BLACKMORE'S NIGHT: SHADOW OF THE MOON (1997)
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.