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Mostly Autumn

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3 stars What to expect from the new Mostly Autumn album? That was the big question when it was announced by the band and remained the big question until the album arrived in the post last week. How could they make up for the departure of Heather Findlay? All fans know that Olivia Sparnenn is a very good singer but fully replacing Heather...? The first thing that strikes is the title: it can, I guess, mean nothing else than a deep and respectful bow to Heather and the decision she made to proceed on her own. That is sympathetic, it is great. But does it also mean a good album? Well, it can, again, not meet the high quality of the first three albums, alas. Hardly any folk influences to be found, no traditionals at all. For some unknown reason the band does not know how to catch up with that kind of songs, or they simply don't want it. So again it is primarily a rock album and therefore in the same vein as the former three albums. It starts off with a very spherical, mumming intro with uileann pipes, flute and Loreena McKennitt-like vocals (well done, Olivia!) and takes the listener to moody glenns and wet hills. A soft acoustic guitar blends in, supported by mellow keyboards and then 'For all we shared' really starts with, it must be said, very good singing by both Bryan and Olivia. Of course the title is no coIncidence, it refers to the first album of this great band. Halfway the guitars and drums come in and take the song to a beautiful finale. A great starter, very promising. The next song is almost solely sung by Olivia with Bryan and Anne-Marie Helder on background vocals. Again a very nice song with a soft beginning and a real finale with outbursting of guitar, very Mostly Autumn. And it proves that Olivia can indeed deliver a song very well. But then things start to deteriorate a bit. 'Deep in Borrowdale' and 'Something better' sound like a typical AOR-rock song with Bryan on vocals. The melodies are rather straightforward again, nothing special, no interesting breaks or instruments, a bit of a disappointment. And too much Bryan singing; he is not a very good singer, has always had excellent singers in his band but somehow wants to do the job himself too much. He shouldn't. With the title song they catch up again because it is surprising in melody and music, especially the keyboards sound good here. 'With back to life' Olivia and Bryan wrote a beautiful ballad together, supported by the uileann pipes played by Troy Donockley. A mellow, wandering song leading to a fierce guitar driven outro, outstanding. The two last songs on disc one are more in less in the same vein and therefore more than pleasant. All in all the regular album is good, albeit not excellent. Nobody could have expected an excellent album so I think that the band has done a very good job with this. But is remains stupid to buy only to the first disc. Because as with 'Heart full of sky' the SE contains a full second disc but very pleasant songs that shouldn't be missed. Not all of them are that good (especially 'High' is another simple rock-thing) but the majority definitely is! Especially 'Ice' stands out, with a good piano melody, good vocals, mellow guitar and some flute. Altogether it remains too bad that Anne-Marie Helder has a rather minor role as flautist and vocalist. She deserves better!! All in all it is a convincing rendition of MA, taking into account the heavy loss they suffered. Olivia couldn't have been a better replacement for Heather and she'll grow even stronger, both with vocals and with song-writing. A somewhat larger role for Anne-Marie and MA can probably write the real classic the next time.

I want to give it 3,5 stars but will stick to 3 stars for there are definitely things to improve.

Report this review (#308451)
Posted Friday, November 5, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Mostly Autumn are a band whose career I have followed since they started. They perplex me in many ways, not least of which is why they have never quite reached the commercial heights they are clearly more than capable of reaching. In sporting terms, they are a team that are constantly at the top of the second division, but can never quite manage to get themselves promoted to the premier league.

Will this new release do it for them? Well, the first thing to state is that they have managed to produce an exceptionally good album without the main reason a lot of us started to listen and watch in the first instance, namely one Heather Findlay. Her successor, Olivia Sparnenn, a backing vocalist previously, steps up to the plate more than adequately.

We actually had a big taste of the feel of this album musically with Bryan Josh's excellent solo album, Through These Eyes, on which Sparnenn shone.

