Saturday, September 29, 2018

Review of Justin Hayward and John Lodge's "Blue Jays"

I just posted this review on the Sputnik Music website earlier this afternoon:

Review Summary: Calling all Moody Blues fans.

People tend to see The Moody Blues' career as having several distinct periods. Their first album, The Magnificent Moodies in 1965, was an outlier -- it has different personnel than the band had during their best-known period, and an entirely different style. And, in fact, for many years, the band themselves didn't recognize this LP as part of their discography, which is why their eighthalbum is called Seventh Sojourn and their ninth album is named Octave -- they were just pretending that The Magnificent Moodies didn't exist. 

Then, in 1966, vocalist/guitarist Denny Laine left the group (he would eventually go on to a successful career with Paul McCartney and Wings), as did bass player/vocalist Clint Warwick (who quit the music business entirely, and became a carpenter). They were eventually replaced by vocalist/guitarist Justin Hayward and bass player John Lodge. This led to the golden era of the band's existence, the seven-album period beginning with 1967's Days of Future Passed and ending with 1972's Seventh Sojourn. Gone were the R&B aspirations of The Magnificent Moodies, forever replaced by the gentle progressive rock style The Moody Blues came to be famous for. After this period, the band went on hiatus for six years, Pinder left the group entirely, and while the Moody's had their moments after that, I think it would be fair to say that they never again reached the same heights that they hit during this era.

But if those albums were ranked #'s 1-7 in the Moody Blues' career, then there's a #7a that modern music fans seem to have forgotten about. That would be the album Blue Jays, released in 1975 by Moody members Justin Hayward & John Lodge. 

What happened was that by the time Seventh Sojourn was released, there was enough tension happening within the Moodys that everyone agreed they needed a break. During the period that followed, Mike Pinder moved to America, and invited Justin Hayward to work on a project with him. Soon thereafter, John Lodge and Moodys' producer Tony Clarke got involved, and Pinder decided to drop out and make a solo album (which resulted in 1976 LP The Promise, not a bad bit of work itself). Hayward, Lodge and Clarke continued working together, and the result was the 1975 Blue Jays album.

Blue Jays was in many ways a worthy successor to Seventh Sojourn -- in fact, a Moody's fan could be forgiven if upon first listen, they just assumed it was an actual Moody Blues LP. This is especially so thanks to Clarke's production. The only things that give the game away are the absence of the occasional Ray Thomas vocal, and the replacement of Mike Pinder's keyboards (especially his sweeping mellotron) by various classical musical instruments such as violins, violas, cellos, pianos and a little bit of French horn. The seven-piece band that recorded the album included Hayward and Lodge, plus several members of Providence (The Moodys' Threshold Records label mates), and Graham Deakin, the drummer for John Entwistle's band Ox. Of the ten tracks on the original LP, Hayward sings the majority of the lead vocals. As for the songwriting, Hayward is credited with five of the tracks, and Lodge with three. The two claim dual writing credit for the other two. As was typical for the Moodys, the lyrics for the album tend to be pretty optimistic, with most touching on the topics of friendship and brotherhood.

Blue Jays did pretty well on the charts, coming in at #4 on the UK Albums Chart, and # 16 on the American Billboard 200. The Hayward-penned song "I Dreamed Last Night" also reached # 47 on the Billboard singles chart. I can't speak for the UK, but the album (and the single) certainly got its fair share of airplay on American FM radio. Other highlights from it include a quiet, pretty Hayward number called "Who Are You Now", and "Remember Me (My Friend)" one of the songs co-written by Hayward and Lodge. Lodge's best track on the LP is probably "Saved By the Music", which features some exciting classical orchestration on the intro and choruses, interspersed with delicate piano and acoustic guitar on the verses. Another Hayward number, "Nights, Winters, Years", might be a little overblown, but it's also classic Moodys -- both graceful and lovely. As the last song on Side 1 of the original vinyl, it ends that side in appropriately grand fashion.

Although I like some of the work The Moody Blues did later in their career, Blue Jays is probably a better album overall than any LP the Moodys released post-Seventh Sojourn. As such, it's must listening for any Moody Blues fan.

Rating: 3 of 5 stars