Throughout his four-decade-plus career, both as a singer/guitarist in The Moody Blues and as a solo artist, Justin Hayward has not only had commercial success with songs such as "Nights In Wight Satin" and "Your Wildest Dreams," but has also been at the forefront of the psychedelic and progressive rock movements. In addition, the Moody Blues pushed the envelope in terms of mixing classical and pop music on albums such as Days Of Future Passed. On Spirits Of The Western Sky, his first solo record since 1996's The View From The Hill, Hayward mixes his strong pop sensibilities with dreamy guitar parts, tender ballads and, on three tracks, takes a step into the world of country music.
The album opens with the optimistic "In Your Blue Eyes," a lush, upbeat track with orchestration by Anne Dudley. Hayward's distinctive voice has remained remarkably unchanged through the years and the song features some fine guitar work throughout. "On The Road To Love," which was co-written by Kenny Loggins, is another up-tempo track with a memorable chorus and a wall of guitar orchestration from Hayward.
"The Western Sky" is a laid back, acoustic ballad with a strong vocal from Hayward and subtle electric guitar layered on top. The song's gentle background vocals help contribute to its dreamy state.
Hayward ventures into country for three songs, including a cover of the 1983 Moody Blues song, "It's Cold Outside Of Your Heart." Surprisingly, Hayward's voice doesn't sound out of place accompanied by banjos, mandolins and pedal steel guitars. The song showcases a rich arrangement and excellent vocals from Hayward and his backup singers. "Broken Dream" is a country-tinged ballad with an emotional vocal from Hayward, sounding as if he had been performing this kind of music for years. Whether or not he pursues this direction further remains to be seen, however.
Hayward delves into his past on not one, but two remakes of "Out There Somewhere," both remixed and radically different than the original version. While the song has always been synth pop, it now would not sound out of place on modern dance radio. The first remix works surprisingly well, though it makes it sound like everything else on pop radio (which was probably the point). The second remix, done by Raul Rincon is less successful, but shows that Hayward is not so pretentious as to be opposed to radically reworking his own music.
Though this is Hayward's first new release in some time -- both as a solo artist or with the Moody Blues -- he shows on Spirits of The Western Sky that he has lost none of his vocal or songwriting ability. The fact that he would venture into country at this stage of his career or remix his own songs shows Hayward is an artist who is still not afraid to take risks, which often makes for some of the best music.