The first track, For All We Shared, opens with a Celtic tinge in best traditions of the band. The main part of the song transforms into the type of grandiose rock anthem that they have become very adept at and is played very tightly, with a very good vocal performance by Olivia heading up some mighty riffs. A grand climax with vocal harmonies especially between the two main protagonists leads us to ask the question...Heather who?

Violet Skies features a thunderous bassline leading a deceptive acoustic guitar and sensitive vocals. A very understated track and a triumph for Olivia vocally. Her voice soars and you know she is a worthy successor. It is also nice that this track is dedicated to Heather.

Deep In Borrowdale features Josh taking lead vocal duties.. His voice has improved tremendously over the years, and you no longer wish he wouldn't bother, and when he & Sparnenn combine, it produces great harmonies. A track which has classic rock written all over it, but with a nice acoustic & flute interlude (played by the always excellent Anne Marie Helder) included prior to the epic climax. Josh certainly knows how to produce the killer guitar solo.

Something Better is the natural successor to Josh's incredible solo album, both lyrically and musically, but also with a very knowing nod to the exceptional Heroes Never Die. A brilliant four minutes of commercial hard rock combined with a thoughtful diatribe against our modern day leaders, as opposed to classical figures who would have "got it right". Hugely enjoyable.

The title track produces something special, and, lyrically, is very clever dealing with a brave soldier dying in Afghanistan (he was a MA fan). Josh proves just how much he has matured as a lyricist on this, but also it is the case that the music itself backs the obvious pain felt by all. I could have done without the press conference recordings, because, simply, the music didn't require them. It is by far the most symphonic of the pieces on the album, and features a wall of sound played by the welcome return of Iain Jennings on keyboards, and new drummer Gavin Griffiths shines on this.

Sparnenn co-wrote the last three tracks, and the first of these, Back To Life, is a welcome return to a more folky, pastoral, feel following the emotionally draining rock of what went before. She sings very well, and I think the key to this performance is that she does not try to emulate Findlay. She is as good a performer in her own right, and she rightly makes this lovely track her own, rather than a cheap copy of her predecessor's style. A gorgeous song, beautifully performed.

Hold The Sun is a very catchy commercial rock track, very easy on the ears, and played with a very tight intensity by the entire ensemble. The Josh solo at the close is straight from the top drawer.

Closer And When The War Is Over really does, lyrically, what it says in the title, and is a bittersweet track which expresses sweet regret over all of the futile losses we have experienced in Bush & Blair's conflicts, but also looks forward in a way that Waters never quite managed to do. It is very reminiscent of Roger's solo work, without ever being truly retro, and, indeed, highlights the band's excellent knack of mixing traditional folk with symphonic rock, and is a fine way to close proceedings.

So, is this, as Classic Rock Presents Prog stated, the finest Mostly Autumn album? Not quite. I still think that privilege belongs to Passengers, but this really isn't that far behind. Will it be enough to propel them into the Premier League? Maybe not, but, you know that it will keep them in the Play Offs, and if this excellent album is translated into the long overdue masterpiece on the next album, the sky is the limit for this very important and talented band.

To make such a good album in the absence of their talismanic singer is quite some achievement. This is one of the best releases of 2010, and that is, I know, a very good and tight field.

Four stars. An excellent addition to any prog rock collection, and one that I highly recommend to fans of the band who might have fallen away from them, and also prog lovers who admire their folk and bombastic, symphonic, heavy prog rock all in one sumptuously produced package.

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Posted Sunday, December 12, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars I'm not going to attempt to do a track by track review of this latest Mostly Autumn album as there are far more learned people on the site who can do that but, I would suggest that if you have listened to this album and been underwhelmed, stick with it. The more I have listened to it, the better it has got.

After all the talk of how they could possibly replace Heather Findlay, Brian Josh must have had a moment of devine inspiration when he asked Olivia Sparnenn to take over the mantle of lead vocalist. I think with doubt, that vocally, this is the best MA album to date and whether or not it's anything to do with Olivia, the best Brian Josh vocals to date.

The band play to their usual high standards and I believe that this is the first album for a long time where the instruments are all played by the touring musicians, plus a couple of guests.

