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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Amazing Blondel: Evensong


1) Pavan; 2) St. Crispin's Day; 3) Spring Season; 4) Willowood; 5) Evensong; 6) Queen Of Scots; 7) Ploughman; 8) Old Moot Hall; 9) Lady Marion's Galliard; 10) Under The Greenwood Tree; 11) Anthem.

With the addition of Edward Baird to the line-up, Amazing Blondel become a stabilized trio with one firm goal in life: be reincarnated alive as authentic «Renaissance men». Discarding gospel, blues, and contemporary rural folk motives, they concentrate on one style only — that of the gal­lant courtier music 'round the 16th century. Their influences now span a pretty short distance — say, from about Henry the Eighth to about William Byrd — but at least nobody could now accuse them of lacking an identity all their own. In 1970, no other band sounded like this on a constant, workman-like basis.

Now one thing we must all understand is that the most «authentic» thing about the classic Blon­del lineup is their use of period instruments. Lutes, theorboes, citterns, violas, harpsichords, re­cor­ders, crumhorns, pipe-organs, and so on; dozens of different instruments are listed, and not a single one of them invented in post-Elizabethan times. And yet, at the same time, John Gladwin mostly plays his lute the way he'd be playing a guitar — were I not made aware of the lack of guitars in the credits, I would have made the mistake quite easily.

Any average connaisseur of Renaissance music, let alone serious musicologists, would have im­mediately spotted forgery: Gladwin's compositions, whether he wants it or not, always tend to drift away towards simple, basic folk balladry structures rather than inventive musical experimen­tation at Tudor courts. In this respect, much more impressive work would be done later in the decade by Gryphon; as for Evensong, all of the music on it is so light and fluffy, it could be pi­ge­on­holed as «twee-Renaissance».

However, Blondel's saving grace lies in the fact that none of the band mem­bers took this stuff too seriously. They themselves openly admitted to playing «pseudo-Elizabethan» music; and live, they would be spicing up their shows with bawdy banter, as if wanting to stress the fact that they were more jesters than minstrels. Therein lies the reason why the band has never garnered much attention or respect from «progressive» audiences: in spirit, these guys really be­longed to the mid-to-late Sixties generation of the innocent, idealistic flower power generation, even if in form they would be aligned with the stern, technically endowed, strictly music-bent prog- and medieval-rockers of the early 1970s.

But even if, in a way, Evensong belongs to the category of «fluff», it is terrific, highly entertai­ning, irresistible fluff. The kind of fluff that the Monkees would probably want to play if stuffed inside a time machine and transported five centuries back. Ten lightweight minstrel ballads here, each one catchy in its own way, right from the very first seconds of 'Pavan', with Wincott's pasto­ral recorder dancing along with Gladwin's guitar-like lute. Most of the themes concern gentle­men's lady issues ("This is spring season, and the time for courting's come around", the third track politely states), i. e. quasi-16th century equivalents of 'I Want To Hold Your Hand', and only the album-closing 'Anthem', built around a solemn harmonium and organ part, changes the general mood, in a rather bizarre way — as if to tie up ten gentle and frivolous ditties with one harsh strand of stern (but optimistic) pomp. Somehow, it works.

In retrospect, Evensong is really like a general rehearsal before the next two albums, which are generally acknowledged to form the true cornerstone of Blondel's reputation. But, being more «feather-light» than those two, it may actually be truer to the band's essence. One thing's for cer­tain: no one can complain that on Evensong, Amazing Blondel bit off more than they could chew. And another thing is my personal amazement at Gladwin's melodic ideas — for an album com­posed of ten similar-sounding, same-mood archaicized ballads to be able to hold my attention from top to bottom is a rare feat indeed. Thumbs up for all the fair sounds, no matter how «pseu­do» they might actually be.

Check "Evensong" (CD) on Amazon

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