:The Last Bright LightYear Of Release
:Progressive Rock, Folk RockQuality
:FLAC (cue+log+scans)Total Time
01. ...Just Moving On (Josh)
02. We Come and We Go (Josh)
03. Half the Mountain (Josh)
04. The Eyes of the Forest (Findlay/Josh)
05. The Dark Before the Dawn (Josh/Jennings/Faulds)
06. Hollow (Jennings)
07. Prints in the Stone (Josh/Davison)
08. The Last Bright Light (Josh)
09. Never the Rainbow (Findlay/Jennings)
10. Shrinking Violet (Findlay/Josh)
11. Helms Deep (Josh)
12. Which Wood? (Gordon)
13. Mother Nature (Josh)
Mostly Autumn is a seven-piece band from Yorkshire, England. They released their first CD in 1998 and will officially release their third, The Last Bright Light, on March 26 of this year. As I've been lucky enough to have The Last Bright Light for a few weeks now, I thought I would share some thoughts about it.
Frank Zappa once said "writing about music is like dancing about architecture", or something similarly profound, and I tend to agree with him. Yet here I am, talking about a CD you can't hear by a band you've probably never heard of. I can't use their first two CDs as points of reference if you haven't heard them, forcing me to (possibly unfairly) use comparisons to a lot of other bands that you may be aware of. Wish me luck.
This is a group that are never going to become commercial superstars. Their style of music hasn't been in fashion for about 30 years. But, sensibly ignoring the fads of today, they've put together their third CD of classic, timeless, flawlessly-performed, intelligent rock. Mostly Autumn list their influences as Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Genesis, Fairport Convention, and Fleetwood Mac. That's the kind of combination that screams David Meadows buy me now. If it does the same to you then, trust me, you won't be disappointed by the quality of the song writing and performances on The Last Bright Light.
The first thing that strikes you about this CD is its sheer diversity. While the average rock band seems obliged to get all five instruments on every song, Mostly Autumn don't say we have seven musicians (plus guests) with five singers and 20 instruments between us, lets cram them all on. Instead, they pick and choose the voices and instruments that suit each song. One song is electric, the next is acoustic. One uses folk instruments, the next uses rock instruments. One has male vocals, the next has female. And these diverse elements also mix freely within the same song. The result is a CD where each new song sounds nothing like the one before.
The album fades in with the tune, played on uilleann pipes, that fades out Mostly Autumn's previous CD, The Spirit of Autumn Past. It's just a small thing, but I like the sense of continuity it brings. This fades into a short slide guitar piece with a Peter Green feel to it. This, in turn, fades into the first song We Come and We Go. It starts slowly and builds in intensity, sounding very like Pink Floyd (more Gilmour-Floyd than Waters-Floyd). And already, a couple of minutes into the CD, you know you're going to hear something very special.
Half the Mountain is a song that would be a hit single if there was any justice in the world. It's a slow, slightly psychedelic, love song that builds to a stirring climax and exits with a minute-long guitar solo. There's a poetry to the song that proves it is possible to write a love song without resorting to clichéd lyrics.
The Eyes of the Forest is a short and beautiful acoustic (guitar and flute) song with an ecological message.
The Dark Before the Dawn opens with a pseudo-classical keyboard introduction that makes me think of Rainbow. But the song itself is nothing like Rainbow; nothing like anything really. There's a manic flute motif underlying the chorus and . . . okay, it's really hard to describe flute-based rock without saying "Ian Anderson", so I'll say it now and get it out of the way: Ian Anderson.
Hollow is . . . well, I don't dislike the song, but it's one of the least memorable on the album, for me. It has a nice jazz feel and some fine solos, but it drifts along without really doing anything. Likewise for Prints in the Stone, a folky-acoustic piece. They are good songs, but this is a whole album of excellent songs and these two just don't stand out.
The title track, The Last Bright Light, qualifies as "epic". Lyrics with a social conscience, changing moods and tempos, mock-Gregorian chanting in the middle section, and extended guitar sections. Stunning.
Never the Rainbow begins with some deceptive acoustic guitar, then the glorious sound of a Hammond organ leads into a screaming rock song that would fit neatly on a Deep Purple record. Of course, it's easy to hear a Hammond and think of Deep Purple; but the comparison goes beyond that. The guitar style and tone is reminiscent of Blackmore, the vocal phrasing could be Ian Gillan (without the range and power) and the whole structure and instrumental interplay is classic Deep Purple. Well maybe not "classic"; maybe more like 80s' Purple. This song comes close to being my favourite on the album. It's the kind of song you have to turn up to "11". I can only listen to it when I'm alone because I get the overwhelming desire to sing along and dance round the room, and that's really embarrassing.
Shrinking Violet is a complete contrast. Another epic, complex and beautiful, but soft and acoustic. I wish I could follow the lyrics (beautifully sung with an uncanny resemblance to Dreamboat Annie-era Ann Wilson) but whenever I try I just get wrapped up and lost in the music. Beautiful flutes and recorders, cello, choral vocals, electric and acoustic guitars; this song has it all. What can I compare this to? The Moody Blues . . . Heart . . . a bit of Procol Harum . . . guitar that soars like David Gilmour or maybe Steve Rothery . . . it really defies comparisons. Eight and a half minutes of magic, fading out with a simple children's chorus of la-la-la and a few bars of Swan Lake from a music box, wistful and poignant . . . then you have to go back and play it again, and you hear something you missed the first time and you're impressed all over again. Do you get the impression that I love this song? This is the best song that Mostly Autumn have ever recorded. Apart from all the other good ones.
It's hard to follow Shrinking Violet and avoid an anti-climax, but Mostly Autumn manage it by switching styles to present a lengthy instrumental, Helms Deep. This piece features guest musician Albert Dannemann. (Albert, from German Renaissance band Des Geyers, is a multi-talented musician and a great entertainer. If you get the chance to see him perform, don't miss it!) Helms Deep begins as a fast acoustic jig based around guitar, flute, and bodhran, but it constantly changes. Drums come in, then Hammond organ, more Renaissance pipes and horns than you can shake an Orc at, and screeching guitars. I don't want to over-use the word "epic", but what else can I say? How about "symphonic"?
Which Wood? is an acoustic instrumental, a hypnotic mix of flute, bodhran, guitar and ankle bells. The tune has an odd, abrupt ending, almost as if they ran out of tape or didn't know what to do next.
I should probably say a lot about the closing track, Mother Nature, but I'm already well over 1,000 words on this review. So I'll just say: Mostly Autumn have mastered the art of recording a 12-minute rock song without making it boring, and Mother Nature moves through so many moods and musical ideas that I can't really do justice to it. Of all the songs on this album, this is the one that comes closest to Pink Floyd. But you know what? Mostly Autumn are better than Pink Floyd. There, I said it. You can start stoning me if you wish.
Just buy this CD. The Last Bright Light. Don't forget.
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