Wednesday 30th April: I couldn’t go out at the weekend, hadn’t bought any new CDs or finished any new books. Things to write about were looking sparse. Then, at 9 o’clock on Monday evening, there was a knock at the front door. It had to be somebody who didn’t know us – the front door is never used. I stuck my head out of the house to see a woman with a package. “Mr Massey?” she enquired. A-ha, thought I, a mis-posted parcel. Although I didn’t recognise her and parcels only tend to get mis-delivered within a few doors of their destination. “It’s your Mostly Autumn CD,” she said. “We were packing them today and, as we lived close by, thought we’d drop yours off.” Wow! Not only did she hand me a copy of Glass Shadows, the eighth studio album from my newest favourite band, but it appears that I live close to somebody connected to the band. If only I had thought to ask who she was…
Anyway, it was too late to listen to it on Monday (Elizabeth, 5, was in bed) and I was on a night out yesterday. So I had to wait until tonight to see whether the anticipation was worth it.
Just a bit of background… I have lived in York all my life and, until last year I had never heard of Mostly Autumn. Then I borrowed a “greatest hits” compilation, fell in love with the music and, straight away, bought the first two studio albums. Those albums have an mythical, epic feel to them – full of songs about the great outdoors and heroes. They fit my musical tastes like a glove – modern prog rock at its very best.
So, what’s the latest album like? The short answer is pretty good. The long answer is, well, a bit longer.
Even without hearing the intervening albums, it is obvious that Mostly Autumn, as a band have been through a transition. The music of Glass Shadows isn’t quite as raw (although that may just be better production values, I don’t know enough to comment) and not so much influenced by the likes of Hobbits and mountains, although much of it was written in the Lake District.
The band has changed slightly as well – Henry Bourne has come in on drums and delivers powerful beats throughout the whole album. New mother Angela Gordon has been replaced by Anne-Marie Helder on flute and harmony vocals. The mainstays are still Bryan Josh and Heather Findlay and between them they wrote or co-wrote all the tracks.
Glass Shadows has slightly lost the epic feel that I know from the earlier albums. This is a much more grown-up album than the others I have heard. The first track, Fireside, is a powerful riff-driven song which starts quietly and explodes with the second verse. The vocals are effective, with Bryan almost relegated to backing vocals and it also contains brief glimpses of his trademark guitar solos.
The Second Hand (and track) sounds more like earlier stuff – a gentle rock ballad with a strong keyboard background. Flowers for Guns is, I think, going to turn out to be my favourite track. You can tell from the title that it is a serious, message song but the upbeat guitar-playing, flute and backing vocals lend it a playful air that, for me, give it an almost hippies-by-the-campfire feel.
Unoriginal Sin starts off as a keyboard-led track and reminds me a lot of songs from Offerings (Heather and Angela’s side project as Odin Dragonfly). Heather’s vocals are at their best on this track while Henry’s drumming and Bryan’s mid-track guitar solo and superb. Another keyboard track, with Heather on vocals follows and Paper Angels could possibly have benefited from being moved away from Unoriginal Sin. It’s an emotional song and possibly the closest thing to a standard love song that the band are ever going to record. Finishing up with another of Bryan’s screaming guitar solos, it forms a perfect bridge into the second half of the album.
Next up is Tearing at the Faerytale – probably the most grand track on the album, dedicated to Livvy Sparnenn’s dad, Howard. The style of the track changes over it’s length and you get the feeling that this is going to form the backbone of live shows. It’s another song about heroes but, rather than the mythical ones of previous albums, this ones hints of the likes of Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name”.
Compared to Faerytale, Above The Blue is a quiet song, emotional in a quite different way. It features Troy Donockley’s string arrangements and pipes and is, quite simply, a tear-jerker. Yet another track that showcases Heather’s amazing vocals it also hints at military drumming and has a slight Celtic influence.
The album’s title (and “great outdoors”) track seems to be written about Yorkshire, mentioning Whitby Abbey, a chalk white horse and an empty aerodrome and possibly encompasses Bryan’s childhood memories. At least that’s the impression it gives. Bryan’s vocals are full of emotion and his guitar solos soar. This is the track that reminds me most of the earlier albums and, again, the instrumental section should be a joy to hear live.
Anne-Marie’s flute-playing introduces and comes to the fore in Until The Story Ends an unremarkable track except for the burst of Gaelic instrumental towards the end.
And so the album ends with A Different Sky, a piece of almost 60’s pop, reminding me of the likes of The Seekers. A strange departure from their normal style but one that somehow works.
Overall, Glass Shadows is a very good album with just the placement of Paper Angels and the unremarkable Until The Story Ends letting it down. It is just different enough from the earlier releases to maintain interest without being repetitive but just samey enough to be enjoyed as a Mostly Autumn release.
This limited edition copy comes with a ninety minute DVD chronicling the recording of the album, which I haven’t had time to watch yet.
All I have to do now is get hold of the albums I don’t yet have and bide my time until the end of November, when I will be seeing the band live at the Grand Opera House in York.