In a career across three decades Mostly Autumn release what’s arguably a highlight of their legacy.
Release Date: 24th September 2021
Label: Mostly Autumn Records
Format: digital / CD / LP
Cards on the table. Confession time. I’ve lapsed. A staunch fan of Mostly Autumn in their early days in the latter end of the Nineties when For All We Shared… and Spirit Of Autumn Past (not forgetting The Last Bright Light from 2001) were regularly spinning on my CD player. There were frequent trips to the Limelight in Crewe to see MA, often with the likes of Karnataka, including several Christmas shows a couple of days before FC did his rounds. They even started playing The Met in Bury which was handy… We even sat on the front row at York Grand Opera House for a DVD recording.
I was seduced by their combination of the Blackmore/Gilmour/Floyd influence on Bryan Josh, blended with Bob Fauld’s fiddle that gave a folky edge. The guest appearances from Troy Donockley gave a Celtic tinge, often in ambitious and extended arrangements. And then, despite being a season ticket-holding passenger, I lost my way and existed on the fringe, watching the appearance of albums and shifts in the lineup without really reigniting the passion.
Despite my failings, there were regular encounters and the crossing of paths with Bryan (a couple of times at the bar…) and Olivia Sparnenn as guest artists on the 2014 Steve Hackett tour and even sitting close by them on the ‘guest list’ row at Halifax in 2019. Now that’s off my chest and my MA credentials are confirmed, I can justifiably attempt to get back to where I once belonged, back to the fold, by pitching headlong into Graveyard Star whilst trying to avoid calling it Graveyard Shift.
It’s what Bryan Josh calls “a deep, heartfelt reflection of how we were feeling through 2020/2021, a documentation of living through the pandemic. Although a lot of the sadness and otherworldliness was personal to us, I’m sure many will relate to the content. We truly believe that the song-to-song strength of this work could be our finest to date.” Now that’s promising, as is the presence of Troy Donockley and of the marvellous Chris Leslie of Fairport Convention. I’m wondering if the latter will inject some of that early Faulds into the material…
The song titles give an indication of the darkness within. Musically, Shadows and The Plague Bell both do what it says on the tin andmatch their titles; the former built on layers of keyboard texture that thankfully lifts the mood from the ominous depths explored in the former. A little light relief from the threat of howling winds, black hearts and white rag ghosts.
Venturing into something slow, soulful and bluesy (The Harder That You Hurt) that develops into a showcase for a powerhouse vocal from Olivia Sparnenn. She maintains the tension with the two parts of Razor Blade; the beautifully tranquil first half giving way to dark clouds and a rock contrast with Bryan pushing into the spotlight, not least with one of what have become his trademark lead breaks. Got to admit to an obsessive liking for this number…and Endless War that follows a similar template and quite possibly contains the best solo on the record. Perfectly sequenced at the midpoint of a long album.
The strength of the clever use and contrast of voices has always been a feature of Mostly Autumn and the effect isn’t diminished. The contrast in musical styles is no better illustrated than in the pairing of the rock posturing Back In These Arms and the simple beauty of the musical box lilt in Free To Fly whose only indulgence is a brief string fuelled swell.
They’ve opted for the classic bookend sequencing strategy with two immense pieces of progressively tinged hard rock in the title track and Turn Around Slowly. Both arrangements twist and turn through different passages; the title track with Bryan channeling the boy wonder Gilmour in a particularly effective acoustic guitar part and vocal where a distant violin adds some depth before the electric guitar adds a rather fine aching solo. A reminder of what we miss from ol’ Dave, we can get in spades from Bryan. An early chance to get those lighters in the air too. And while Turn Around Slowly might start in an inauspicious and vaguely pastoral fashion, it soon catches the wind in its sails and boldly marches on. All those things you ever loved about Mostly Autumn are visited in the final seven minutes. Glorious, epic and fist pumping and a dash of Donockley to stir the spirit.
Having started a few paragraphs ago by confessing my sins, I feel that a solid bout of Mostly Autumn will provide sufficient redemption. Graveyard Star is a pretty sound place to start. The spirit of the past has reawakened.
Despite the temptation to show off one of my favourites from their early days, here’s Run For The Sun from the 2019 White Rainbow album.