Hayley Griffiths — Far From Here
At the end of my 2020 review of their live CD/DVD set Live At 't Blok, I expressed my hope that we would hear more soon from this fine band. Over two years have passed since then and suddenly Griffiths has released two new and completely different albums. It characterises her as an independent artist who dares to do all things exactly the way she wants!
In the promo set sent for review, the emphasis is laid heavily on the Far From Here album on which she was helped by Mike Stobbie of Pallas-fame, including a video of the title track. That album features a collection of traditional folk songs arranged in a film soundtrack way, preceded by an original Mike Stobbie song. The other album entitled Melanie presents the listener with the rock side of Griffith and her band. Both albums are reviewed here.
In 2011 Hayley Griffiths recorded the Celtic Rose folk album with traditional and contemporary celtic songs. Although I've never come across that album, her website states that it has been quite successful, presumably in the UK and Ireland. Considering her background as vocalist in Michael Flatley's musical endeavour Riverdance, it comes as no surprise that she would record a successor to that album.
And now it is here, entitled Far From Here, containing 10 traditional folk themes, ranging from the more-than-well-known Scarborough Fair and She Moved Through The Fair, to the more obscure Black Is The Colour.
Griffiths has given these songs her own special treatment, choosing for a soundtrack approach, which is quite courageous. Yet in some songs that approach becomes a big disadvantage, as her dignified pronunciation in combination with the slightly bombastic musical arrangement doesn't match well with the spontaneous mood these traditional songs were meant to express. The more well-known songs become thus too opera-like, too courteous, absolutely not folky at all. Maybe she should better have chosen lesser-known traditional pieces. Who is waiting for just another version of Scarborough Fair, here sounding quite similar to an eighties television series tune, or for a very civilised She Moved Through The Fair?
A real low is When You Were Sweet Sixteen which is sung extremely slowly with a sort of cheesy James Last orchestral arrangement as musical background. Horrendous, even for very late in the evening.
In other songs her approach works better. For instance Black Is The Colour becomes a really beautiful, slow ballad with subtle instrumentation with soft acoustic guitar, melancholic violin and restrained Mellotron combined with the sparse but very fitting use of the bodhran. The treatment of this song is tasteful which makes it a highlight on the album. Caledonia is another very nice track, benefiting from the fine use of uillean pipes, a nice choir and a lush orchestration. It closes off the album in a positive way.
The title track is another one I like, an original song composed by Mike Stobbie. It has a higher pace than most of the other songs on the album. The musical accompaniment with violin and pipes is folky and the vocal melody suits Griffiths' voice well. I find it quite hard to imagine Stobbie as composer and arranger when you've come to know him from his work in his Scottish heavy-prog band.
The musical performance on this album is good, Griffiths' singing is good, the playing, the arrangements and the production are top-notch. So the musical quality of this album goes without saying. Rating it low has to do with only four highlights out of eleven songs, which is far too few, with a mediocre choice of material and with the too cheesy musical arrangement of the music. This album has very little to do with prog and I also doubt if folk fans will find much to enjoy here.
Too bad, I had hoped for more. But there is another new album to review...
Hayley Griffiths Band — Melanie
Together with the celtic-orientated Far From Here album, Hayley Griffiths released the rock album Melanie, this time with her band. The album features seven new tracks together with three bonus tracks that had been released as singles earlier.
Melanie is for sure a totally different affair to the aforementioned folk album. From the first heavy guitar riff in the opener Broken Lullaby it is apparent that she and her band have settled themselves into a completely different musical environment with pumping rhythms, electric guitar solos and walls of keyboard sounds that remind me immediately of symphonic metal bands such as Within Temptation, Evanescence and Kingfisher Sky, as well as female-fronted rock bands like Touchstone and The Reasoning. The comparison with these bands is favourable, this album matches the high standards of those bands.
Apart from Hayley on vocals, the band consists of her former Karnataka bandmates Cagri Tozluoglu on keyboards and Jimmy Pallagrosi on drums. The band is completed by lead guitarist Mathieu Spaeter (Franck Carducci, Drifting Sun) and Jordan Brown (bass). The album has been mixed by Romesh Dodangoda (a.o. Motörhead) which partly explains the heavy sound.
As part of the review package some information was included on the band, while the full lyrics of the songs, printed in a very tasteful booklet, were also sent. Unfortunately no credits of the songs were given nor information on production or the fine artwork; a serious omission.
The strong opener Lullaby sets the scene well for this album. After the opening synth sounds, the electric guitar bursts-in followed by orchestral synths and vocals. The song is dynamic with a good, pumping rhythm, a somewhat quieter middle part, a very fine electric guitar solo followed by a similar synth solo. The song radiates energy. Griffiths' voice blends remarkably well in this heavy wall of sound and the music will tempt many to sing along, without sounding commercial at all.
Last Goodbye is slightly calmer, with sparse instrumentation during the verses and full band support during the appealing choruses. The electric guitar gradually starts to dominate during the song and bursts out in a solo after the quiet vocal middle part, backed by fine Mellotron.
The title track is again a heavy rock song based upon a heavy electric guitar riff. Griffiths puts a lot of raw energy into her singing here, and she succeeds very well. This type of emotional singing suits her far better than the sophisticated and dignified singing on Far From Here. Some special percussion and electronic drums are used in a very tasteful manner throughout the song. Spelling of the seven letters forming the title in the second half of the song is something different and quite nice.
Perfect Lie and Little Star are slower and lighter songs. Musically these made me think of Alanis Morrissette because of the use of heavy guitars during the choruses, while the verses are lighter and quieter. Both are fine songs, although not very special.
The ballad on the album is Made My Bed. It has a very sparse but subtle instrumentation, featuring light drums, the occasional electric guitar, violin-like keys and harmony singing in the chorus. Again, Griffiths' voice here is much stronger; much more natural than on the folk album.
Dust To Gold features Nick D'Virgilio (Big Big Train) on vocals. It is a rather heavy song which brings his former band Spock's Beard to mind because of the intense vocals and the alternation of heavy and quieter parts. Their two voices blend extremely well and definitely gives me a taste for more. It is a fine proggy end to a very enjoyable album.
The three bonus songs show the more poppy side of the band, especially in the rather mellow Aurora. These are all nice songs, very acceptable for a wide audience I guess, but they are also a bit polished and therefore quite anonymous. I prefer the live renditions of all three on their recent Live At 't Blok DVD.
Also included in the package was the information on the imminent British tour. On that tour, the Far From Here album will be played before the break, while the Melanie album will be played after. I'm curious if that will work out fine, as these two albums are so different. Maybe there are quite a few fans who like both albums, but for me this heavy album is without doubt the favourite. I expect that the album will also appeal fans of gothic female-fronted bands as well as fans of heavy female rock bands. They should give this album a serious try. Recommended!
After this review was written, it became known that the March 2023 dates of the tour would be rescheduled due to personal circumstances. Check the Facebook page for more information.