Search This Blog

Loading...

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Black Crowes: Warpaint Live

THE BLACK CROWES: WARPAINT LIVE (2009)

1) Goodbye Daughters Of The Revolution; 2) Walk Believer Walk; 3) Oh Josephine; 4) Evergreen; 5) We Who See The Deep; 6) Locust Street; 7) Movin' On Down The Line; 8) Wounded Bird; 9) God's Got It; 10) There's Gold In Them Hills; 11) Whoa Mule; 12) Poor Elijah – Tribute To Johnson; 13) Darling Of The Underground Press; 14) Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye; 15) Don't Know Why; 16) Torn And Frayed; 17) Hey Grandma.

Oh, this is just too good to be true. But it is true — so, what is the next logical move once you have just released the worst (okay, one of the worst) albums in your career, passing it off as a «mature» product? Why, simple: release a live version of it — performed in its entirety. I mean, I could at least understand it if they did this trick for Shake Your Moneymaker or Southern Har­mony: at least those albums have had enough time to pass into some sort of legend. But War­paint, really? Has it instantaneously become such a «modern classic» that the world would say a big thank you to a second version?

So apparently, the Crowes had some kind of deal with Eagle Rock Entertainment, one of the big­gest rock video labels out there, to provide a concert recording for them — and, apparently, the idea was that, since they already had several live albums out, this one was to be in some way «special». Maybe they all bought the critical hype, or maybe they just thought that this additional promotion would help sell a few extra copies of the real Warpaint — whatever. The sore reality is that there is this extra live package now, DVD and CD versions of it, and, apparently, it begs for its own, independent, unbiased, and open-minded assessment.

Ultimately, I guess, it is impossible to make a bad thing good, but it is possible to make it a little more tolerable, and from that point of view, if I ever had to, in the future, I would prefer listening to Warpaint Live than to Warpaint Dead. The brothers add on a little grit in these performances, putting a tad more distortion on the line, and occasionally extending the songs to include longer and ever more fluent solos from Luther Dickinson — for instance, he goes completely roman­tically berserk on the slide guitar at the end of ʽMovin' On Down The Lineʼ, where his wild runs proudly stand competition with Derek Trucks. The overall sound of Warpaint was good — the overall sound of it played live is, in fact, even better. But there is nothing to be done about the songs. At heart, they were boring, and they still stay boring. Nothing to do with that.

It gets better and worse, though, on the second disc. Better — because, as a large appended bonus, the Crowes end their performance with a bunch of covers by famous «roots rock» artists, such as Clapton in his «Delaney & Bonnie» period of 1970 (ʽPoor Elijahʼ and ʽDon't Know Whyʼ), the Stones in their Exile period (ʽTorn And Frayedʼ), and Moby Grape (ʽHey Grandmaʼ). They still sneak in a couple of their own songs (including a really long, really tedious version of ʽBad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbyeʼ), but overall it's like a respectful celebration of past glories — and this is also what makes it a little offensive. It's as if they were saying, "Hey, all the great guys had their roots-rock phase, see? We too have one!" — which would be justified if they had at least one song as emotionally resonant as ʽTorn And Frayedʼ, which is not the case. They do a good enough job on the covers, and Dickinson once again goes into full-out astral mode on the slide at the end of the Stones' song, playing things of such complexity that Mick Taylor would not have been able to reproduce — except that ʽTorn And Frayedʼ is really all about the original vocals, and brother Chris' one-dimensional delivery totally fails to recapture or play upon the smiling irony of the Stones' approach.

In short, if you are a fan of the modern slide, do get this record for some totally stellar examples (it is a little uncanny, though, just how much this Dickinson dude and Derek Trucks sound alike, which begs for the question — do all these young guitar virtuosos tend to blend together or am I just being unnecessarily grumpy?). If you are a fan of Chris Robinson's beard, get the video — the camera loves it. And if you are a fan of neither, but are still reading this review, you're as crazy a reader as the reviewer is a writer. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Blind Guardian: Battalions Of Fear

BLIND GUARDIAN: BATTALIONS OF FEAR (1988)

1) Majesty; 2) Guardian Of The Blind; 3) Trial By The Archon; 4) Wizard's Crown; 5) Run For The Night; 6) The Martyr; 7) Battalions Of Fear; 8) By The Gates Of Moria; 9*) Gandalf's Rebirth.