All in all, this is a great album with 16 good songs ( if you get the special edition). While I like some of the songs better than others, there are none that I skip over when listening, either on the CD player or MP3 player.

Give it a go, you won't be disappointed if you are a Mostly Autumn fan but not quite sure about the mixed reviews, just give it the time and consideration it deserves.

Report this review (#353405)
Posted Wednesday, December 15, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The loss of Heather Findlay was no doubt a major shock to Mostly Autumn, her excellent vocals an integral part of the band's sound. Luckily the band were in the fortunate position to have an equally fine singer waiting in the side-lines, Olivia Sparnenn, previously a backing singer slips into the front woman role effortlessly. Problem solved.

With the vocal problem solved the only concern now is can they still deliver on a musical level? I'm pleased to say a positive yes. Go Well Diamond Heart is one of the best albums in the bands career and may even be the equal of their landmark Passengers album. The band have brought together all the elements of past releases, the folk, rock, prog and Celtic touches and used them in some of their finest songwriting to date. There's far less Pink Floyd touches these days, which it has to be said has been apparent in the last few albums, the only hint being some of mainman Bryan Josh's excellent searing guitar solo's.

The band barely put a foot wrong with an album of almost consistently strong material, brimming with memorable hooks and melodies. The celtic opening of For All We Shared is a lovely way to open this mid tempo semi-acoustic rocker and introduces Sparnenn in fine style with a confident and lovely vocal performance. The largely acoustic Violet Skies is equally captivating with another lovely chorus melody rising from a subdued verse to great effect and another excellent performance from Sparnenn. Better than Findlay? Quite possibly.

Deep In Borrowdale (the English Lake District I presume) sees them up the heaviness and is a fine rocker with Josh's first lead vocal performance of the album and it has to be said that he's a far more confident singer these days though I'll always prefer it when Mostly Autumn leave the main vocal duties to the girls. In a similar vein is Something Better and almost as good.

The almost eight minute title track follows and sees Sparnenn returned to lead vocals. it's a dynamic piece from more reflective beginnings it soon reveals itself to be another powerful piece with a more grandiose feel, keyboards having a stronger presence courtesy of the reinstated Iain Jennings. In contrast the lovely ballad Back To Life follows which sees Sparnenn also contributing with a co-writing credit alongside Josh, as she also does on the final two tracks. The first of these, Hold The Sun is a slow rocker. Initial impressions were not as good as what had come before but repeated plays reveal a strong hook which only suffers because of the illustrious company it has to compete against. The Celtic tinged And When The War Is Over closes in a more restrained mode and a well-chosen way to end.

So there you have it, a triumphant return for Mostly Autumn with one of their strongest and most consistent albums of their career. Anyone who's enjoyed their past work, particularly in more recent years should be delighted with Go Well Diamond Heart. Highly recommended.

Report this review (#411900)
Posted Sunday, March 6, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Well!


Here we are again! I think this is my only review for MA albums even if I've listened all of them... anyway my 1st impression when I read the title was ''It's like Shine on...'' even if the ''diamond heart'' is referred to a soldier and not to Heather Findlay. This comparison between PF's song and MA's title ends here even if the ''diamond heart'' of the group is gone away in 2008...

Main Theme

MA lost almost every member since the 1st effort and from For all we shared almost everything changed, the mostly folk of the 1st album turned in hard rock of Storms over still water, while the line-up followed the same line, with Davison and Jennings back in the last year. Talking about the album we got a 7-man-line-up, 8 songs, no istrumentals, few folk, good guitar solos... but more in detail: we start as ever with a strong opening track For all we shared worth alone a good point and is a strong turning back to The last bright light times, the singing from Sparnenn isn't the same thing as Findlay's but the difference result a plus in the overall and her voice works perfectly as filler when Josh sing (look at Deep in Borrowdale) making the same thing as the previous releases with Findlay. Nice the ballads Violet Skies & Back to Life that confirms the role of Sparnenn as lead vocalist, while Hold the Sun shows a great Josh solo at the end and last track start as another ballad, slow and decadent with a bit more folkish end. No review about bonus disc since as ever I hardly find the simple one.


