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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Blackmore's Night: Under A Violet Moon

BLACKMORE'S NIGHT: UNDER A VIOLET MOON (1999)

1) Under A Violet Moon; 2) Castles And Dreams; 3) Past Time With Good Company; 4) Morning Star; 5) Avalon; 6) Possum Goes To Prague; 7) Wind In The Willows; 8) Gone With The Wind; 9) Beyond The Sunset; 10) March The Heroes Home; 11) Spanish Nights (I Remember It Well); 12) Catherine Howard's Fate; 13) Fool's Gold; 14) Durch Den Wald Zum Bach Haus; 15) Now And Then; 16) Self Portrait.

For some reason, Ritchie likes to make these records rather long — around an hour in duration, sometimes more, taking full advantage of the CD format at a time when other performers were already getting past that stage, and slowly realizing that you don't have to stretch your record out to 70 minutes just because you can fit that much length on your current medium of choice. Be­cause of that, all of these Blackmore's Night recordings necessarily have monotonous streaks to them even if it would be wrong to say that Blackmore always purposefully sounds the same.

On the contrary, if you put it all together, an album like Under A Violet Moon (several points off, though, for two LPs in a row with the word «moon» in the title) features plenty of diversity. There's some medieval English music, some medieval German music, some medieval Spanish music, an acoustic reinvention of an old Rainbow song, and even a bit of Russian folk music, which, upon closer inspection, turns out to be pseudo-folk music (ʽGone With The Windʼ incor­porates the melody of Polyushko-polye, Lev Knipper's most famous contribution to his country, written in 1934), but who's supposed to know?

In some ways, this is a serious improvement: the production, featuring many more «authentic» instruments than before (with twice as many musicians credited in the liner notes), is fairly well cleaned from that feeling of «cheapness» — and there are no downright embarrassments like the disco pandering of ʽWriting On The Wallʼ. That's on the traditional-conservative side, but on the «fusion» side, Blackmore's fans will also like the fact that he is playing more electric guitar, in­cluding a trademark flashy solo during the coda of ʽGone With The Windʼ (very clean, though: no distortion or whammy bar hooliganry) — and that Rainbow cover, too, is a nice enough gesture, showing that Ritchie has not completely disavowed his past, but is rather willing to re­think it. After all, some of those songs did have good melodies, and ʽSelf Portraitʼ works fine in an acoustic setting.

Unfortunately, nothing will help Candice Night to become a more interesting singer than her inborn gift allows her to, and no matter how they try, all of these songs are, at best, «pretty» rather than «beautiful». When they come up with catchy vocal hooks, as they do on the title track, they are worth relistening — but even then, the magic that they sincerely try to work on that song is rather trite. Pretty girl singing, «mystical» echoey male harmonies flanking, gradual quickening of the tempo to turn the whole thing into a magical dance ritual, we've pretty much sat through all that in high school already: can you show us something we don't know? Okay, even if you can, you just don't want to. It's your fantasy, and you don't care just how original or individualistic it is. Fair enough. "Past time with good company / I love, and shall until I die" — what serious objec­tion could there be against ol' King Henry VIII and his still-actual credo?

Seriously, none at all, and there is not a single track on this album that would not be at least tepidly likable. Some have said that the album is more «poppy» where its predecessor was more «folky», but this is a matter of personal impression, I guess, especially if by «poppy» one means «catchier and/or happier tunes», which are more or less equally interspersed here with darker stuff — and it is interesting that the bleak ʽSelf Portraitʼ, with its "going down, down, down, down, down" chorus was chosen as the coda, leading the album from the collective ritualistic happiness of the opening to the personal depressed gloom of the closing. Other than that, I guess ʽGone With The Windʼ with its Russian folk backing harmonies is the most «outstanding» number here, but there is something hokey about crossing fake Russian mouzhiks with passionate Blackmore electric soloing, so there is hardly anything cathartic about the song.

I'd give the album a thumbs up and recommend it to Blackmore's fans as a suitable introduction into his world, populated with idealistic projections of King Henry VIIIth, Michael Praetorius, and J. S. Bach, as they all join hands and dance around the fire under a violet moon shining over a Spanish night somewhere in Avalon. But remember that, essentially, this is just a musical form of cosplay, so, instead of expecting Fairport Convention quality, just bring along your Robin Hood garments and a longbow, and on that level, it will be fairly easy to connect with the old grey minstrel and his golden-locked protegée.

1 comment:

  1. "showing that Ritchie has not completely disavowed his past"
    This is a common misunderstanding. Blackmore always has been more than just a hardrock shedder. A couple of months before he entered Deep Purple he recorded an adaptation of Grieg's Hall of the Mountain King. In my totally subjective opinion it annihilates the Townshend and co version. He did Anyone's Daughter because he was interested in country. There is Greensleeves, Rainbow Eyes. Instead of the various bad artistic choices he made I'd wish he had done more of this stuff with either Rainbow or Deep Purple or both.
    Blackmore essentially is a romanticist. Just like Henrik Ibsen (Peer Gynt), Wagner (Der Meistersinger), Von Weber (Der Freischütz) and Walter Scott (Ivanhoe) he longs for an idealized past. Hardrock represents his rebellious side - like Lord Byron.
    The romanticism is reflected in the choirs as well. It were the nationalist Russian composers in the 19th Century who caused a revival of orthodox choirsinging. Gone the Wind is an attempt to integrate such choirs as well.
    I can accept CN's limited vocals as she never tries to do more than she can pull off. She does a fine job singing Self Portrait; one could even argue that the song is better off without Dio's dramatic approach. My main problem again is the echoey production. Alas I strongly dislike it. I have checked several live recordings and it looks like Blackmore liked it so much he reproduced on stage as well. Without it I totally would fall for the title song for instance.

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