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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Blackmore's Night: Shadow Of The Moon


1) Shadow Of The Moon; 2) The Clock Ticks On; 3) Be Mine Tonight; 4) Play Minstrel Play; 5) Ocean Gypsy; 6) Minstrel Hall; 7) Magical World; 8) Writing On The Wall; 9) Renaissance Fair; 10) Memmingen; 11) No Second Chance; 12) Mond Tanz; 13) Spirit Of The Sea; 14) Greensleeves; 15) Wish You Were Here.

Ritchie Blackmore. Most people will remember him for early Deep Purple, some will for early Dio-era Rainbow, still others — shudder — for the later «hit era» Rainbow, but you know what? Listening to this album, the first in a new career and a new life, makes me absolutely convinced that it was not until this transformation from a blazing rock god into a humble minstrel that he had really found his true heart's content. And in the overall context of his life and his deeds, this finding makes me genuinely feel good for him.

Normally, this «neo-medieval» stylistics, the roots of which probably go all the way back to bands like Amazing Blondel in the early 1970s and maybe even further back to God knows where, is about as cringeworthy as a tacky mansion in «medieval» style, erected somewhere on the pro­perty by some tasteless nouveau riche. The melodies are stiff and manneristic, the arrangements tepidly polite, the lyrics overloaded with clichés that betray only a superficial acquaintance with the verbal art of Chaucer's, let alone King Alfred's, times. All of these flaws are vividly present on the first album by Blackmore's Night, and more — obviously produced on a modest budget, the record keeps substituting electronic replacements for genuine instruments. Synthesized trum­pets? Works wonders in the authenticity department, you know.

But then again, who are we kidding? Shadow Of The Moon has nothing to do with authenticity, and if you box Ritchie into a corner, or maybe even if you don't, he will probably admit that him­self. Shadow Of The Moon is simply part of his fantasy, which began with his encounter with Candice Night (Candice Lauren Isralow, to be precise), a young fan born in the year of Fireball, in 1989 — and ended with the formation of this duet, in which Blackmore plays the part of a traveling minstrel (always with his trusty boots on!) and Candice plays the part of his romantic fantasy, whichever it happens to be at the moment (empress, princess, lady in waiting, innocent peasant girl, witchy woman, gypsy, fortune teller, fairy queen — anything, as long as it has nothing to do with the real world).

Ever since they seriously hooked up, I think, they were living this fantasy in real life to some extent, so it was only natural that, eventually, something like this would come out. Fans were expectedly devastated: a Blackmore album without a single Blackmore electric solo? In fact, an album where his role was essentially reduced to that of songwriter and basic accompanist? Him, Ritchie Blackmore of the Huge Ego, which we all had to accept and cherish? Unbelievable, and sacrilegious. Was this Candice Night gal his Yoko Ono, putting him under her spell and making a humble slave out of the world's fiercest electric guitar hero?..

Not quite. There are two kinds of people who always punish Shadow Of The Moon with one-star ratings. The first kind simply wants Blackmore to go on being a guitar god — that's the silly kind, because if you don't want to be a guitar god no more, it's useless to force yourself. The second kind just cringes and calls the music tacky — which it certainly is. Except they are for­getting that every band in which Ritchie has done time has always been tacky, right from the earliest days of Deep Purple. Remember their cover of the Beatles' ʽHelp!ʼ on the debut album? Now if that ain't tacky, I don't know what is.

Yes, like most of this faux-Renaissance muzak, the songs, taken at face value, are stiff, boring, and corny, and not at all redeemed by the technical aspects of their execution — Blackmore's guitar playing (mostly acoustic, although he does not completely shun the electric sound) is intentionally very modest, whereas Night's vocals are pleasantly passable: she is no new Annie Haslam in terms of range or power, and no new Sandy Denny in terms of expression and spiritu­ality, she just sings in a nice tone. Not particularly irritating or memorable. Not much to hate, not a lot to love. Fine wardrobe, though.

