Music Reviews: Moody Blues Members Issue Solo LPs

Ray Thomas's From Mighty Oaks

The Moody Blues may be taking a rest from one another, but they’re keeping busy on their own. Group members Justin Hayward and John Lodge have collaborated on an album, Blue Jays, that appeared last spring. Solo discs from Ray Thomas, the Moodys’ flutist, and Graeme Edge, their percussionist, have just been released. And an album from guitarist/keyboard player Mike Pinder is reportedly due soon.

Of the two long players to arrive in recent weeks, Ray Thomas’s From Mighty Oaks will likely please Moody Blues fans the most and surprise them the least. Supported by a coterie of backing vocalists and musicians and a full orchestra, the flutist achieves a sonic effect as large and arresting as the Moodys ever did. And though Thomas’s personality pervades every cut, the album still sounds remarkably similar to the group’s LPs.

Unfortunately, From Mighty Oaks shares not only the strengths but the weaknesses of the artist’s work with his old cohorts. On the one hand, his voice remains big and bold; his melodies (the overwrought, pretentious title cut excepted) also continue to prove memorable. Lyrically, though, Thomas is as uneven as the Moodys and possibly more so.

Attempting the sort of grandiose verse for which his group has long displayed a penchant, he molds his lines of old adages and Rod McKuenesque philosophy. And he bares the limits of his imagination by frequently repeating the same tired metaphors again and again.

In one song, for example, he sings, “take the wings from a bird, how can it fly,” while in another tune he suggests that we “try our wings and fly.” A third number brings “we’ll talk to the heron, he can teach us to fly” and in a fourth, the singer proclaims, “I wish we could fly.”

Thomas sings so well, however, and has such melodic flair that such lyrical banality hardly matters. He could probably record a version of one of President Ford’s speeches and make it sound like a romantic love ballad.

Graeme Edge's Kick Off Your Muddy Boots

Graeme Edge’s album is another story entirely. When I first saw Kick Off Your Muddy Boots, I mistakenly read the title as Kick Off Your Moody Blues; and that, as it turns out, seems to be exactly what Edge has tried to do. Unlike the group’s other solo outings, this disc sounds not at all reminiscent of the Moodys’ LPs; lacking Phil Travers’s artwork (which adorns the other individual and band discs), it doesn’t even look like them. In fact, this straight-ahead rock album hardly reflects the influence of Edge himself, since Adrian Gurvitz (of the Baker-Gurvitz Army) wrote most of the songs, sang lead, and arranged the group’s performance.

In any case, Kick Off Your Muddy Boots fails to impress. While the players, Edge included, sound tight and professional, their union hardly strikes me as inspired. And the percussionist, who lacks the diversity and take-command personality of a Billy Cobham or Ginger Baker, just doesn’t make it as a bandleader. He belongs back in the Moody Blues, where his talent found its best context.

Actually, while you can find good music on the Hayward/Lodge, the Thomas, and even the Edge LPs, none of these albums compares favorably with much of what the group has accomplished together. But the Moodys, who have not issued a wholly excellent record since To Our Children’s Children’s Children, apparently needed a break to garner fresh inspiration. The revitalized music they may make upon reuniting (soon, according to reports) might well turn out to be the major benefit reaped from these solo discs.

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