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Mostly Autumn - Dressed in Voices CD (album) cover


Mostly Autumn

Prog Folk

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Second Life Syndrome
4 stars Mostly Autumn is a name that I had heard for many years, but I never got the chance to hear their work until the sublime "The Ghost Moon Orchestra". Needless to say, after that surreal and wonderful album, I was so happy to see them release a new album called "Dressed in Voices". The eerie and lonely artwork is a fantastic introduction to this superb album.

Mostly Autumn has been a staple of progressive folk music for many years. The soft and docile female vocals are such a contrast to the Floydian guitars and the haunting atmospheres. Olivia Sparenenn provides the rich vox, and, oh, what a voice! Her highs are perfect, and her lows are gorgeous. She carries the album tremendously. The warm mix of male vocals, too, provides diversity and structure.

Instrumentally, "Dressed in Voices" takes the Mostly Autumn foundation to new heights and new places. I was instantly impressed with the big sound of the orchestrations, and the maturity and breadth of the music. I think a perfect example of this is the track "First Day of School", which contains a huge melody that soars and expands and feels all encompassing. I noticed that the guitars this time around are rather diverse. They remind me of Oldfield, Hackett, and Gilmour all at once, but the true genius of the solos and lines are never lost.

This band plays like a well-oiled machine or a single unit. The blaring flutes, the inventive bass and cool drums, and the incredible keys are all played with skill and elegance. Indeed, elegance is the primary adjective for this band and this album. Every track is played with finesse and artistry.

One of my biggest impressions of "Dressed in Voices" is the excellence found in each track. Each and every track has a beautiful, memorable melody that feels alive and vibrant. From the climaxes of "Saturday Night" and "Not Yours to Take" to the gigantic emotions of "First Day of School" and epic guitars of "Down by the River", this album fires on all cylinders. I honestly can't pick a favorite, as all of the tracks feature what I love so much about this band: climactic structures, haunting melodies, elegant instruments, flavorful guitars, and incredible vocals.

Mostly Autumn has struck gold with this wonderful album. It has a different tone than their last album, and I'm seriously impressed with the guitars, especially. There is so much space and so much gentility and dignity in this music, and so many stories to tell. Progressive folk is so good at telling stories, and Mostly Autumn is one of the best at this. Beauty is rare these days, so I recommend that you hear this album soon.

Report this review (#1191603)
Posted Thursday, June 12, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars I have every Mostly Autumn studio recording made, and a fair smattering of live products, as well. It is fair to say, then, that I am a fan. I was tempted firstly by the charms of Heather Findlay, but was not particularly phased by her leaving and being replaced by her old backing singer, Olivia Sparnenn, because I had listened to her doing a sterling job on main man Bryan Josh's solo extravaganza, Through These Eyes. My optimism was rewarded when the band put out two extremely good albums in Go Well Diamond Heart and The Ghost Moon Orchestra.

However, I have never awarded them the five star accolade, and, indeed, have stated on more than one review that this band seemed to be searching for that definitive album, that absolute statement which screamed out buy me, because this is my best.

On Dressed In Voices, they have, finally, achieved it. Quite why this wonderful English ensemble attracts so little attention on this site is beyond me, because the brand of prog folk, heavy prog and rock has been scintillating for some time, now, and, in Josh, our genre has a one of the few guitarists who can be honestly compared with axe gods of days of yore without becoming a little blushed with embarrassment at such a statement.

Dressed In Voices is a genuine concept album, and, it is fair to say, has as its subject matter a fairly dark state of affairs. It is the story of a murder, a gruesome murder, and how that murder encapsulates an entire lifetime of memories, dreams, hopes, and unfulfilled expectations in those seconds between the act itself and the eternal time to pass on. For no better example of what I mean in terms of yearning and damned intelligent lyric writing (set against a very dark undertone generated by the band), then hear Home, the song that Josh was born to write, and is heart rending in its emotion. The guitar solo is fantastic as it soars.

Like all of the finest concept albums, Dressed In Voices deserves to be heard in its entirety, and treated as one organic whole. I have waited for quite some time, and more than a few listens, before setting down my thoughts to this review, just in case the thrill of the first few listens wore out. It didn't. This record gets damn better with each and every single listen. It cries out intelligence.