Where this album, and most of its follow-ups, really succeeds is in making you understand just how much the both of them dig doing it. Forget the rock god image — this is what Blackmore has really been waiting for all his life: a fair lady companion to allow him to drown his ego in a world of dark shadows, green meadows, magic spells, crystal balls, greensleeves, and mandolins. De­spite the technically unimpressive arrangements, it is clear that they spent a shitload of time working out all the little twists on these songs. ʽMagical Worldʼ, in the middle of the record, is their personal statement of purpose: "...In our hearts / We share the same dream / Feelings so strong / We just must carry on / On to our magical world". Trivial, but true: the dedication with which they approach the construction of this «magical world» is worth admiration.

Most of the songs are Blackmore originals (with occasional lyrics from Candice), with two ex­ceptions: ʽOcean Gypsyʼ is a cover of an old Renaissance tune (a predictable choice), while the closing ʽWish You Were Hereʼ is a cover of... no, not Pink Floyd and certainly not Badfinger, but a 1995 single by the Swedish band Rednex, whose members were neither rednecks nor neo-medievalists, but somehow this lonesome ballad got stuck with Blackmore's Night anyway. But on the whole, listing individual highlights is a pointless endeavour — the «originals», employing mostly traditional folk phrasing, smoothly roll on without much stylistic change or musical de­velopment. You'd have to be a serious fan of baroque music to spot the differences — and then, if you were a serious fan of baroque music, you'd probably have no reason whatsoever to entertain yourself with an album like this, when you could be listening to Lully or Telemann instead.

None other than Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson in person makes a welcome guest appearance on ʽPlay Minstrel Playʼ, cheering up the stage with some rousing flute solos; and none other than Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in person has a cameo on ʽWriting On The Wallʼ, the corniest number on the entire record — for some reason, not only did they have the strange idea to begin it with a synthesizer quotation from Swan Lake, but they also decided to deck the rest of the ballad with a speedy disco arrangement, about as appropriate in the context of the album as a skyscraper in the middle of a Papuan village. Maybe at the last moment somebody had the bright idea that it would be wrong for the artists to stay completely out of touch with modern reality, so they threw on «one for the nightclubs» at the last moment. Not good for the vibe, and the vibe is pretty much the only reason one could care about the record in the first place.

Additionally, the album is just too damn long — over an hour, with most of the songs sharing the same magical-mystical mood; as happy as they must have been making it, it is not certain that the average listener would necessarily subscribe to this «let the magic never stop!» ideology. Trim­ming the record at the expense of some of its «samey» numbers might have made me pay more attention to its individual components — as it is, I'm forced to treat it as yer average fairywood mushroom muzak. I totally get this escapist vibe, and I like how it is presented with reserve and humility, but recommending this album for somebody who is not fascinated with the spirit of Ritchie Blackmore would be an impossibility. I guess Candice Night could be called «kinda hot» in recompense, but when it comes to witchy women and gypsies, I guess I'm more of a sucker for Stevie Nicks in the end. Candice just looks way too healthy for my tastes.


  1. Not sure why isn't MNb here the first commenter. ;-)

  2. Because only now MNb has read the review.
    As fascinated as I am with Blackmore's spirit (afaIc he's a guitar god on this album as well; since at least When a Blind Man Cries from 1972 Blackmore has always been more than just a finger flasher) I can't stand this album for one major reason: the echoy keyboards. Unbearable.

  3. ^Lol

    Like MNb I'm a huge Blackmore fan, but I'm still not sure I can get behind this project. As big of a sucker I am for Medieval/Renaissance music, for the most part their work comes off as rather sterile and soulless. One of the problems, at least here, is the keyboard work, but a far bigger issue is Lady Candice herself. I'm sorry, but the woman has absolutely no personality, or at least is terrible at expressing it. Her voice is pleasant enough, but there's no character to it, and she's got too much competition to get away with it. Maddy Prior's voice is equally capable of being lovely and rousing; Annie Haslam sends shivers down my spine on certain songs; Sandy Denny and Jane Relf had a soothing, hypnotic effect to their vocals. At best, Candice's singing goes in one year or out the other -- at worst, it sounds lazy and pathetically insufficient for the atmosphere that she and Ritchie are obviously trying to build.