Finally Josh leave the Gilmour's sound and play the guitar without trying to copy PF's style, this change make the whole work more original than the previous release and the new voice, even different from Findlay's one doesn't make regret her leaving. It's 4 stars for this strong album, a new wave of ideas even if less folkish than their early works, even without her historical singer.

Report this review (#413128)
Posted Wednesday, March 9, 2011 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars We all know that the ravishing and talented Heather Findlay has left the band that made her such a name and that the extended MA family (aka keyboardist Iain Jennings' Breathing Space) has now relocated members to the main platform , namely the delightful Olivia Sparnenn who frankly is a find, exemplary on stage in both talent, voice and looks. Bryan Josh is a lucky man! While I mourn the passing of the vastly more enjoyable Breathing Space, I can only surmise that Mostly Autumn will grow even more and if this new album is any indication, the future looks rosy to say the least. The level of musicianship was never an issue, Josh and company are a talented crew but image and direction seemed to be a problem, as if some identity crisis was festering within the creators. Since Passengers, I have liked but not adored the releases, as if there was something missing, a tad too polished and yet undefined, almost formulaic. In that aspect, I prefer Iain's writing, a different style that pleases me more than Josh's prog composing by numbers. A strange contrast I am sure but proven correct by most fans out there, as if Josh cannot decide between commercial classic rock (Breathing Space and Karnataka do it way better) , the Celtic prog thing (Iona does that a lot better) or a personal form of prog that stays the Floydian course. Truth is Olivia is a truly masterful vocalist, as good as the departed Findlay if not better, having patiently wailed in the wings as an MA backing vocalist. This new album introduces her front and center and if "Violet Skies" is any indication, she fits in just perfectly.

First, the positives: the opener "For All We Shared" (the title of MA's debut album, funny how Josh likes to segue stuff and link it everywhere) is a slow creeper that touches off the right buttons, introed by some magical Celtic strains that evoke deep spirited reveries. It comes as no surprise that the keyboards play a large role in symphonizing the piece. As previously stated, the superb "Violet Skies" is arguably the album highlight, a genuine slice of shimmering beauty that will appeal to all, a masterstroke in MA's catalogue. The title track provides some scintillating moments as well, Olivia displaying her amazing voice and joining Josh to create a massive hymn that has both a light and a dark side that is quite appealing. But it's the colossal keyboard surges that really nail the deal, howling wildly among the muscular riffs. "Back to Life" is squarely in the folk realm, much akin to past glorious ballads such as "Bitterness Burnt" or "Evergreen", where acoustic guitars and flutes dance a breathless waltz, tenderly enlaced. The composition is graced by some sizzling vocals and a virile lead guitar solo that only Josh can supply with apparent ease, one of his finest ever, screeching high above the pastoral clouds. A delicate piano outro seals the deal. The closer "And When the War is Over" has genuine appeal, an anti-war song dedicated to British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, a soothing yet sad reminder that some causes are hopeless at best and that a peaceful world would be such a panacea. Olivia and Bryan wail gently together, as the sonic guitar resonates as the choir added for maximum effect, this is primo stuff of the highest caliber. When she kicks into the higher register, the goose bumps appear.

But then there are tracks that still have that overbearing bombast that misses the mark for me such as "Deep in Borrowdale", a plodding rock track that has moments but nothing more. "Something Better" is simply not, just look at the rather tepid lyrics ("When cowboys rule the world"?) , a crude reworking of their classic epic "Heroes Never Die" but in a cubic, non- exciting form that does little to heighten the pleasure. Yeah, the guitars crunch and the cymbals thrash but, that's about it! "Hold the Sun" while interesting, shows a rather syrupy plodding that I am not sure I like that much, saved by another monstrous Josh solo that reestablishes a modicum of appreciation.

