Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri
If you went to Binghamton University’s Anderson Center Monday night (May 19) to hear your favorites by Moody Blues’ front man Justin Hayward, you weren’t disappointed. I had not seen the band itself in concert since the late 1980s, so I was pretty happy about the chance to hear the signature voice of the band again. But if you went to this performance, you also got to hear some wonderful new music from Hayward’s studio album, Spirits of the Western Sky. (BU was the last Northeast stop for the SWS tour.)
The album title, which at first made me wonder if Hayward had gone country or cowboy, actually refers to the view from his boyhood home, looking out over rolling English terrain to past “the pond.” The spirits he conjures from there are the ghosts of his early musical education: Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and other American rockers who had an impact on his lifelong career, but the music is still, thankfully, all Hayward.
My favorites from the new album, which, of course I bought on the way out so I could keep the songs in my head all the way home, include “One Day, Someday,” “The Eastern Sun,” “What You Resist Persists” (a phrase I had only heard for the first time a few days before) and a remix of the old Moody Blues favorite, “Out There Somewhere.”
Opening the show was newcomer, Mike Dawes. A young man from Bath, England, Dawes was poised, focused and, in a word, amazing.
Performing alone on a steel string, amplified acoustic guitar, this young man is a musical prodigy. Incorporating some percussive elements and humorous asides, he brought at least the first three or four rows of the nearly packed house to its feet with tracks from his solo album, What Just Happened?
I’ll tell you what just happened: musical magic. Dawes’ work is described on his CD like this: “All the sounds you hear are produced simultaneously on one instrument using two hands and some rather long fingernails.” It sounded like he had at least two or three others with him, but he was clearly alone, and his “five”-person version of “Somebody that I Used to Know” was astounding, and achieved by accepting a dare from his sister, who had said, “I bet you can’t …”
Dawes was a very lucky find for Hayward. The 24-year-old accompanied him, along with keyboardist and backup vocalist, Julie Ragins, “a solo artist in her own right,” according to Hayward on some old favorites such as “Once Upon a Time” and “Tuesday Afternoon.” The three of them filled the space with some very lush melodies and amazing orchestration.
But really, who didn’t come to hear “Nights in White Satin,” from the iconic album Days of Future Passed? You had to have a really good ear to tell that Hayward was about to launch into “Nights” as he opened it with only the tiniest hint that it was about to start. But when the title lyrics poured out of his mouth, the crowd went wild.
Hayward is still in beautiful voice, and since they did not have the London Symphony Orchestra to back them, with the famous flute bridge between verses, Dawes brought that home by turning his steel string guitar into a balalaika. Just ethereal. And when Hayward needed another high voice to flesh out a song or two, Ragins’ voice blended beautifully.