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Mostly Autumn - Graveyard Star CD (album) cover


Mostly Autumn


Prog Folk

4.14 | 129 ratings

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5 stars Mostly Autumn has the rather unique reputation of a rather sandwich career, starting off with 4 great albums (For All We Shared, The Spirit of Autumn Past , The Last Bright Light and Passengers) winning plenty of fans with a delightful take of epic symphonic prog, liberally spiced with prog-folk tendencies and massive Floydian guitar interventions from band leader Bryan Josh. Together with Heather Findlay's immense voice and Iain Jennings' keyboard work as well as contributing compositions, the band was quite the revelation. A slight decline for the next four releases in terms of inspiration (Storms over Still Water, Heart Full of Sky, Glass Shadows and Go Well Diamond Heart), very good albums but missing that WOW effect. By that last one, Heather Findlay left, and many predicted the end of the band as some deemed her irreplaceable (no one ever is, though). In stepped Olivia Sparnenn who contributed harmony vocals on 'Heart Full of Sky' as well as vocalizing brilliantly on Iain Jennings' offshoot band Breathing Space (arguably as good as Mostly Autumn at the time). Now Findlay has a great voice but Olivia? Holy molly! When she took over the main microphone duties on 'The Ghost Moon Orchestra' album, two important things happened to the band: the quality of the songs improved noticeable, and Olivia really raised the bar from her previous debut on 'Go Well', literally elevating the songs to immense heights. The second aspect is that she and leader Bryan Josh fell in love, always a great source of inspiration, which undoubtedly led to the subsequent 4 albums (Dressed in Voices, Sight of Day, White Rainbow and the new masterpiece Graveyard Star) to be viewed as an upward vortex of ever improving quality and presentation. Not surprisingly, profound inspiration came from the purest emanations of humanity: love, the untimely passing of long-time member Liam Davison, which explains the sorrowful feel of White Rainbow and the Covid-19 pandemic that has forced many of us into contemplating our entitlement.

In the forced lockdown, the band had the smarts to hunt down one of Britain's premier drummers and one of my true favourites Henry Rogers, who had graced many albums by Final Conflict, Deeexpus, Touchstone, Shineback, Edison's Children, Heather Findlay solo (well, well), Cairo, Alan Reed, Mark Kelly's Marathon and John Holden. He is a superlative talent, not just technically brilliant but has the uncanny ability to thump hard when needed. Comparisons to the incredible Paul Thompson of Roxy Music fame I had previously mentioned in other reviews remains quite the compliment, Henry being a resolute drummer's drummer. "Graveyard Star" is quite the well of material as the single album edition clocks in at nearly 76 minutes, while the 2cd version adds another 41 minutes! I have the single version and, it simply has blown me away on first listen. Not everyone in Progland is as incurable romantic as yours truly, as I am a sucker for heartfelt emotion, sweeping melodies and gut-wrenching atmospheres but even the most rigidly technical prog fan will succumb to the beauty on display here, as this amazing album is a very strong contender for album of the year or maybe of the last decade.

From the opening grim symphonics announcing the imminent bunker lifestyle we have all endured, the tone is set for some serious melodic moments, with both husband and wife exchanging whisperingly aching vocals, the electronic keyboards painting a dreaded future and in comes Henry with a binary beat as the track takes shape, Olivia revving her lungs in anticipation. And when she starts belting out the plaintive lament, doing her best version of Ann Wilson of Heart, and if this leaves you unaffected, you are not normal! A patented Josh guitar rant is followed by a suddenly gentle and raspy Josh vocal dueling with Olivia's heavenly interference. Another fluid guitar run raises the hairs, dripping and gripping with unabashed emotion (yeah, he loves Gilmour, who doesn't?). Rogers beats this one mercilessly into the horizon, Olivia forcing the golden buzzer, hitting the notes with masterful control.