Not quite a return to the glorious early days but still a huge improvement , testimony that the Findlay/Josh relationship was getting artistically stale, explaining her departure but perhaps ushering in a new 'breathing space' into MA's craft , certainly as long as Josh loosens his reign and permits both Jennings and Olivia to showcase their talent.

3.75 Goodbye Hellos

Report this review (#442108)
Posted Monday, May 2, 2011 | Review Permalink
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl,Neo & Post/Math Teams
2 stars Another album, another lineup. Heather Findlay is gone (check out her new EP) Iain Jennings, Liam Davison and Gavin Griffiths are back. Olivia Spanmen former background vocalist and former Breathing Space takes over Heather's role.

Giving the opener the title of the debut album may have a meaning, I don't know. It starts with an instrumental part that reminds to Vangelis until the keys stop and the classical guitar introduces Bryan's voice. Then comes Olivia. She's not Heather, her pitch seems a little lower than Heather's but she's an excellent singer, too. The song is not so excellent unfortunately. Good but non-essential I'd say.

The acoustic path started with the previous album and continued with Bryan's solo album is evident also in the second song: "Violet Skies". In terms of production I think that Olivia's voice is not well served. Her volume should have been raised a bit more over the ensemble at least in the chorus. Then when she whispers her voice sounds like Susan Vega....a listenable song also this, not a highlight.

Acoustic guitar again. Just for the intro on which the singer doesn't seem to be Bryan, I don't know. Then it develops in a rock way, that's where Bryan fails more often. The songs are not bad, but finding something above the average is very hard. Not "Deep In Borrowdale" for sure.

Blues-Rock songs come always in a pair. "-When Cowboys Rule The World-". Pretentious lyrics. An attempt to write something with political or hystorical contents that I think is totally failed. "Something Better" has poor lyrics IMO and from a musical point of view is a 2-stars song. Something already listened too many times.

The Title track opens like The Final Cut (just a passing rocket), then the guitar sounds very Floydian but this time closer to Waters than to Gilmour. Nice performance from Olivia. This time the volume of her voice is fine, but the instruments are not very loud. Good song this one, but very far from things like Mother Nature.

"Back To Life" starts with a nice guitar harping and a whistle. Olivia sings with few piano notes behind. Finally a true Mostly Autumn song. A bit too mellow, maybe, but good. The first track of this album that I could put in a compilation, even in the louder second half.

"Hold The Sun" is another listenable song, not one to suggest to who is approaching MA for the first time. My feelings are likely influenced by having followed this band since the first album. If a new band had released an album like this as debut I would call it "promising", but for a band like this it's not enough, and not promising anything.

"And When The War Is Over" closes the first CD. A piano intro with an acoustic Gilmourish guitar playing bluesy notes, then Olivia sings. Take "House Of The Rising Sun", play it slower and you'll have something similar. The chorus is musically trivial. Not a progressive track in any way.

Now the "Special Edition" CD. As I have written in my review of "Heart Full of Sky" I can't stand with this behaviour. I can understand a limited edition including video footage or extra material. You can decide whether to buy it or not. Making it with studio tracks has no sense. Release a double album if you want.

"The Sound Of The World" makes clear that this is not a bonus. It's more or less the same stuff of the first CD. Musically trivial song. Below average.

"High" is another Bryan's attempt to rock. Very similar to "The King's Return" that's the song that I like less in the whole MA discography.

"67-79" Is Bryan singing so high pitched ? It sounds like brit-pop to me. The flute makes me think to late Caravan (The Album, Back To Front). It's like 67-79 are the years skipped when taking inspiration for this song.

Unfortunately "Anything at All" doesn't contribute in changing my mood. When Roger Waters writes bad songs they sound like this one.

"Ice" has the same title of a Camel's masterpiece. Only the title, sadly. Bryan sings like an 80s pop singer. Nothing interesting happens for the first 3 minutes, then the piano is left to play solo. At least also this album has some good moments. It lasts for less than two minutes, anyway. The rest is back to the album's standards.

"Hats Off" is not bad. Still Bryan on the rock side but the melody is stronger. Olivia makes only background vocals on most of the tracks. This may be one of the reasons why Heather has left.

