Previous Mostly Autumn live albums have been something of a disappointment. There have been quite a few, and they’ve all too frequently been poor-quality recordings that have failed to capture the power and beauty of York’s finest progressive rock band a live setting.
The two disks comprising Live 2009 are a quite different prospect. Recorded over a number of dates on the spring 2009 tour, this time they’ve really managed to capture what it was like to be in the front row at one of the those electrifying gigs. They’ve taken care in mixing and mastering so that you can hear every instrument and voice from the eight-piece live band clearly, from Bryan Josh’s Gilmouresque guitar to Anne-Marie Helder’s flute and Olivia Sparnenn’s backing vocals. The end result simply blows every previous Mostly Autumn live release out of the water.
They’ve very sensibly decided to release the entire show bar an ill-advised cover played as the final encore. Somewhat controversially it’s being sold as two separate disks rather than a double-CD, but I’ve reviewing both of them together.
Part I, the shorter of the two disks comprises the first set of the band’s live show, and largely showcases songs with Heather Findlay singing lead. Opening hard rocker “Fading Colours” is vastly superior to the studio version from “Heart Full of Sky” and sets the tone for the rest of the set, right through to the mesmerising closing number, Heather’s signature song “Evergreen”. I’ve always found that song a sort of modern-day version of “Freebird”. An unexpected highlight is Heather’s “Unoriginal Sin”, the song from the recent “Glass Shadows” transformed into an immensely-powerful emotionally-charged piece of music. The harmonies from Olivia Sparnenn and Anne-Marie Helder show just what a band with three top-class female singers is capable of.
Part II carries on where the first disk left off, starting after the interval and including the encore, which makes it significantly longer than part I. It’s more of a balance between the two singers, with more of Bryan Josh’s vocals on songs like the electric folk-rock of “Winter Mountain” and “The Dark Before The Dawn” and of course the epic encore “Heroes Never Die”, with that flute intro from Anne-Marie Helder that never fails to raise the hairs on the back of the neck. Heather’s vocals shine again on the sparse-but-beautiful “Above the Blue”, and the magnificent set-closer “Carpe Diem” culminating in the intertwining vocal and guitar lines building to a symphonic wall of sound. We’ve also got Heather and Olivia performing “Never the Rainbow” as a duet, closing with Olivia’s voice duelling with Bryan Josh’s guitar.
I thought at the time that the 2009 line up of Mostly Autumn was the best live incarnation of the band I’ve ever heard; the return of Iain Jennings on keys and Liam Davidson on second guitar filled out the sound, and Gavin Griffiths on drums added a boost to the energy level that was missing from previous tours. And while Heather Findlay has always been my favourite female vocalist, she lifted her singing to a new level; pouring her entire heart and soul into songs like “Unoriginal Sin” and “Carpe Diem”. With Heather now announcing her departure from the band to embark upon a solo career, these two disks are a fitting way to mark what has turned out to be the end of an era.
The albums can be ordered online from Mostly Autumn Records.
This album came out at the end of last year, but although I commented extensively on message boards about how good it was, I was too busy at the time to write a proper review. This review is therefore better late than never.