Justin Hayward

Spirits Live

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Tender-voiced Moody Blues frontman Justin Hayward trims down the orchestrations for this 2013 acoustic set recorded live at the Buckhead Theatre in Atlanta. Peppered with classic Moodies hits and select solo offerings, Hayward puts the focus on a career's worth of quality songwriting, scaling back some of the elaborate productions that have come to represent his band's output. However, billing this as an acoustic album is slightly misleading. While Hayward eschews the use of his iconic red Gibson ES-335 electric in favor of acoustic six- and 12-string guitars, he's backed here by a trio of multi-instrumentalists who embellish most of this well-known material with synth parts, electric guitar, and tambourine to the point where "Your Wildest Dreams" and "I Know You're Out There Somewhere" come across more as drummerless renditions rather than acoustic adaptations. Songs like "New Horizons" and "In the Beginning" (the 2013 solo cut, not the intro to 1969's On the Threshold of a Dream) fare a bit better, but there is still a feeling of only going halfway with the stripped-down vibe. It's true that many of his songs are forever tied to their heavily romantic arrangements, but Hayward is an ace songwriter with a large and diverse back catalog, and it seems like this could have been a great opportunity to really pare away the layers and offer fans the kind of organic experience they've never heard before. His voice sounds as warm and lovely as ever and his guitar playing has always been underrated, but this release, while enjoyable, sounds like he merely borrowed the Moodies' backup keyboard players for a series of weekend solo gigs.

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