According to genre rules, the debut album by Blind Guardian is neither «thrash metal» nor «power metal», but rather «speed metal», which seems to be lodged somewhere in between the two — metal music played at extreme tempos, but with more emphasis on melodicity and «clean­ness» of sound than thrash. Oh well, whatever. The real question is: when all your songs are played at the speed of fifty billion notes per second, is there anything you can do to make any of them stand out? How do you avoid falling into the usual trap — where your whole LP sounds like one extended track with a few seconds of air inserted every now and then?

Well, Battalions Of Fear shows that it can be easily done: you just have to compensate with the vocals, and make sure that every individual track has its own distinctive chorus. If there is one single thing that might make these songs «stick», it is the simple, basic, anthemic bits — "OH, MAJESTY! ", "GUARDIAN, GUARDIAN, GUARDIAN OF THE BLIND!", "HALLOWEEN!", "RUN FOR THE NIGHT! BURN AWAY!", and so on. This is a tactic they may have inherited from Iron Maiden, who are easily the single hugest influence on these guys, but they need it so much more than Iron Maiden, who usually played at slower tempos and could rely on complex riffage and challenging song structures even without a vocal hook.

Unlike Maiden, Blind Guardian do not rely on «guitar weaving»: the two guitarists in the band seem to have their duties delineated quite properly, as Marcus Siepen concentrates on the chug­ging rhythms and André Olbrich is responsible for all the melodic lead parts. Hansi Kürsch, the frontman, is at this point still combining the double duties of the bass player and the vocalist, though clearly favoring the latter job more than the former — he's got a voice similar to Bathory's Quorthon, «snapping» rather than «barking», without any traces of corny sentimentality, perfectly suited to this type of metal-theater material. Lastly, drummer Thomas Stauch is as good as your average speed metal drummer gets, but there's not a lot to add to that description.

The artistic influences of Blind Guardian are completely clear: first and foremost, they are rabid Tolkien fanaticists (no less than three different songs — four, if you count the bonus track ʽGan­dalf's Rebirthʼ on the re-issue — are based on Lord Of The Rings), and second, they like all sorts of horror fantasies and occult dabblings, with Stephen King and Aleister Crowley each providing in­spiration for one of the tracks. Current events in this here mortal world only concern them as long as their global evilness begins to match fantasy visions — the title track, in particular, is about the horror of SDI, which they probably considered on par with the construction of Mor­goth's Than­gorodrim or something of the sort. This is a consistent position of theirs, and while their musical style would change significantly over the years, the «vision» would not, so please be warned that it's a little hard to get deep into Blind Guardian without having previously done your Tolkien homework, and yes, that actually means reading the books — all of them.

With the basic formula for this early record sort of set in stone, there is not much mood variation, and the atmosphere generated by the melodies does not always match the lyrics — for instance, ʽMajestyʼ seems to be about the last King of Arnor losing his kingdom to the forces of evil and running for cover, but the melody is neither doom-laden nor tragedy-bound, but, like all the rest, pushes forward with martial brutality and determination. The two things to look out for are the already mentioned chorus hooks — and Olbrich's solo passages, which show an honest desire to become the Paganini of the heavy metal guitar solo, combining technical virtuosity with careful attention to melodic structure. Unfortunately, my own spirit remains somewhat insensitive to this approach, but it is hard not to admire these results at least «formally».

Likewise, the instrumental ʽBy The Gates Of Moriaʼ hardly refers to the Gray Company relaxing in the shade of said gates, but could probably trigger an association with the bloody battle between Orcs and Dwarves that took place there much earlier — and who will now recognize, unless specially informed, that the melody actually quotes Dvořák's ʽFrom The New Worldʼ sym­phony? Everything is made to serve the same purpose: kick ass, hero-style. One of my favorite tracks is ʽTrial By The Archonʼ: it serves as a brief, concise intro to ʽWizard's Crownʼ, but has a completeness of its own, stating the theme, then consecutively offering the spotlight to the band's riffmeister and the band's lead hero. The theme is suitably ominous, the riffage is more inventive than on the vocal tracks, and the solos are brilliantly constructed, but I can only imagine your average Archon conducting his average trial in this particular manner if he had a schedule of around 300 trials to perform per day, two minutes per each — state the accusation (opening theme), take in the prosecution (riff variations), hear the defense (solos), pronounce final judge­ment (closing theme), next in line please.

