Mostly Autumn

O2 Academy, Newcastle

24 April 2010

Let me say up front that I thought Olivia Sparnenn was the wrong choice to sing lead for Mostly Autumn.

If you've read my Breathing Space reviews, you'll know how much her voice impresses me and how much I love her work with Breathing Space.

But it's the wrong voice to sing the songs Heather used to sing. Wrong range, wrong tone, wrong style. I thought Bryan had made a mistake in choosing her—or rather, had made the choice that was convenient instead of the one that was good for the band.

So I thought.

Until I heard her last night.

And, oh my God, she was magnificent.

She sang everything perfectly, even the songs that I didn't think would fall in her natural range, and I think the quality of her voice must have blown away everyone in the place. And the way she interacted with the band and audience, and handled the technical gremlins that plagued the start of the set, showed so much charm and confidence that you could believe she had always been there in the centre of the stage.

And it's not just me saying that, the whole audience was loudly appreciative.

Despite her technical excellence in the songs, I still think she needs more time to find the right way—her way—to sing some of them. Throughout the first half of the gig, I felt she was limiting her voice too much to its lower register to fit the songs as written for Heather. And while she does have a beautiful low voice (I've said before she should make more use of it in Breathing Space), it felt too much like she was trying to be Heather. And because of the muddy sound in the first half (I remember it being much better at the venue last year so I don't know what went wrong) it meant her vocals weren't rising cleanly above the instruments. This was highlighted by the two surprise additions to the first half set: The Rain Song and Questioning Eyes, both Breathing Space songs. With songs written for her voice, she finally got the chance to show us what she can really do. Result: these songs were the highlights of the first half. I'd like to bet most of the audience hadn't heard these songs before and yet they got some of the biggest cheers of the night.

The set list was changed somewhat from the Leamington gig. Apart from the two Breathing Space songs, they included Slow Down from the Josh & Co. CD. Also in were some Mostly Autumn tracks not heard for a while, like Out of the Green Sky, Storms Over Still Water (a great choice for Olivia's voice), The Last Climb, and Dreaming (which has a superb instrumental ending to replace the original layered vocal harmonies).

By the second half of the show, it was sounding like everything was written personally for her. I think it was when she sang Evergreen and I thought... yes... this sounds right... that I knew it was all going to work.

So, the next time you hear me disagree with anything Bryan does with Mostly Autumn, just remind me that this was the best concert I've ever seen. And I'll shut up.

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