CD Review: Justin Hayward – Spirits of the Western Sky

CD Review: Justin Hayward  Spirits of the Western Sky
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Review: B

Justin Hayward - Spirits of the Western Sky 2013
Justin Hayward hasn’t completely gone country. Only part of Spirits of the Western Sky, Hayward’s first solo album since 1996’s The View from the Hill, was recorded in Nashville, and it doesn’t take an Earl Scruggs or an Emmylou Harris to figure out which songs he did in Music City.

Accented with plucked banjo, some light fiddle and mandolin, the gorgeously rendered, heartfelt acoustic sketches “It’s Cold Outside of Your Heart,” “What You Resist Persists” and “Broken Dream” roll around in down-home bluegrass and glow incandescently, like fireflies trapped in a Mason jar. And the breezy pop touch of “Captivated by You,” seemingly spun from pure ‘70s soft-rock gold, could easily have taken inspiration from some of country’s best songwriters – that is if the choruses weren’t so lushly orchestrated. 

Concerned as always with matters of the heart and spirituality, the Moody Blues’ lead vocalist and guitarist also spent time recording in Genoa, Italy, and there’s a sophisticated pop sensibility at work here that takes advantage of Academy Award-winning composer Anne Dudley’s much-ballyhooed skills. Always willing to flesh out skeletal arrangements with orchestral flourishes, as the Moody Blues have often done, Hayward strums his acoustic guitar so lightly that it’s almost whispering as he puts Dudley’s talents to work on such dreamy, string-laden fare as “One Day, Someday,” “The Eastern Sun” and “The Western Sky.” None of them are quite as intoxicating as the melodic cocktails served by Burt Bacharach or as mysterious and bruised as the soul of Nick Drake, but Hayward is getting close.

What sinks Spirits of the Western Sky is how drenched in heavy-handed sentimentality – both musically and lyrically – the record is, as the always-earnest Hayward just can’t help but go overboard on “In Your Blue Eyes” and whitewash “On the Road to Love” in utter pop blandness. A romantic at heart, Hayward is always going to go for the grand heartfelt gesture, and sometimes it’s truly gorgeous and sometimes it’s the wan, sickly “Lazy Afternoon” that comes through the door. And then there’s the matter of the two remixed electronic dance versions of the Moody Blues favorite “Out There Somewhere” that close Spirits of the Western Sky. Surprisingly contemporary sounding – unlike that dated, cringe-worthy album cover – and hypnotic, they still feel as completely out of place as … well, Justin Hayward at a rave.

-          Peter Lindblad


  1. Pleased you seemed to enjoy most of the new release. I thought it was incandescent too -- lovely choice of words there, Peter. Yes, a few tracks surprised and jolted me upright just as I drifted between the cushions. I wouldn't change a thing. Spirits is an effervescent cocktail that lulls before the buzz. Keeps us guessing but compelling regardless. I rather like the cover. Horizons and the sea are in the Hayward DNA. The artist is faithfully true to himself, always genuine, with a sense of adventure. Funny, I could imagine him at a rave or an opera ... never out of place or out of time.

  2. It's funny, Blanche. When I first listened to it, I didn't like, but it's a grower. Really sophisticated pop stuff going on here. I'm glad you liked the review. What you say is absolutely true about Hayward ... he is an artist that is faithfully true to himself. Nicely worded ...