Black Sand Records [Release date 05.07.19]
Heather Findlay’s first full solo album is long overdue. And really, you might have expected it to follow relatively hot on the heels of her excellent The Phoenix Suite EP way back in 2011.
Instead – during a period when we’ve seen the emergence of an unprecedented number of bands with female singers of a similar ilk – the ex-Mostly Autumn front woman has really only come up with I Am Snow (2016) – a ‘fireside, candlelit, winter companion’ that, a bit like snow, left no lasting impression on the landscape.
And while she’s not been dilly dallying – contributing live, or on record, to albums and projects by the likes of Richie Blackmore, Jethro Tull, Fish, John Wetton, Uriah Heep, and Thunder – Wild White Horses – produced by Thunder’s Luke Morley – could well be a ‘do or die’ attempt to get her solo career back on track.
So, with Morley having masterminded the recent resurgence of Thunder (and shaping the likes of The Amorettes), the question is whether – at his favoured Rockfield Studios stomping ground — he’s been able to tether a little of that magic to Findlay’s Wild White Horses.
He’s certainly thrown himself fully into the task – Dan McClusky on drums aside, he takes on pretty much all the instrumentation – guitars, bass, piano, Wurlitzer, Hammond, keys, mandolin, recorder, percussion and harmony vocals. Yes, there’s smattering of ‘guests’, and a host of harmony vocalists, but with Morley also co-writing the greater part of the material, you almost have to wonder just whose project it was.
And it turns out to be quite a diverse and eclectic affair – from the easy on the ear Eagles style country rock opener ‘Here’s To You’, through ‘The Island’ and ‘Face In The Sun’ which hark back to Findlay’s earlier works – acoustic, ethereal, meanderings with her vocals full of longing, to the solitary unfettered rocker – ‘Southern Shores’.
As for the guest spots, Thunder’s Danny Bowes croons as only he does on their Linda Ronstadt style soft rock duet ‘Just A Woman’ (although I’m not convinced their voices are a great match), and Ian Anderson plays some typically tasteful flute on ‘Winner’ – a jaunty / folk number that wouldn’t be out of place on Thea Gilmore’s Small World Turning.
But it’s the Celtic, Troy Donockley embroidered ‘I Remember’ that takes the prize. It’s an album highlight, adorned with some lovely fluid guitar lines from Morley, and a number befitting of last year’s excellent Auri debut.
Elsewhere, there’s middle of the road tinged Americana (‘Already Free’), a Kate Bush-style blues torch song (‘Cactus’), eighties balladry (‘Firefly’ and ‘Forget The Rain’), and the title track with a driving rhythm that I can’t quite place (Queen’s ‘Great King Rat’, perhaps?).
Overall, Wild White Horses feels a bit like a throwback to the late eighties/early nineties – say, around the time Shawn Colvin stuck a rich seam of form with Fat City. Back then, or even a decade ago, it wouldn’t have been out of place but time has moved on. And while vocally Findlay was once the darling of the prog scene, some seriously talented new singers have emerged in recent years.
And in that context ‘restrained and predictable’ doesn’t really cut it as we rapidly approach 2020. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad album, but it doesn’t exactly put Heather Findlay back amongst the front-runners in the field. ***1/2
Review by Pete Whalley
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