Stolen Earth formed early in 2011 from the ashes of the much-loved York progressive rock band Breathing Space, who had split at the beginning of the year. They include no fewer than four members of Breathing Space’s short-lived final incarnation, including recently joined vocalist Heidi Widdop and guitarist Adam Dawson. Only the rock-solid rhythm section of Paul Teasdale and Barry Cassells remain from the linuep of Breathing Space’s final albums.
They quickly established a reputation as a powerful live act, with a strong set of songs including a couple performed during the last days of Breathing Space, which fuelled high expectations for their first album. That album, “A Far Cry From Home” is now out.
The band have successfully captured the big wide-screen sound of their live shows on record. The album gets off to a strong start with the opening driving rocker “Unnatural Disaster”, with more than a hint of Uriah Heep about it. John Sykes’ keyboards focus on atmosphere and texture rather than solos, with a lot of Hammond organ, leaving Adam Dawson’s guitar as the main lead instrument, and Heidi’s raw bluesy vocal style is a big contrast with most other bands in the scene.
Heidi’s semi-acoustic “Soul in a Jar” shows the bands’ softer side, featuring some very evocative low whistle. Other highlights include Adam’s “Mirror Mirror”, with some fantastic slide guitar. “Bitterness Fades” again has a Uriah Heep vibe, this time evoking their late-70s “Fallen Angel” era.
Adam Dawson sings lead on a couple of songs, with Heidi adding harmonies, one of them being the atmospheric “Silver Skies”, another album highlight, and one of the songs first performed live back in Breathing Space days. The album ends with the epic “Perfect Wave”, ending in extended guitar work-out.
Stolen Earth do a great line in epic wall-of-sound rock ballads with lengthy guitar solos, with many songs clocking in at seven, eight or even nine minutes in length. One or two shorter, punchier songs might have added some variety, but you can’t escape the fact the band do what they do well.
There’s a lot of Mostly Autumn’s Liam Davison in Adam Dawson’s guitar playing; indeed many of the instrumental passages have a similar vibe to parts of Davison’s 2011 solo album “A Treasure of Well-Set Jewels”. The combination of low whistle and Floydian atmospherics is also always going to evoke early Mostly Autumn, although Heidi Widdop’s has a very different vocal style, which is ironic when Heidi was actually a member of a very early lineup of that band.
One concern is that the similarity to early Mostly Autumn could be something of a double-edged sword. On the plus side, this album ought to appeal strongly to fans of Mostly Autumn’s early days, especially as that band have long since have moved on, adopting a harder-edged and more contemporary sound. But I’ve always felt that one reason for Breathing Space’s relative lack of success was that they never quite managed to establish a clear identity of their own. Hopefully Stolen Earth will manage to avoid falling into the same trap.
A couple of caveats aside, “A Far Cry From Home” is still a very good record. If you love well-crafted grown-up music performed by real singers and musicians putting their heart and soul into what they’re doing, I can strongly recommend this album.
The album is available from the Stolen Earth website.