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Mostly Autumn - The Ghost Moon Orchestra CD (album) cover


Mostly Autumn

Prog Folk

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3 stars Strangely enough no review has been posted yet for 'The ghost moon orchestra', the latest rendition by Mostly Autumn. Strangely because this prolific band from Yorkshire has built up a huge following over the last years and rightly so. They even survived the departure of their eye- and earcatching vocalist and songwriter Heather Finlay by replacing her with the evenly eye- and earcatching Olivia Sparnenn, for most fans the best choice they could make bacuse she was already part of the band. But of course it is the music that makes the band. And is it good enough? TGMO is, in my opinion, by no means near to their splendid, symphonic and folky first albums like 'All we shared' or 'The last bright sky'. Following the line of the last few albums this is another rocky album with most of the time up-tempo songs on which Bryan Josh takes much of the lead vocals. Which is also my first main criticism: he can sing, he has a rather good voice but he will always stand in the shadow of Olivia or even Ann-Marie Helder (backing vocalist here, lead vocalist in Panic Room). Why doesn't he step down a bit and leaves the vocals to the ladies? Another problem I have with this album is the overall sound of the songs. It simply doesn't stand out, to me they sound like another rock album with some female lead vocals. The unique sound of Mostly Autumn, with flute and folk instruments accompanied by fierce guitar solos, has almost completely vanished. What remains are nice songs to listen to with beautiful guitar solos for sure but actually not much special. The inclusion of Troy Donockley is great but too little. My third problem is a minor one but at the same time a remakable one. At the end of the title song, which is a nice song, the music fades out far to quickly and then, out of the blue, there is one keyboard chord emerging, almost dissonant to my ears. Then the song has ended. I dislike it very much, it sounds as if the producer tries to make up for the far too quick fading out. It's really akward. In conclusion, it is again a nice album. It is, again, not a very special album. I enjoy it but I don't get thrilled. And that is a bit disappointing from a band that I rank amongst my all time favourites.
Report this review (#816243)
Posted Friday, September 7, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars The Ghost Moon Orchestra is the latest release by perennial British band, Mostly Autumn, and the second to feature the talents of Olivia Sparnenn. In my review of this album's predecessor, Go Well Diamond Heart, I speculated whether that or this follow up would be the one to really break the band into the big time where I, for one, feel they properly belong.

Well, sadly I think not. Does this mean it is a bad or disappointing album? Not a bit of it. It is recognisably Mostly Autumn with those familiar lilting female vocals, some excellent musicianship by the usual cast of thousands, and, of course, the unique vocals of Bryan Josh and his trademark guitar sound. It is just that I can't see it breaking the band beyond their, admittedly frantically loyal, fan base, and that is a little bit of a shame.

However, it certainly doesn't seem to bother Josh or his cohorts. He has a musical vision, and he very doggedly and admirably sticks to it. Some of the mainstream press reviews I have seen seem to suggest that this is Mostly Autumn doing an Opeth, I.e. that they have morphed into a kind of metal prog band. I personally don't see that at all. Yes, there is a harder edge to much of this material, but not really any more than in albums such as Storms Over Still Waters. In essence, tracks such as Drops Of The Sun and The Devil & The Orchestra are tracks which take a great deal from classic heavy rock bands such as Rainbow and Purple, with a great deal of the Josh progressive treatment added in. In other words, they rock, and they rock extremely well, and I personally welcome the direction, and that is speaking as someone who joined because of the wonderful folk and Celtic rock tendencies shown in classics such as Passengers.

However, those tendencies are not gone. Take the lush and lovely title track, which has some beautifully delicate piano and a lovely flute turn by Anne Marie Helder, all accompanying a wonderful female vocal. Take also the fragility of Things That We Notice.

The main feature here, in fact, is just how good those vocals are. I know that Josh's vocals are an, ahem, acquired taste (I personally like them), but no one can doubt at all that this is the album which well and truly showcases Olivia's exceptional talent as a vocalist. She shines throughout, and is a joy to listen to, equally adept at the fragile and the powerful, of which there is a good mix everywhere here. Witness especially her performances on the chorus of King of the Valley, a rip snorting carousel of a track which she makes her own and the stunning Wild Eyes Skies. Heather Findlay? Who she?

The album is a loose sort of concept about some ghouls and ghosties congregating around a campsite, and was inspired by one of the apparently frequent such trips the band members enjoy under the stars. No doubt there were some interesting substances inhaled as well, but here Josh shows how good he is as a storyteller, and, to me, this can actually be regarded as very much a follow up from his exceptional solo album in spirit and feel. This especially applies to the wonderful This Ragged Heart, a track featuring lush harmonies between the two main protagonists in addition to a moving main vocal from Josh himself, backed up by a musical piece that cries out its solitude and yearning. Quite exceptional stuff, alongside the equally impressive Tennyson Mansion, which rocks and emotes in equal turns, and has at its heart some incredible symphonic keys backing a huge electric guitar solo.

So, what we have here is another very good release from this great band, who keep motoring on and on in much the same spirit as days of yore. If you enjoy them, you will find a lot to enjoy here. If not, well I don't think this will persuade you much otherwise, but for those readers who are looking to see what the band are like for the first time, or after a lengthy absence away from them, this is a very good place to start. Yes, there is a harder edge to much of it, but there is also much of that English and Celtic folk that we took to all those years ago.

Four stars for this, another excellent release from a band who really should attract a damn sight more attention on this site.

