Sound — 9
When not delivering prog rock tunes with Marillion, guitarist Steve Rothery has been taking a path similar to Ritchie Blackmore. While the latter has opted to record more traditional Renaissance offerings in Blackmore's Night, Rothery takes a bit more contemporary approach to music with folk-derived The Wishing Tree. The lush sounds that Rothery creates alongside vocalist Hannah Stobart have been a true departure for the musician, who has replaced any semblance of rock with an approach that is reminiscent of Loreena McKennitt's Celtic/New Age style. It's been 14 years since The Wishing Tree has released any new material, and fans of the duo's past work should be more than satisfied with the beautiful, often haunting sophomore album Ostara. Although The Wishing Tree has been deemed an acoustic duo, Ostara's textured sound is reliant on much more than the vocal-guitar combination. In order to accomplish a more layered sound, the band enlisted drummer Paul Craddick (Stobart's husband), keyboardist Mike Hunter, and Rothery's wife Jo as a backing vocalist. The tempo never rises above a certain level, which is why one might easily describe The Wishing Tree as broaching the New Age genre. That's not to say that the eight tracks become overwhelmingly ambient (i.e., Enya territory), but the relaxation factor is certainly present. Beginning with the melodically memorable title track, the album kicks off and ends with an extremely ethereal feel. Although it was Rothery's brainchild from the get-go, The Wishing Tree's heart and soul does lie in the cherubic voice of Stobart. The Loreena McKennitt comparison does pop up, but I would dare say that Stobart's delivery is even more immaculate. Ostara and Fly are easily the standout tracks, and the band wisely included live versions of both on the edition we received to review. This happens to be one of those cases where a band, particularly a vocalist, has the uncanny ability to sound exactly like the studio recording. While the folk/Celtic sound rules supreme on most of Ostara, The Wishing Tree does attempt transitioning into the blues genre at times. Seventh Sign immediately makes its nod to the blues known with fantastic slide work from Rothery. The Wishing Tree in general may be a little too sedating (not necessarily a bad thing) for some rock purists out there, but the project never feels as free spirited as Blackmore's Night.
Lyrics — 9
Not surprisingly, the lyrical content on Ostara is just as classy as the musical arrangements. There's a poetic and literary nature to each of the songs, with everything from metaphors to conversational dialogue making the cut. For example, the title track features the exchange: 'Come to me, I'll read your mind,' she said; Warm to me, I'll free your mind,' she said; Then she tipped her raven's head and started to sing. While many musical acts regurgitate the same old rhyme schemes, The Wishing Tree's lyrics are consistently rich and imaginative.
Overall Impression — 9
Ostara is an album worthy of a listen, even if you shy away from anything that might suffer from a lack of percussion. Rothery could have easily made this a project to showcase his talents as a guitarist, but it's obvious that his focus is the song itself. That doesn't mean there aren't any inspired acoustic solos or slide work because you can most certainly hear them within the arrangements without any blatant flash. Even so, Hannah Stobart is the centerpiece for The Wishing Tree, and her vocals alone will keep most listeners engaged.