Review Summary: Are they a folk band, or a Pink Floyd wannabe? Both. And they're actually good at what they do.
Any of you who have followed Ritchie Blackmore's career over the years will know what he's out doing now. He's left Deep Purple and has now formed his own Renaissance-inspired folk band called Blackmore's Night, with a female singer called Candice Night doing the vocals for them.
Any of you who have followed Bryan Josh's career over the year, will know what he's out doing now. He didn't leave Deep Purple (he sounds more like David Gilmour gave him every possible guitar lesson in his youth), and he's formed his own Lord of the Rings-inspired folk band. He's also got a female vocalist (named Heather Findlay), doing part of the vocals for him!
We're writing the year 1999, and Josh's newly formed outfit released their debut For All We Shared. The reason I drew the above analogy with Ritchie Blackmore's career is because in the early stages of Mostly Autumn, they sounded more like a folk band a la (you guessed it) Blackmore's Night than the Pink Floyd-influence which their music would gradually envelop more and more (although there are clear traces of it in here as well.) There is a definite similarity in sound between the two, but there's one thing that Mostly Autumn is that Blackmore's Night isn't, and that is they still have more of a rock edge to them.
Another main difference is that Mostly Autumn uses more than one vocalist to allow for duets and vocal harmonies. Findlay is not as present here as on other MA albums, and she's providing some (but far less) vocal lines than she would on the more recent outings, and the main bulk of the leftover lines are with Bryan Josh, who, next to providing most of the songs and all the good guitar solos, also takes on the vocalist's job. It's probably the main flaw of the album, because Josh may have a charming voice, but on this album he likes to waver offkey occasionally, making the vocal experience far more hit-and-miss than it became on later albums. On "The Last Climb", he also seems to channel Roger Waters circa The Wall, which again shows that the Pink Floyd influences were already coming through in the early stages of the music.
Musically they do clearly have a folk tone to them, with many flutes and pipes around on the album. Folklore seems to be some sort of Irish jig, interspersed with more folk melodies on acoustic and electric guitar, and Shenanigans's title doesn't hide any of the song's intentions at all. Out of the Inn starts off with a barroom jest, taken straight out of the Lord of the Rings (it's the song Frodo sings at the Prancing Pony.)
However, they also take cues from prog rock, especially with song lengths and atmospheric use of keyboards as well as extended guitar solos. The band often recalls early Genesis with their use of flutes, and their song lengths resemble that of many other prog rock bands, often eclipsing seven minutes in length. They also enjoy using the crescendo technique, especially on the album's best track, Heroes Never Die. Still a fan favourite live to this day, the song runs the gamut from soft acoustic strumming, but slowly but surely transformed into a full-fledged piece, complete with lovely vocal harmonies in the chorus. Josh delivers a grand guitar solo at the end, reminiscent of (you guessed it), David Gilmour's spacey guitar playing.
The album does have a few uneven spots however. Closing track the Night Sky, is a Mostly Autumn epic by numbers and seems to revel more in its atmospheres and meandering than turning into a solid composition. Josh's vocals, as mentioned, can grate and are definitely a hate/love-factor. And despite the earnest nature of the music, songs about the Lord of the Rings do get cheesy sometimes (though I love it by all means!)
However, for what it is, it's an amazing amalgam of psychedelic prog rock and folk music, and even though the formula would be perfected on 2000's Spirit of Autumn Past and 2001's The Last Bright Light, this is a recommended release nonetheless. It's got the atmospheres, and it's got a unique folk element that will keep you hooked for a while. This album represents the excellent first steps of a young and talented band, and it's sad to see that eight years later, they still haven't amassed the recognition and talent they deserve. So do the band and yourselves a favour and pick up a cd by this band, because they have been criminally overlooked up until now.