More than anything else, you know, it is actually an uplifting piece of work. How? You might well ask, given the subject matter. Well, the answer is easy, really. As good as the band are (and Iain Jennings, in particular, has never sounded so good on keys), the core of all in this album is the newlywed Bryan and Olivia. And, you know what? This is an album that has love dripping all over the place, and that is what makes it so special. Listening to the pair of them harmonising on First Day At School, the longest single track here at seven and a half minutes long, is a perfect example of this. On The Last Day, Olivia demonstrates just why she is the finest female vocalist in today's prog scene. It is a delightful, plaintive, soaring performance that simply has to be heard to be believed, and, believe me, has love screaming out, as if it is the last moment she will share with her man, remembering Spirits of Autumn Past, indeed. Old fans will, by the way, adore the nod towards that great old track, with wonderful flute by the recently departed Anne-Marie Helder.

The band have, in the past, tended to veer a bit towards different styles on albums as a whole. So, The Last Bright Light and Passengers were strong prog folk albums, whilst Storms Over Still Waters lent to heavier territory. This album is the perfect fusion of all of the multitude of influences and experiences of its main players, and they move effortlessly between melodic, symphonic, heavy, and Celtic infused music. Skin on Skin is perhaps the most obvious example, with a melodic beginning, with sensitive vocals, morphing into a wonderful wall of sound with some exceptionally complex drumming, especially, by Alex Cromerty, whilst this delightful noise then segues into a quite beautiful female led acoustic piece in The House On The Hill.

Mostly Autumn have ceased to threaten with this album. It gets a very easy five stars. I urge all reading this review to get out and buy the definitive album from a band who really deserve to be packing out stadia (not that they would want to, of course!). The band have provided me with a very difficult choice for album of the year in what is proving to be a very strong and enjoyable 2014, for, believe me, this is every inch as good as Road Of Bones.

Report this review (#1213790)
Posted Tuesday, July 15, 2014 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Finally! I said, 'Finally!'

I began my love affair with Mostly Autumn when they released their magical first album, 1999's "For All We Shared", a highly intoxicating mix of Pink Floyd mannerisms including that whopping guitar sound , celestial female vocals courtesy of Heather Findlay, sprinkled with Celtic ornamentation by using fiddle, Uillean pipes, Tin whistles etc...This exciting formula kept on giving amazing albums, "The Spirit of Autumn Past" and "The Last Bright Light" and I became a devout fan. Then with "Passengers", it really felt like a chapter was being closed, and I started instead gravitating towards the Breathing Space project, a parallel group led by keysman Ian Jennings and featuring Olivia Spannern, who at that juncture was supplying backing voices for Findlay. From 2005 's "Storms Over Still Water" up to 2012's "Ghost Moon Orchestra", a span of five lukewarm albums tempered my enthusiasm for this once glorious band and many commentators noted this dip in stylistics (calling it a poppier diversion). In the interim, Heather left for a still to date invisible solo career, now replaced by the masterful Olivia, who remains a phenomenal voice. This flux period seemed to indicate a certain 'lost in the desert' attitude, Josh somehow losing focus of what made the original concept so attractive. His voice got growly, his guitar playing becoming less attractive and the songs suffered from a lack of emotion, as if formulaic methodology was the best method for success. Many a prog fan despaired but three important elements came to the rescue. Firstly, master keyboardist Iain Jennings ended Breathing Space a few years ago and began improving the raw misdirection by adorning new found melodies with dense keyboard artistry. Secondly, Olivia who literally shone with BS, was finally thrust into the forefront, so much so that the seemingly depressed Bryan Josh saw a relighting of his muse when realizing that the two had fallen in love. I will state this again for the record, nothing is more inspiring than love or , its contrary, separation /divorce to ignite the hidden inner light, the source of so much emotional creativity. Finally, in terms of attitude, I truly suspect that Bryan Josh is ultimately the big difference, his fiery passion and shy sensitivity literally overflowed on the first 3 MA albums, as he was dealing with the passing of his father (a deep pain I also have had to endure), then he got caught up in the business world, should have known it would make him frustrated as well as miserable and then, along came Olivia and boom! The passion is back and it's called love. The single most powerful emotion ever. Josh now deliberately infuses more diversity in his guitar playing, no more an overt Gilmour fan boy. His fret board playing is still inspired by the Gilmour/Latimer camp but there are also slick references to Hendrix, Clapton and even some 'country style' picking a la Knopfler. His tones are way more varied and his soloing is truly earth shaking (as on the dizzying title track), all due to his rekindled inspiration, his beating heart leading the way, writing hugely romantic melodies that are both grandiose and timeless.