No matter how monotonous this atmosphere is, though, the album as a whole, by metal standards, deserves an unquestionable thumbs up; in fact, its monotonousness may ultimately be its major advantage, since, not having yet established their own personal style, Blind Guardian would probably have achieved little if they tried to walk all over the metal turf — by sticking to this one particular gun, they are at least able to «mine» this speed metal formula all the way down to its logical con­clusion. In terms of songs, you'll probably only remember the epic choruses — but in terms of overall cohesiveness, you will probably retain a very precise general impression. And there is no one but J. R. R. Tolkine to blame, I guess, that in the metal world, Battalions Of Fear is altogether so less popular than Slayer's Reign In Blood, even though, for all I know, they are more or less on the same level in the «goal-achieving» department. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Black Sabbath: Cross Purposes Live

BLACK SABBATH: CROSS PURPOSES LIVE (1995)

1) Time Machine; 2) Children Of The Grave; 3) I Witness; 4) Into The Void; 5) Black Sabbath; 6) Neon Knights; 7) Psychophobia; 8) The Wizard; 9) Cross Of Thorns; 10) Heaven In Black; 11) Symptom Of The Universe; 12) Head­less Cross; 13) Paranoid; 14) Iron Man; 15) Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.

A live album of a 25-year old Black Sabbath with Tony Martin as lead vocalist was exactly what was needed in 1995 to restore the band's reputation, I guess. At least Live Evil (a) had the novelty of being the first officially sanctioned B.S. live record, (b) had Dio on it, adapting the old Ozzy classics to his own style, (c) coincided with a creative revival for the band, whether the fans were willing to admit it or not. Cross Purposes Live has none of these advantages — in fact, it doesn't even have its own frickin' title (although that was probably due to the fact that the concert was first and foremost released as a video, with the audio CD as a bonus accompaniment).

Still, as long as Black Sabbath consists of Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and whoever else, no live Sabbath album can be a completely worthless proposition — if there ever was a night in history when Tony played real bad, or the setlist was completely dominated by subpar material, I'd actually be interested in hearing how that may have sounded. If Martin's voice does not piss you off immediately, there is no reason why Cross Purposes Live should be written off. Because of the setlist? Well, as you can see, more than half of the songs are impeccable classics — and there is even one pleasant surprise, as the band resurrects ʽThe Wizardʼ, a song not performed at all since their first gigs in 1970, unjustly forgotten just because it wasn't a radio hit. And out of the Martin-era material, only ʽCross Of Thornsʼ is a suckjob, and should have been tossed out in favor of ʽEvil Eyeʼ or, at least, ʽVirtual Deathʼ, if we want to be funny.

Martin's live personality is not seriously different from his posturing in the studio, and not a lot of stage banter made it onto the audio disc, anyway. Of course, hearing him howl on the Ozzy num­bers is a weird thing — rather than Ozzy's amusingly stoned intonations, and rather than Dio's entertaining «corn-de-luxe» roar-from-Hell, what you get is a guy who seems to be trying to imbue «sincerity» and «genuine passion» into these phantasmagoric, anti-reality soundscapes. Who really wants to hear a ʽChildren Of The Graveʼ or a ʽSymptom Of The Universeʼ that de­mand to be taken sternly-seriously, let alone a ʽBlack Sabbathʼ? The poor guy is stuck in the middle between the excessive extremes of Ozzy and Dio, and with Sabbath, there is no middle ground by definition. Then again, the man is just doing his job the best he can — I hope very much that nobody cheated him out of any money on that or any other tours.

Trivia-wise, ʽTime Machineʼ begins with a few brief samples of classic Iommi riffs (as in, "let us illustrate this title for those who think it needs illustrating!"); ʽBlack Sabbathʼ, as usual, has a brief «medieval» introduction; ʽParanoidʼ is preceded by one minute of Iommi playing around with the evil wah-wah effect; and ʽIron Manʼ is inexplicably cut down to three minutes (perhaps due to CD length limitations). Oh, and ʽHeadless Crossʼ sounds much better live, free from the clutches of the hideous 1989 production values. And that's about it, folks.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Bob Marley: Soul Rebels

BOB MARLEY: SOUL REBELS (1970)

1) Soul Rebel; 2) Try Me; 3) It's Alright; 4) No Sympathy; 5) My Cup; 6) Soul Almighty; 7) Rebel's Hop; 8) Corner Stone; 9) Four Hundred Years; 10) No Water; 11) Reaction; 12) My Sympathy.