Report this review (#852595)
Posted Wednesday, November 7, 2012 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
4 stars Mostly Autumn have released an excellent album with "Ghost Moon Orchestra" that features all that have made the band popular over the years; Celtic influences, folk lyrics, spacey atmospherics and heavy guitar riffs. The album features the inimitable sweet vocals of Olivia Sparnenn and Bryan Josh's guitars augmented by the keyboard finesse of Iain Jennings.

From the outset the atmosphere is ethereal, beginning with ambient pads on 'Unquiet Tears'. The guitars are heavy at times such as on 'Drops of the Sun'. The lyrics are often whimsical and even jaded with nursery rhyme motifs, on 'Unquiet Tears' we hear "Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder who you are, Dying burns in the sky, Hush little baby, don't say a word, The orchestra is here, run!" The mood is portentous and rather dark with such lyrics merging with some epic melodies. The band play around with lyrics about the devil on tracks such as 'The Devil And The Orchestra', where Bryan Josh gets a chance to sing with his raspy technique.

The drawcard for me is always the angelic voice of Olivia and she shines on tracks such as 'The Ghost Moon Orchestra'. The lyrics are intriguing; "Don't go down to the woods today, you really have no choice, the orchestra demands your presence, strictly on your own, stand to your potential is the death to your soul, I hope you've been good, boys and girls". This 7 minute song is a feast featuring beautiful melodic sweeps on keys and an incredible lead guitar solo at the end; a dynamic sound and definitely a progressive highlight of the album.

There are acoustic driven songs such as 'This Ragged Heart', written and sung by Bryan Josh, and featuring lovely flute passages by Anne-Marie Helder, and low whistle by Troy Donockley. The lyrics are potent; "Sat alone on all these lands, there'll be plays on the hill, there'll be laughter in the halls, and I know it's all because of her, I open my eyes to love, say it's a lie, so a lie, and I dreamed of birds in the saving sky, and they showed me the way and I followed away, follow today".

'King Of The Valley' juxtaposes the acoustics and provides the rock with some energetic guitar riffs and staccato keyboard hammering. The time sig changes on this track are wonderful, the way that the vocals trade off alternating between Olivia and Bryan. There is an odd tempo in the instrumental break and very powerful shimmering organ with a vintage Hammond sound. Again this is a highlight of the album, structured with innovation and compelling melodies.

'Things That We Notice' brings the mood down with a heartfelt ballad from the beautiful tones of Olivia. I love the lyrics that have an endearing theme; "I still believe when your love was not part of the song, they carry on, inside the shimmering perfume of yesterday song, they carry on." Then the verse moves into thoughts of broken dreams and loss; "Families break up, the moment is gone, dreams that have fallen, letters from angels, answers the world will not come, and they're gone and they fall like that, they fall down the street".

'Tennyson Mansion' opens with a twanging guitar and piercing key pad. It builds with a pounding rhythm, then Olivia brings in a new nursery rhyme idea about Humpty Dumpty, cementing the idea that these are childhood memories that are focussed on, broken dreams of childhood innocence. It builds to a massive lead break with shrieking string bends and howling sustain; awesome guitar skilfully played by Bryan.

'Wild Eyed Skies' opens with the haunting Uilleann pipes of Donockley, and measured vocals from Olivia, gently at first and then more forceful in the chorus. The lyrics are repeated and given a passionate delivery; "When you run on your own, but you wanna go home, then you run on your own, but there's nobody home, every season we're knocking, there's no other soul, I will channel the dark, onto the past". I love the melody and the wonderful vocals are so uplifting, along with soaring lead guitar.

'Top Of The World' begins with minimalist piano tinkling, and a duet from Olivia and Bryan, breathily delivering a rather positive message. It is rather a sweet little song to close the album, continuing the fairytale vibe of the sound. The piece leads to an extended piano melody and strings, enhanced by soulful violining guitar reverberating beautifully.

Overall, "Ghost Moon Orchestra" is a quality production with enough beauty and rock to appease the fanbase. There are some definitive highlights and it is consistent throughout maintaining a compelling theme and accomplished musicianship. It is yet another excellent album from a band that is slowly becoming respected in the prog community.

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Posted Friday, January 4, 2013 | Review Permalink
Second Life Syndrome
4 stars "The Ghost Moon Orchestra" was more or less my introduction to this prog folk band, Mostly Autumn. I've been really getting into prog folk lately, as I've been enjoying Dead Can Dance, Blackmore's Night, and I've always loved Colin Masson's work. The thing I love about prog folk is that you never know what you'll get: It's all unpredictable seeing as there are many kinds of "folk" music.

Mostly Autumn represents my favorite type of folk: Their music is rather European in its folksy style, so their music contains all sorts of violins, bagpipes, flutes, and ethereal keys. On top of that, Olivia can sing like an angel, so that helps their case even more. I do prefer her vocals over that of Bryan Josh, the male vocalist. He has an interesting, breathy voice that I like, but I don't think 90% of singers out there could hold a candle to Olivia.

All of that being said, this album in particular is sweeping, climactic, soothing, and wispy all at the same time. The soaring symphonics always goad me into the music, while the Colin Masson-ish guitar work feeds my nostalgia. I especially liked the title track, "Tennyson Mansion", and "Top of the World". It seems that Mostly Autumn wears their poetic influences on their sleeves, but I can't help but wonder if The Carpenters were an influence here as well. Something I can't put my finger on tells me that. Either way, this is a great album that really lives up to its title, and it also rather handily earns 4 stars.

Report this review (#980617)
Posted Monday, June 17, 2013 | Review Permalink

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