    You'll be getting to this eventually, George, so I'm interested to see how you felt about it -- but what really put a bad taste in my mouth regarding Blackmore's Night was when I sat through their rendition of "Child in Time", my absolute favorite Deep Purple track. Man, those were some of the longest six minutes of my life -- I hated it. There was absolutely no tension or atmosphere to it. Yeah, I get that they're arranged very differently -- psych/prog meets metal vs. folk -- but that's no excuse. The jazz fusion version Ian Gillan did solo, while definitely less exciting than Purple's, still retained some of the tension with Gillan's vocals. There's also their cover of "Rainbow Blues", which is comparatively sterile and sucky next to Jethro Tull's, but that wasn't quite as offensive.

    I'm willing to give them a bit more of a chance, but I think Ritchie made a mistake in forming this project with her as opposed to just doing solo pieces for guitar, lute, mandolin, etc. (something like Steve Hackett's solo albums). It's almost never a good idea to mix business (or art) with pleasure -- did he learn nothing from Lennon?

  4. "Remember their cover of the Beatles' ʽHelp!ʼ on the debut album? Now if that ain't tacky, I don't know what is."

    Uh huh. At his heart, I've always thought Blackmore was more "mainstream" than he ever let on. He did, after all, play on Pat Boone's cover of Smoke on the Water. It's actually one of the things I like about him. On the outside, he's this rebellious rock diva, but deep down, he's a fan of the radio, just like mum and dad.

    1. Ah, but that's a non-contradiction. The genuine rebel also rebels against his own admirers. "You fans think I should despise Pat Boone? I'll show you."
      It would have been a total gas if Blackmore had made at least one instrumental album indeed. There are two instrumental outtakes recorded with Deep Purple in the 80's, Son of Alerik and Cosmic Jazz. They are stunning.

    2. Son of alerik is from the 80's? i thought it was earlier, it sounds like a Scorpions instrumental called "night lights". From 1975 i think.

  5. Wow! Hardcore DP fans (such as your old buddy Konstantin Tikhonov) must have had serious conniptions when this thing came out! However, since I don’t have much use for them beyond their third album, I was able to be more open minded.
    Actually, I gave it a chance because of the presence of “Ocean Gypsy”. People who have covered Renaissance (the band) tunes can be counted on one hand. Plus, Annie Haslam herself endorsed it, so I was intrigued. Well, maybe she heard something that I don’t, because I find this version rather bland.
    That applies to the rest of the album, although somewhat less. Actually, I enjoy Ritchie’s acoustic playing a great deal, and he picks some interesting music as source material. However, he really should have consulted with Steve Howe so he could have added more variety to repertoire of stringed instruments. Hey, it’s supposed to be Renaissance music -- where’s the lute?
    The weaker link, of course, is his lovely wife. Her voice – and lyrics (with “Magical World” and “Renaissance Fair” being the most obvious and clichéd examples) – sounds exactly like what she is: a nice Jewish girl from Long Island dressing up and a playing 16th/17th century songstress serenading her handsome prince. But while she gives it her best, her voice is just too SMALL for this material. She conveys no passion, power or conviction. You mention some of the great British singers, but Americans such as Joan Baez or Judy Collins could have carried this sort thing off as well. Candice never goes beyond being pleasant and in tune.
    Even so, it’s an OK listen, with the exception of two tracks. I must say that the Rednex tune is better sung and produced than the original, but it still comes off as a generic power ballad. As for “Writing on the Wall” – computerized dance pop on a BLACKMORE album? Even that’s too much for open-minded me. Folks, the drug of choice for Renaissance party-goers was mead, not Ecstasy! Candice should have saved this crap for her solo albums – the need for a good singer is far less for stuff like this song.
    However, judging from your reviews, it sounds like BN hasn’t evolved much over the course of the band’s career. I don’t think I’ll be picking up another one of their albums.