By Chris Moore:
Spirits of the Western Sky (Justin Hayward)
Producer: Justin Hayward & Alberto Parodi
Released: February 26, 2013
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Top Two Tracks: “In Your Blue Eyes” & “One Day, Someday”
For Moody Blues fans, it has been a long stretch indeed since the band last released a studio album of all-new material: since 1999’s Strange Times to be specific. With the release of this latest Justin Hayward solo album, his first since 1996, it would be difficult not to see this as the most exciting Moody Blues-related recording of the past decade and a half. (No pressure, right?) Whether you are a glass-half-full person who sees any new Moodies-related music as a win or a glass-half-empty person who feels his/her expectations impossible to meet after all this time, Spirits of the Western Sky has something to offer, though it may be less than a new Moodies album would offer. From the signature Hayward opening track “In Your Blue Eyes” to the soaring “One Day, Someday” and the beautiful, expansive “The Western Sky,” Spirits gets off to a strong start. “The Eastern Sun” is well-rendered, if a bit underwhelming, but the pacing is promptly reinvigorated by the rollicking “On The Road To Love,” a track vaguely reminiscent of a late sixties rock-paced album track. The pace again slows down for the aptly titled “Lazy Afternoon,” though this track offers many more subtle layers and charms for repeated listens. “In the Beginning” follows, offering up one of the mid-album gems that have practically become expected on Moody Blues albums since the sixties. The following three songs form a suite of country/bluegrass tracks, only one of which is previously unreleased. (Ironically, at least one Spirits review has referred to these songs as a new direction for Hayward.) Fans will quickly recognize Present alum “It’s Cold Outside of Your Heart,” as well as his solo track “Broken Dream” that was first released as track two on The View from the Hill (1996). “What You Resist Persists” is the clear standout here, and not only because it is the only new effort. The album proper concludes with “Captivated By You,” a fittingly dynamic ending to a strong solo effort. What follows – an alternate, extended version of “One Day, Someday,” the hiccup of “Rising,” and two progressively worse remixes of “Out There Somewhere” – is a bit baffling, especially considering that it is not separated from the core tracks by so much as an extra space on the back of the album. All told, with a couple exceptions, Spirits of the Western Sky is what you would expect from a Justin Hayward solo album and should only serve to fan the flames of desire burning in the hearts of Moody Blues fans for another release from what is perhaps the greatest, most ambitious studio band in the history of rock music. For now, Spirits will have to do; and, to be fair, it is clearly a labor of love that is equal parts soaring energy and careful production, evidence that Justin Hayward’s smooth vocals and expert guitar work are as strong as ever, and a reminder that time and age have not removed or diminished the ambition and vision of this Moody Blue.