As expressed recently by Lazland so eloquently, we fans have been waiting for that return to form that made Mostly Autumn so impressive. I believe that the band members have delivered on all fronts, as this release oozes desire, lust, sweet loving, profound exaltation, giddiness , all side effects from being happily married and still basking in all the euphoria, as well as Mr. Jennings coming through with some inspired melodies and orchestrations.

Each song is an outright jewel, the soft sensual songs are loaded with feeling and delivered with impeccable grace, even Josh has softened his voice to how it once was. Olivia proves once again that she is the current prog female singer queen (Annie Haslam was great but now she is history) and she definitely reigns supreme, as her voice as well as her presence are simply awe-inspiring. While Gavin Griffiths is a phenomenal drummer, Alex Cromarty has a thumping pulse that caught my ear many times in listening to this monster album. Needless to repeat again, Jennings supplies gorgeous and copious piano, subtle organ and sublime synthesizer throughout, providing incredible depth and drama to the arrangements. There are way more "Evergreen"-like moments, soft and elaborate ballads that are overflowing with goose bumping feeling, such as the swooning and stunning "Running", the woozy delight of "House on the Hill" and the intense euphoria of " The Last Day". The rockier songs are razor sharp as witnessed on "Down by the River" and the bombastic disposition of the highly symphonic opener "Saturday Night". Sophistication shows up on the more elaborate prog symphonicity of "First Day of School", a style that has been reported missing since the 'Passengers' album! There are also a fair amount of duets (Bryan and Olivia wrapped around the mike stand) and the results are scintillating! On "Not Yours to Take", the interaction is a pure delight, a sensual fountain of eternal love and unbridled passion.

Not only have Mostly Autumn found their groove but this album just may become the best they have ever done. Love conquers all, the artwork beyond amazing, a true return to form. Stay deeply in love and the music will flow eternally, I am impressed beyond all expectations. Sadly, many prog fans will miss this one and lose out on a sheer masterpiece, easily among 2014's top 5 albums.

Bravo! I wish I was in such delirious love! BTW, this highly romantic review is dedicated to that scintillating artist, our very own Kati.

5 choir gowns

Report this review (#1314521)
Posted Sunday, November 23, 2014 | Review Permalink
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'être. 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 à 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".

Report this review (#1379527)
Posted Saturday, March 7, 2015 | Review Permalink
3 stars Mostly Autumn still wears the folk tag on this site because of their first few albums on which Celtic influences were quite obvious. These were represented by violin player Bob Faulds and flautist Angela Gordon and, at least to my knowledge, heavily supported by vocalist and lyricist Heather Findlay. Inbetween the folky tunes there were sweeping epics loaded with soaring guitar solos by mr. MA himself, Bryan Josh and some up-tempo rockier songs. I loved it; the first three albums made MA one of my all-time favourite bands. After the departure of Faulds and Gordon the folky influences start to disappear, culminating in their complete absence on this album. Instead we get a well-crafted concept album, based on a dark and brooding theme, with quite attractive tunes that all fall in the rock category. There's no folk to be heard and, which is even worse, I also miss the prog elements on this album. To my ears none of the songs even come close to their epic songs like 'Heroes never die', 'Evergreen', 'Pass the clock'. and, especially the genial 'The gap is too wide'. On former albums I have already wondered why mr. Josh and his companions wandered away from these kind of epic songs, replacing them by more or less 'normal' rock songs based on heavy guitar riffs instead of intricate flute or piano themes. That question is even more dominant on this album; the sublety is gone and for me the trademark of MA has therefore disappeared. Because of this I'm utterly surprised that 'Dressed in voices' receives so much praise on this site. Although there are some very nice songs here, with the last one being the high light of the album, I am disappointed in the direction that MA is taking. They are becoming just one of those bands while they were outstanding. Too bad, maybe better next time?
Report this review (#1469511)
Posted Thursday, September 24, 2015 | Review Permalink

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