For all those who are accustomed to Marley's Island-era worldwide hits, from ʽNo Woman No Cryʼ and ʽI Shot The Sheriffʼ to ʽOne Loveʼ and ʽJammingʼ, these early albums by the Wailers, produced by Lee "Scratch" Perry and recorded back when «the Wailers» did not yet signify «any interchangeable body behind Bob's back», but meant an actual reggae band with elements of active democracy, might sound a little... tough.

Soul Rebels is a good example of «hardcore» reggae, one that does not try to render itself more accessible to the ears of the global listener — by incorporating «rock» elements, or simply by trying to be more melodic — but instead concentrates almost exclusively on groove, atmosphere, and its own type of rugged spirituality. This is Perry's typical style of work, and this why Soul Rebels is as «authentic» as these guys are ever gonna get. For proof, compare this here version of Peter Tosh's ʽ400 Yearsʼ with the fuller-arranged, slower, subtler arrangement on Catch A Fire three years later — both have their own strengths, but this early one has a brutal roughness, expressed by the prominent position of the bass guitar and the «scratch» pattern of the rhythm, without any further embellishments, that would eventually be gone.

Although the Wailers had already been around for more than half a decade, this particular in­carnation, consisting of the «original» Wailers (Marley himself; Peter Tosh on guitar, keyboards, and vocals; Bunny Wailer on percussion) as well as the Barrett brothers, formerly from Perry's "Upsetters" (Aston on bass and Carly on extra percussion), was transitional — the «originals» would part ways with Marley in 1974, while the Barretts, on the other hand, would hold on until the very end. In this particular case, «transitional» might easily mean «best», the single largest accumulation of talent in the Wailers' history — except that you really have to «get it» before you can make proper use of that accumulation.

The key test, I think, is in whether one has any good words to say about the album's final track, ʽMy Sympathyʼ, which is really just an instrumental variation on the main theme of the album's vocal title song (ʽSoul Rebelʼ; for the record, the remastered and expanded CD edition of Soul Rebels adds a whole big bunch of instrumental takes on the songs). The main groove is set about in the first three or four seconds, after which nothing new happens right until the final fadeout at 2:43 — just the same rhythmic pattern, with scratch guitar and Tosh's quietly bubbling organ part in the background repeating the same chord pattern over and over again. It is the easiest thing in the world to call this thing «crap», but that could very logically lead to calling the entire album crap, and, subsequently, the entire reggae genre, or, at least, Marley's entire career.

The thing is — if the groove is well set, the groove is likeable. Just as it is possible to dig the 12-bar blues progression, per se, and dig it specifically when it is performed with extra gusto, so it is possible to feel abstract sympathy towards the skank, straight or shuffled. A whole album of ins­trumentals like ʽMy Sympathyʼ would soon become unbearable, but this placing of one instru­mental «re-run» at the end of an album is sort of a symbolic gesture — this is who we are, and this form of music is what we play, and it is through this groove that we convey everything that we have to say, because that's how Jah set it all up, basically. One of the most fascinating things about the groove is how, despite requiring very strict rhythmic coordination, it ends up giving this impression of nonchalant friendly laziness, steaming in the Jamaican heat — I guess they don't emphasize the «offbeat» quality of the rhythms for nothing.

Still, it goes without saying that the most important part of the compositions are the vocals — leads, harmonies, tones, mantras, expressions. The primary topic, «escape from Babylon» and everything that it entails, dominates the album's theme, from the title track, now and for all time branding Marley as a «soul rebel», and right to ʽ400 Yearsʼ, sung by Tosh and serving as the al­bum's, if not the entire movement's, definitive anthem of liberty. These two are the most memo­rable bits of the puzzle — ʽSoul Rebelʼ not only because of Marley's bittersweet confession, but also because of the way it opens, with Aston's soul-pumping bass brought all the way up to 11 by Perry and immediately pulling your ears down to the ground, because that sound weighs a fri­ckin' ton, no less. As for ʽ400 Yearsʼ, it really makes you wonder why Tosh did not take up lead vocals more often — his voice, lower and more «solemn» than Marley's, was really great for taking on grand, anthemic statements. They say he was kinda lazy, though, in a Rastafari manner.

