustic guitar builds layers of rhythm onto which layers of female vocal are layered whilst keyboard and guitar slowly raise the dynamic of the piece before it drops back into a haunting and swirling piece. This is one of the few songs on which every one seems to have a natural place, no-one taking up to much space, everyone there for a reason, the art of a good song is knowing when not to play and up until this song you would be forgiven for thinking that it was a lesson they had forgotten. An epic song and rightly the song after which the album is titled. "Tomorrow" plays us out, slow tribal drumming opens the way for a big rock ending, big, brash yet still in keeping with older style songs, almost to the point that you can here previous songs popping their head up from time to time, but that may just be my over familiarity with their work. Again as its just getting going after a mere three minutes it fades off into nothing leaving you a bit unfulfilled, and that sort of sums up the album.

All bands have to evolve but I don't think that this album is a step in the direction that I would like to see them go. I'm sure that there are many people who will love "Storms over Still Water" especially if straight ahead rock is your style. They do it well but I feel that they are a band with so much more to give, previous albums have proved that and I think that there is still a place in their work for that Celtic edge that they have almost discarded for this album. The light at the end of the tunnel is that now they are beholden to no record label but themselves they will be able to evolve naturally without the need to "sell units" as they say. This bodes well for the future and in the mean time there is a great back catalogue to listen to. This is a good album, especially if you haven't heard any of their previous work, but I only recommend getting this one to complete the set. If this is the band making, in my opinion, their least interesting album imagine what's to come.

greenmanpublications | 3/5 |

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