It was almost inevitable that Mostly Autumn would release a live album in the short term with their new lead singer Olivia Sparnenn. Recently they already released a live album containing the last performance of their former lead singer Heather Findlay. That Night In Leamington (see review) marked the end of a wonderful episode both for the band and for Heather being their front lady for thirteen years. I guess MA was eager to show their audience that the start of a new era had been productive so far and there isn't a better way to show it than with a live album. I saw Olivia fronting the band a couple of times now and I liked it a lot. Therefore the release of Still Beautiful was something I was looking out for. However, it could have been disappointing, since my expectations ran high, but fortunately it wasn't.
The almost two hours of live music are worthwhile listening to due to the very inspiring performance and the songs they had chosen to perform. I think, it was a wise decision to include a number of songs from their latest album Go Well Diamond Heart (2010, see review). By doing so, listeners didn't get the same tracks as on That Night In Leamington. Songs as Deep In Borrowdale, Something Better, And When The War Is Over... and the title track almost sound as good as the original versions of the studio album. Actually the excellent groove made me realize that I was listening to live recordings. I was a bit surprised that even songs from the bonus disc were performed like Ice and Forever Young, indicating that MA take their bonus material very seriously.
I couldn't resist comparing Olivia's vocals to those of Heather Findlay. I wondered how the songs, normally sang by Heather, would sound when performed by Olivia. Curiously I had the feeling that I was still listening to Heather on tracks like Evergreen, Passengers and Answer The Question. On these pieces I could hardly hear any difference, but Olivia clearly left her mark upon the songs of which she wrote the lyrics like Questioning Eyes, And When The War Is Over... and Forever Young. I wonder why Questioning Eyes is still in the set list of MA. This song originates from the album Below The Radar (see review) by Breathing Space and is certainly one of the highlights of Still Beautiful. Maybe this is something guitarist Bryan Josh was also aware of and therefore kept it on the set list. Anyway, it'll give him a chance to play an excellent solo at the end of the song. Other highlights are the instrumental Distant Train, Heroes Never Die - especially the beautiful intro - and the Pink Floyd inspired pieces Evergreen and The Last Climb.
Still Beautiful once again proves that Mostly Autumn is still a great live band even without Heather Findlay. Olivia Sparnenn and all musicians undoubtedly deliver outstanding contributions to this album. All songs are still performed with passion and emotion, just like we're used to when Heather fronted the band. Therefore I can recommend this album to all devotees of progressive rock and especially the fans of Mostly Autumn. They're still alive and kicking!
***+ Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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