Other, less notorious, highlights include ʽNo Sympathyʼ (where the Wailers do a great wailing job, joining the lead singer on the last mournful vowel of each line) and a series of «funny» num­bers that show a strong James Brown influence, such as ʽMy Cupʼ (actually a cover of James' own ʽI Guess I'll Have To Cry, Cry, Cryʼ) and ʽSoul Almightyʼ, full of references to doing the alligator and the mashed potato. Both songs are firmly reggae-based, yet even in this «hardcore» setting, they show that the Wailers were perfectly okay about interacting with other black music subgenres. Indeed, ʽSoul Almightyʼ could probably be called a halfway hybrid between reggae and funk — so much for the idea of stark monotonousness.

One thing that, at this stage in their history, the Wailers still pull off weaker than the rest is the love theme: songs like ʽTry Meʼ and the heavily allusive ʽCorner Stoneʼ ("you're a builder, baby, here I am, a stone") never really go beyond «nice» into that territory where Marley's relations with women start taking on an almost religious quality. Their little «humorous» interludes, such as ʽRebel's Hopʼ, are also relative trifles without a whole lot of replay value — in other words, Soul Rebels is not entirely filler-free. But then again, neither were the Wailers quite prepared for prime time: Soul Rebels is very much an album for «local consumption», and there is no way for most of us to assess its sound the same way it was assessed around Kingston in the year 1970. For all I know, ʽRebel's Hopʼ may have been a local smash.

In any case, the album as a whole gets a thumbs up from me, which I would never deliver solely for the sake of «politically correct» reasoning — there is no getting away from the original Wailers' charisma, no matter who they were and what cause they were standing for. I do, however, have to repeat the warning that Soul Rebels requires affection, not sheer tolerance, for reggae. It is technically possible to be completely indifferent to reggae as a whole and still love an album like Natty Dread — whether this would work with these Perry-produced records is not so clear to me. Then again, I really don't know a whole lot about the various kinds of reggae, and I seem to dig this, so maybe that's a sterner judgement than necessary. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Blue Öyster Cult: Mirrors

BLUE ÖYSTER CULT: MIRRORS (1979)

1) Dr. Music; 2) The Great Sun Jester; 3) In Thee; 4) Mirrors; 5) Moon Crazy; 6) The Vigil; 7) I Am The Storm; 8) You're Not The One (I Was Looking For); 9) Lonely Teardrops.

As the band's commercial fortunes started slipping somewhat with Spectres, a shift of direction and environment was thought of as a potential good move. A radical shift indeed — the band not only ditched Pearlman (temporarily) and long-time co-producer Murray Krugman (permanently), but it also betrayed its alma mater — New York City, going to California for the bulk of the re­cordings. The new choice of producer wasn't too bad: Tom Werman, the guy behind several clas­sic late-1970s Cheap Trick albums — but the choice of location certainly was, at least for 1979, the last year of the classic disco era.

Mirrors is not a disco album, but it is certainly one of their most danceable records, going very light on heavy metal riffs (no ʽGodzillaʼ for a hundred miles around) and very heavy on Cali­fornia-style folk-pop and contemporary R&B influences. Technically, it is not so much a sellout as an experimental attempt to plant the «BÖC spirit» into a different kind of soil and see how it works — the songs are still relatively «weird» in construction terms, and the lyrics still contain plenty of the mock-Gothic, ironic-romantic imagery of yore. On ʽThe Great Sun Jesterʼ, they even enter into collaboration with a new familiar face — fantasy goon Michael Moorcock, who probably needed a change from his long-term collaboration with Hawkwind. All in all, this here is not a case of «band on autopilot»: Mirrors is an honest-to-goodness attempt to reinvent them­selves and stay up-to-date while at the same time conserving the old essence.

Naturally, it is a little offensive when a song called ʽDr. Musicʼ opens the album and sounds like a mix of ʽPretty Womanʼ, ʽOb-La-Di Ob-La-Daʼ, and some dinky mid-1970s proto-disco dance number that I can't quite lay my finger on. But it is essentially a comedy number, more of a straight parody on sexy posturing than anything else — Bloom's vocals are quite indicative of that — and condemning the band for this experiment, while trying in vain to get its catchy chorus out of your head, would be as useless as condemning the Beatles for ʽMaxwell's Silver Hammerʼ. It is much easier to condemn the closing number: Lanier's ʽLonely Teardropsʼ, riding on a Clavi­net line not unlike the one in ʽSuperstitionʼ, and taking it a little more serious than necessary (the "Lord I tell you, all I want to do is get back home" bit sounds achingly poignant, but the rest of the track is so dance-centered that the vibes clash and explode).

