“A solo album? Why not! I would love to do one and the others, especially Bryan Josh really encourage it. I have given it a lot of thoughts. First I have to find some other great musicians. I have a few people in mind, but we shall see. It's a very exciting prospect for me and I see it in the not so distant future.” These are the words of Heather Findlay during an interview I had with her for Background Magazine back in 2003 when she still was a member of Mostly Autumn. Most prog rock devotees know that she'd left the band in 2010 in order to pursue a solo career. Her decision to leave MA came more or less as a surprise. Especially for me because only a couple of months before the announcement she made plans to meet me with the band next year. Well, she certainly can keep a secret as the idea of quitting must have been in her mind for a while. Finally she left the warm nest to record a solo album, just like she said in 2003. However, at that point in time she probably didn't consider to leave. That's just how things go in life; you never know what the future holds in store for you.
I guess most fans of MA were eager to listen to her first solo efforts. This time she'd made all the musical decisions herself like writing the songs and looking out for the right musicians to record and work with. Right from the start it turned out that Chris Johnson, ex-member of MA, was willing to give her musical assistance on guitar and vocals. He'd been in the band for a short period of time and he'd also written some music for MA. Recently the fruits of this collaboration were finally presented to the press and to Heather's fans on the first of a series of four EP-releases. The first one is The Phoenix Suite containing five tracks with a total time of merely 21 minutes. Of course Heather did all the lead vocals and most of the backing vocals and according to the credits she also did some percussion. It's a bit strange that she didn't play the acoustic guitar or some keyboard parts since she can handle them all. I guess she'd find more skilled musicians to contribute on her first release. Next to Chris Johnson there's Alex Cromarty on drums, Dave Kilminster (John Wetton, Roger Waters) on guitar and Steve Vantsis (Fish) on bass guitar.
I was rather surprised by the content of this five-track release. I have to admit that I more or less expected the same style of music made by MA on The Phoenix Suite, but that isn't the case. You can hardly describe these songs as progressive rock. The style of music strongly shifts towards mainstream rock. It's more in the vein of The Fabric (see review), the debut album Chris Johnson recorded with his new band Parade, or Satellite (see review) by Panic Room. All five tracks are strongly guitar-oriented without having keyboards at all. Heather found a fine balance in writing ballads and up-tempo songs. The album opens with Red Dust, an up-tempo guitar rock song; no more, no less. The second piece Phoenix shows Heather Findlay's mellow side, but with Cellophane she returns to the straight-forward rock format. Seven can be described as a true ballad and Mona Lisa, the longest piece ends up Heather's first musical solo effort. It's again up-tempo rock and I think the guitar solo is the best instrumental part on The Phoenix Suite.
Well, it's rather difficult for me to judge the first release of Heather Findlay since I know her personally and that makes it even harder to give an objective judgment. However, the most difficult thing is the fact that she got estranged from progressive (folk) rock music. This must have been difficult, because most people know her from that specific musical genre. On the other hand it's very brave to follow her heart trying to write music that means a lot to her. Fortunately she still sings very emotional on The Phoenix Suite and she organized most things on her own to get this album released. So ultimately I can only be positive about The Phoenix Suite despite the fact that it doesn't contain the prog rock music I like to listen to. Hopefully the next EPs will contain more Mostly Autumn or prog rock related material. It certainly will satisfy her fans. She must have made a tough decision to go solo after being the face in one of the leading bands in the prog scene for thirteen years. I respect the step she'd taken and therefore I can only say: thumbs up for taking that risk. Let's give her the chance to work on her solo career!
*** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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