Two albums and two sides of Hayley Griffiths.
Release Date: 20th January 2023
Label: Posh And Rock
Format: CD / vinyl / digital
With the release of two albums on the same day, Hayley Griffiths joins the likes of Springsteen (Human Touch/Lucky Town) and Guns’N’Roses (Use Your Illusion I/II) and finds herself in illustrious company in an outpouring of work. Unlike her predecessors, the two albums, Far From Here and Melanie both look and sound very different beasts.
Far From Here is indeed the beast. Even a brief encounter with the dramatic heavy rock featured title track (see below where the alter ego is in full flow) finds Hayley in a position not dissimilar to her frontperson/singer role in a brief spell but productive spell with Karnataka. This time it’s her name on the ticket on the first official album from the band which includes former Karnataka band mates, Cagri Tozluoglu (keyboards) and Jimmy Pallagrosi (drums) alongside virtuoso guitarist Mathieu Spaeter (Franck Carducci/Drifting Sun) and Jordan Brown (bass).
The contrast, as we shall see, is evident from the opening bars of Broken Lullaby, although there’s a common thread with the focus on big arrangements that take the band material frequently into certainly loud and heavier and often symphonic territories. All bursting of course, with seductive melodies and vocal lines, as Heavy Rock anthems vie with big ballads with sparkle and glamour.
Anyone familiar with Hayley’s work with Karnataka will appreciate the grandiosity (in a good way) which gains from a distinctly heavier approach on more than several occasions. Both Broken Lullaby and Last Goodbye give a hint of what’s to come in the title track where the power chords and chunks of harsh guitar delivered at a pace are balanced with the contrast of a sweetly melodic chorus.
The opening chords of Perfect Lie might suggest a cover of Master Of Puppets, but the orchestral waves and piano take us more Evanescence and even when the intensity is dialled down as in the gentle pace and percussion patter in Made My Bed, the effect is to lead towards and highlight another lush melody. In a world of competition, and with a surplus of of choices, this may be a personal highligh of the goodies contained within Melanie. Final answer and yes it is the pick of the Melanie pops. Nothing drastic or with ‘Eurovision winner’ plastered all over it (there’s a thought…) but surely tone that back in the day would have been ideal for an assault on the hit parade.
Talking established names, the overlay of vocal parts at the start of Little Star is very ‘solo Jon Anderson-ish while the legend that is Big Big Train drummer Nick D’Virgilio features as a guest vocalist on closing track Dust To Gold. The instrumental overture is de rigeur for Melanie and with a wealth of experience behind him in duetting (ask Nela Morse, David Longdon etc) Nick complements Hayley perfectly.
A further fifteen minutes with three bonus tracks are a genuine bonus – hearing ‘more of the same’ when it’s so thrilling is never a issue, but we head into more atmospheric mid paced territory in Separated By Glass (think Within Temptation here…) as the piano becomes the featured instrument here an in Aurora. Haunted has more of a musical theatre vibe. No lessening of quality yet you can appreciate why the three didn’t quite make the final album sequence.
Some might sniff at ‘just’ seven tracks, but amongst them are bangers and belters with no skimping on melody that sees Hayley’s transition to Rock fully justified.
Far From Here shows a distinctly different side of the coin. A set that is made up of a whole bunch of traditional songs and follows the path set by Celtic Rose which appeared over a decade ago.
It’s a set that switches from peaceful and relaxing to stirring and dance-worthy, which will have fans embracing a warm familiarity with songs that Hayley will have sung many times and appear as old friends: Scarborough Fair – oft mockingly referred to as the Simon & Garfunkel song by gnarled folkies – Loch Lomond, The Parting Glass and The Skye Boat Song all make the cut. The latter always conjuring up visions of the young Rob Halford belting it out to his classmates and the dawn of realisation where his future lay
However, it’s an uplifting original that acts as a big production curtain-raiser. Original as in written by Mike Stobbie, album producer and former member of Scots Prog Rockers Pallas (pause for a nostalgic sigh…). It’s a typically rousing piece and some might even imagine the Scotland rugby team belting this out at the start of a six nations international, regardless of the lyrical content. We’re in Flower Of Scotland territory with a reminder of Hayley’s previous life in the Riverdance/Lord Of The Dance phenomenon. And so the Celtic classics roll on with some sweeping arrangements and instrumentation amongst the harps, bagpipes and fiddles that nails the folk colours to the mast.
Star Of The County Down is a percussion fuelled jig while both Black Is The Colour and The Sky Boat Song offer glimpses of stately arrangements that come as standard, building from refined and restrained intros into swelling climaxes, that of The Skye Boat Song fading out with an ominous drum march. The drones of She Moved Through The Fair might recall Jim and Charlie of Simple Minds and their interpretation on Belfast Child. Haunting and ethereal, yet moving slowly towards the contribution of an angelic choir.
A lovely forty-minute diversion with some long-loved folk songs given a fine finish, in what, all considered, might be the perfect vehicle for Hayley’s voice. Far From Home? She’s right at home…