Yet the album is diverse, enough for everybody to be able to pick at least one or two favorites. I really like ʽThe Great Sun Jesterʼ, for one thing — a fun, exciting lite-prog epic, which I could have easily imagined on a Yes album, exuberantly sung by Jon Anderson instead of Eric Bloom and with a high-in-the-sky Steve Howe solo for the climax, but even in the hands of this here band it still rolls along with a wallop of life-asserting optimism, a little surprising for a song that laments the «death of the fireclown» (a Moorcock fantasy personage), but where there's death, there's always rebirth, you know.

On the other end of the pole, there's ʽI Am The Stormʼ, the album's only seriously rocking cut: a little Boston-glossy, perhaps, but it does rock the socks off, true to its name, with magnificent lead guitar from Buck Dharma and a hyperbolic-exaggerated old-testamental anger at the betrayal of love that we haven't seen since ʽI Can See For Milesʼ. It's a pop song at heart, but they work hard to imbue it with rock fury, and I am quite won over by its theatricality. Heck, I am even won over by the theatricality of ʽMoon Crazyʼ, with its odd wobbling between old-time Kinksy music-hall and new-style whitebread 1970s pop — especially when it goes into overdriven drunken Slavic rhythmics and wild guitar pirouetting at the end.

Quite a bit of the time the record is boring, or somewhat limp: you'd have to be a major fan of the decade's conventional pop balladry, for instance, to get any thrill out of the ballad ʽIn Theeʼ (de­livered way too sincerely to be salvaged by irony), and ʽYou're Not The One (I Was Looking For)ʼ seems to be a very self-conscious effort to write something in the style of that hot new Boston sensation, The Cars, but with those boring power chords for the chorus hook, the song becomes Foreigner rather than the Cars when it comes to climaxing, and gets the death sentence for that. Even so — it is at least interesting to watch it start out so promisingly and then self-de­struct so maddeningly.

Underwhelming as the effort is next to Spectres, with the lack of a definitive highlight (ʽI Am The Stormʼ comes close, though), I still give it a thumbs up — if you want to look for something really bland in this style, check out the average Average White Band from the same time period; Mirrors has its own intrigue, diversity, and charming clumsiness when you view it in context and see them try to corrupt all those new influences with their irreverent approach. One of these days we might even forget them the temporary move to California, I guess.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

ABC: Lexicon Of Live

ABC: LEXICON OF LIVE (1999)

1) Poison Arrow; 2) Stranger Things; 3) When Smokey Sings; 4) How To Be A Millionnaire; 5) Be Near Me; 6) Who Can I Turn To; 7) Show Me; 8) Skyscraping; 9) Rolling Sevens; 10) One Better World; 11) Tears Are Not Enough; 12) All Of My Heart; 13) The Look Of Love.

There is obviously so not much to say about this record that the current Wikipedia entry on it is marvelously laconic, and very much up to the point: «The Lexicon Of Live is a live album released by pop group ABC. Although Martin Fry was the only member left, he had a backing band, and came out in his trademark gold suit». I guess that pretty much says everything a layman needs to know, but just for the sake of I-don't-know-what, let's add a few extra details.

Apparently, ABC never toured all that much while they were still all together, which makes this Skyscraping-era «coming out» with a live album even more of an odd cash-in. On a video, at least, you could enjoy the gold suit in proper lighting, but as it is, all you have to do is sit through a bunch of ABC classics, interspersed with a few selections from Skyscraping, as they are faith­fully and professionally reproduced on stage by Martin and his then-current backing band. It's not as if Fry sounded too disinterested or anything — he gets all of those songs' original strengths through without any problems — but neither is he interested in letting the people experience anything above and beyond these original strengths.

The setlist is respectable, predictably concentrating on Lexicon Of Love material and the most popular hits that followed (ʽWhen Smokey Singsʼ, etc.), and the disappointing Up/Abracadabra period is represented only by ʽOne Better Worldʼ, which at least sounds a little better with real drums, and is also shortened by about a minute and a half. They also take the best material from Skyscraping, so, on the whole, no complaints in that direction. But ABC were so much of a studio band in all possible ways and manners that, paradoxically, only their bad songs would benefit from a live rearrangement — all the good songs inevitably suffer from poor mixing and lack of studio gloss that defines the ABC sound.