There are a plenty of stylistic variations as the sombre 'The Plague Bell', the Sergio Leone-inspired 'Skin of Mankind' and the classic rocker 'Shadows'. 'The Harder That You Hurt' is a killer ballad, typical of other past examples that made Olivia Sparnenn such a talent on those Breathing Space albums, her voice being a thing of beauty, perfectly modulated, pitch-perfect and devastatingly stunning. A succulent bluesy guitar flick of the wrist is just what the doctor ordered as the level rises to incredible heights, sweeping synths and organ in tow, as Henry thumps along. Right behind is another epic marvel, 'Razor Blade'. Incarnation of beauty, forlorn sadness, and an almost mystical atmosphere full of restraint and yet, immense pain waiting to explode. The drums, the synths and the guitar are all holding back until the arrangement gets raunchier and angrier. Olivia seizes the moment and unleashes a vocal for the ages, a what a voice finale!

Can this ride keep on giving, you ask? Yes, and in fact, it even has the balls to raise the bar even higher! 'This Endless War' sounds like a classic prog tune right from the very first listen, grabbing the listener by the heart and squeezing tight, never letting go. It brought me literally to tears, as intense a performance you will not hear in a long time. Gorgeous and overwhelming are the 2 words that come to mind. When Josh lets it rip on his white Fender Stratocaster, it screams, it howls, it cries, flush with utter pain and desolation. If by this time you are not slain, well get yourself tested!

The shorter 'Spirit of Mankind' is a rocker very much in the vein of classic anthemic rock songs, except Olivia sings like a tornado wanting to be a hurricane (try imitating her voice, good luck). Rogers bashes boldly as only he can, propelling this piece effortlessly. A welcome diversion from all the previous emotions and as such, works perfectly. Another dense track with the initially moody 'Back in These Arms', a keyboard intro with electronic atmosphere but truly inspired musically (the backing string synths are delicious). When the drums kick in and the arrangement takes shape, the emotions get ratcheted up to a potent main riff that sticks like the finest epoxy, Josh can bellow convincingly but when the wife adds her grain of salt, clearing the board, here comes the convincing 'let it go' as that Celtic riff just keeps hammering away at the brain nodes, a bruising Andy Smith bass pushing things along forcefully. Superb build up and ends up as a classic anthem for the ages. Oh my, such pleasure!

A moment of reflective calm, 'Free to Fly' is a sweet piano/vocal duet that proves that simplicity can be the purest form of elegance, a heartfelt piece of shimmering loveliness, showing Olivia's ability to do the fragile thingy. An amazing talent ?. A serious challenge to Annie Haslam for the greatest female prog vocalist of all-time. 'The Diamond' is a remarkable change of style and pace, a highly modern take quite far from classic prog, perhaps closer to an indie option, that nevertheless showcases the band's immense talent, compositionally, creatively, and instrumentally. Angela is all over this one, showcasing her own range and her conviction factor, raising this to a paroxysm of feelings. Very upturned eyebrows.

One more, please! The epic 12 minute + 'Turn Around Slowly' uses a patient intro that exudes their recent confidence, a male vocal centrepiece, current social commentary on patience and a whopping axe solo, aided by a pulsating rhythm on both bass and drums, shoving this one along. A gentle bridge with some Genesis-like acoustic guitar/flute interplay veers this again in another direction (as the title implies) before going back to the male gruff vocal, heavy riffing and Celtic tinge. and then a rockier reprise of 'Spirit of Mankind', with heavier symphonics and a marshalling beat, Celtic flutes aglow in the night. As the ever-mounting tension increases (hello guitars), Olivia reprises her massive vocal onslaught but this time even faster, harder, higher and crazier. Sheer genius.

Ridiculous masterpiece, the number of times I giggled nervously at the sheer brilliance of their music, which I do when intimidated by talent. The second time through, I was in shredded tatters. This happens very rarely.

5 cemetery solar fires

tszirmay | 5/5 |


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