"Forever Young" leaves more room to Olivia, but she whispers also on this song. Close to Renaissance but not as good as a Renaissance song. Let it run in the background.

When the last track "Days of Our Love" comes with Bryan singing on his 12-strings guitar I'm too tired. I can't give it enough attention also because it's not captivating enough.

I think it's clear that I didn't like this double CD. I don't want to say that MA are a closed chapter for me, also because Bryan's solo album is not bad, surely better than this one, and also what Liam and Olivia have done with Breathing Space is good so I'm not desperate, but in my opinion this is the worst studio album released by MA up to now. I hope the next, if any, will be better.

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Posted Wednesday, August 24, 2011 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars UK act MOSTLY AUTUMN is a well-established band on the progressive rock scene. They were formed back in 1992, made their debut as recording artists in 1998 and, since then, 9 more studio albums, about the same number of live albums and a handful of DVDs have seen the light of day. "Go Well Diamond Heart" is the most recent of their studio efforts.

Lightly flavored with Celtic-inspired details and with the occasional trace of acoustic singer/songwriter material in the backbone of the compositions, "Go Well Diamond Heart" is a good quality production of the kind that should find favor with most fans of accessible art rock, and in particular amongst those who also enjoy dampened refined hard rock, I presume. With stellar musicianship and production the icing on the cake will be appreciated and enjoyed by this particular audience.

Report this review (#576665)
Posted Monday, November 28, 2011 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
3 stars The new line up of Mostly Autumn had the prog community wondering if the band could continue wthout the powerful voice of Heather Findlay who moved into a solo career. Backing vocalist Olivia Sparnenn was called in to replace her, a daunting task but one that was taken up with admirable finesse. Her voice is different but still maintains angelic textures, comparable to hold the band together.

As if to prove this the first track is Olivia's stetching her vocal muscles with intonations on a high octave range along with the incredible Troy Donockley's Uilleann pipes. The folk edge is set in stone from the get go and then an acoustic motif over flute embellishments settles into a relaxing cadence. Bryan Josh has a Pink Floyd timbre on the opening track For All We Shared, one of the best songs from the group. He is joined by Olivia and they work well together. The guitars of Josh are heavier than on the previous 'Glass Shadows' and there is an uplifting vibe as the chorus presents its catchy melody. Iain Jennings is excellent on keyboards, piano, and Hammond. It is a great start to this dynamic album from 2010; the new Mostly Autumn have announced their return to the studio in admirable fashion.

Violet Skies follows, with acoustic rhythms and Olivia's breathy performance. This is followed by Deep In Borrowdale, that has appeared on live albums and is definitely one of the heavier songs from this more recent line up. With its Led Zeppelin acoustic intro, it builds to a heavy guitar riff and some great raspy vocals from Josh.

Something Better is a song by Josh with some uncharacteristic swearing and westernised melodies, that do not appeal to me. It is followed by the superior definitive highlight Go Well Diamond Heart, with its majestic crescendos and sweeping keyboards of majesty, as well as estranged dialogue; a really innovative prog track from the band.

Back To Life has more pastoral pipes and a lilting dreamy melody lead well by Olivia. The soaring guitars flow nicely cascading over a steady rhythm at the coda, some of the best guitar on the album. Hold The Sun follows with more incredible lead guitar towards the end, hung on a pleasant melody. The final song is And When The War is Over, opening with minimalist piano and Olivia singing softly along a very slow tempo feeling like the last dance. The lead guitar break lifts it and then Troy's Uillean pipes return to augment the melancholy atmosphere.

Overall the album has some wonderful tracks as always but is not as consistent as 'Passengers' or some of the earlier albums. It is a good album to get into to relax after a day's work, but it feels a bit melancholy and sad for my liking. I have heard much more exuberant and exciting material from the band; this is perhaps the band in a more subdued mood, and it is pleasant, but not as amazing as I am used to from other releases.

Report this review (#910826)
Posted Wednesday, February 6, 2013 | Review Permalink

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