Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Music, TV: Spirits... Live, by Justin Hayward

I've never been a fan of The Moody Blues, but I love their 1980s hit song “Your Wildest Dreams” and I love their early 1990s PBS special A Night at Red Rocks. And I love Moody Blues lead singer/songwriter Justin Hayward's new PBS special Spirits... Live just as much as Red Rocks, if not more. Both are excellent presentations of excellent music.

If you like the same singer/songwriters I'm into, such as John Denver, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Michael Nesmith, you'll most probably enjoy Justin Hayward as well. He operates in a similar country/folk/pop/rock vein, yet with his own inimitable, irresistible style.

On this outing, Hayward performs many of his old band and solo classics (“Nights in White Satin,” “Tuesday Afternoon”) and introduces new wonders (“The Western Sky”), but with a slightly stripped down sound. Foregoing a bassist and a drummer, Hayward sings and plays lead and rhythm on various acoustic guitars, with another guitarist providing electric and acoustic accompaniment and two keyboardists providing backing vocals and lush orchestrations and percussion.

Hayward has never looked or sounded better, especially at 68 years of age. Like Nesmith, he just has the experience and wisdom of a man who's comfortable with where he is in his life now, rather than the sometimes off-putting and staged, artistic moodiness of his youth. This comes through in his stance, which is relaxed and natural, and his voice, which is as heartfelt as ever.

As I said before, Hayward has a style that blends country, folk, pop, and rock. Interestingly, if you take away the lyrics and the vocals, many of the songs would be considered new age. That's not a knock on any of those genres, including new age. That's the just way it is. The same goes for new wave and new age. The new wave sound without lyrics and vocals is also a part of new age. And there's nothing wrong with any of that.

Even though I'm not a die-hard or even casual fan, when I saw the listing for Justin Hayward: Spirits... Live, I knew I would be in for something special. I wasn't wrong.

--Raj Manoharan

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