For reasons of politeness, we do have to thank the band for being tight, and Fry's backup vocalists for being appropriately sexy, but a live ABC album simply does not compute, let alone a live ABC album that only pretends to be an ABC album (at least it might have been vaguely interes­ting to witness original member Mark White play some guitar on stage). I guess you really have to be into gold suits in order to convince yourself to own it.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Blackmore's Night: The Village Lanterne

BLACKMORE'S NIGHT: THE VILLAGE LANTERNE (2006)

1) 25 Years; 2) Old Village Lanterne; 3) I Guess It Doesn't Matter Anymore; 4) The Messenger; 5) World Of Stone; 6) Faerie Queen; 7) St. Theresa; 8) Village Dance; 9) Mond Tanz / Child In Time; 10) Streets Of London; 11) Just Call My Name; 12) Olde Mill Inn; 13) Windmills; 14) Street Of Dreams; 15*) Once In A Garden.

It is reasonable to accelerate a bit with these reviews, since Ritchie and Candice are so admirably steady in their approach that stylistic divergences between Ghost Of A Rose and The Village Lanterne (yes, with a final orthographic -e all right, although it may be worth noting that, in contrast, the presence/absence of the article the is oddly fluctuating between various releases) are kept to a barely distinguishable minimum. Perhaps the most curious addition to the lineup here is Anton Fig on percussion, the drummer from David Letterman's house band. This really gives the drums a more fluent, African style (lots of bongos, among other things), which only goes to show how much Ritchie really cares about «authenticity», but it is useful to be reminded every once in a while that this whole project is a multi-colored «fantasy», not some scientific recreation of stark medieval realities. Betcha didn't know Ritchie's boots are really made in China, did you?

Cover material this time around includes Ralph McTell's ʽStreets Of Londonʼ (a little over­saturated with woodwinds, but we will assume they are just trying to make it more baroque: Can­dice does a good job conveying the friendly melancholy of the original), and Joan Osborne's ʽSt. Teresaʼ, here transformed into an electric rocker with a much faster tempo, and adorned with one of the album's most blazing (though fairly unexceptional for Blackmore) solos. The most contro­versial cover, of course, will be Deep Purple's own ʽChild In Timeʼ — not only does Ritchie dare to integrate it into one whole with his own merry instrumental dance number (ʽMond Tanzʼ), but he desecrates the holy of holies by actually letting Candice assume the duties of Ian Gillan, which she is unable to do due to the natural weakness of her voice, so, wisely, she does not even try to «scream» the scream-chorus, but instead, just lets all the aah-aahs and ooh-oohs flow calmly and naturally. Even so, there is nothing particularly interesting or newly inspiring about this rearran­gement — and legions of outraged fans, even now as you are reading this, are pouring out their vitriol at its live performances on Youtube, joining the ranks of the freshly formed «Protect The Ian Gillan Legacy From Green-Clothed Ladies With Ample Bosoms» society.

Oh yes, there is also a cover of Rainbow's ʽStreet Of Dreamsʼ here — actually, two covers: one of the bonus tracks is an alternate version with Joe Lynn Turner himself contributing guest (host?) vocals — and this one might even be an improvement on the original, stripping it from the excesses of Eighties' production. Besides, while I'd never take Candice over classic-era Gillan, taking Candice over the cheap bathos of Joe Lynn Turner is a far more seductive proposition. In fact, re-recording the entire post-Dio Rainbow catalog with Blackmore's Night would, on the whole, be much more useful than doing the same with the old Deep Purple catalog.

As for the originals, there are a few catchy folk-rock creations here like the galloping ʽI Guess It Doesn't Matter Anymoreʼ and ʽJust Call My Nameʼ; a couple nicely harmonized ballads like the opening ʽ25 Yearsʼ and ʽFaerie Queenʼ, the latter with a special dance coda; a stupid-sounding drinking song (ʽOlde Mill Innʼ — where ʽAll For Oneʼ was about drinking, fighting, and dying, this one is just about drinking, drinking, and drinking some more); and some more of those pretty and thoroughly interchangeable acoustic Blackmore instrumentals. For those who have been waiting, the goods have been honestly delivered as expected. For those who have not, no reason to begin now, unless you have a fever, and the only prescription is more shawm.