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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sunday Potpourri - Blackmore's Night - Secret Voyage

Blackmore's Night - Secret Voyage
2008 Minstrel Hall Music
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



We are living in an age of nostalgia, where the times have become so tough and so hopeless for many that escapism is not only fun, it's therapy. We fantasize about living in times that don't belong to us because there's an unspoken romance factor about it. Centuries-distant periods such as the Victorian age, the Civil War, ancient Asia and most especially Medieval Europe hold a certain charm because, judging by old time art standards that had never thought of abstract art and bended expressionism (not counting the frequently nightmarish surrealism of Renaissance painter Hieronymous Bosch), the people of the times lived in periods of purported refinement, judging by the articulate wardrobe, fire-blown glass and fist-hammered steel, and thus we are to be subliminally jealous. Yes, our values at-large have decayed, so much that going to church is like going to the mall in terms of the lax dress of most parishoners. And yes, our society has become so industrialized that food, products and once again wardrobe are expected to be manufactured at top speed so that the final quality ends up being questionable. Not to sound snobbish, but we are a far cry from the suggested cavalier candor of what Old Master, Flemish and Rococco paintings would imply.

That being said, giving the capitalist times we live in, to carve an experience that is astray from the cybernetic breakneck pace humanity is setting its course upon, this naturally gives way to market exploitation. Whether you're attracted to the Medieval ages from a viewing of Excalibur or you read the Arthurian book it was based upon, Le Morte D'Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory, once the bug is in you, it's there, and you'll find yourself donning replica garb and tossing pints in wooden flasks at your local Renaissance Festival. I say this from experience, because the Renfest holds one of those rare opportunities to get out of the hurry-up or get-out-of-the-way demands of life, and sure it's fabricated and artificial, even as you cross paths with grounds actors you've probably stood in line at Burger King with on an ordinary day, and when they drawl in pretend Cockney accents and make playful jibes, or they drag you smack into the middle of a mandolin dance, yeah, it's silly beyond words, but sure enough, you're ready to plop down your cash for a turkey leg, a freshening up of the ale and if the money's there, an overpriced dagger to mount next to the rest of the cutlery on the wall next to a Hamlet poster and overtop a half-sized aluminum knight holding sentry over the home's keep.

It's no wonder then, that Ritchie Blackmore found an entirely new audience with his wife Candance Night amongst the new age and RenFaire crowd, a group that has made Blackmore's Night a Billboard-topping success of its particular genre. Meanwhile, the rockers and the metalheads who still spin old Rainbow and Deep Purple albums almost in mourning for the headbanger that Blackmore used to be have largely turned their backs to Blackmore's Night. In some ways, this gives me a lot of respect for Blackmore, knowing he was blatantly discarding his rock audience and turning old salt into a new form of expression. Like Uli Jon Roth (or presumedly Judas Priest as of Nostradamus), Blackmore has seen fit to lend his electric and acoustic prowess to a lost in retrospection air duct courtesy of the Renaissance, and whether you dig it or not, his troupe has done perfectly fine for themselves in playing it up to Medieval Times. Credit where it's due, Blackmore's playing by his own rules.

For my money, the best Medieval revisionist album ever put down is Dead Can Dance's Aion, but for Ritchie Blackmore's purposes, there's still a hint of the rocker lion inside, or at least a tamed pop kitty in this case. While Blackmore's Night has never plugged in and screeched and hammered beyond their will, at times you will hear Ritchie Blackmore yank out squealing electric notes and tempered note strings. Still, the order of business for Blackmore's Night is that self-empowered escapism through imaginary fields and grottos of honor in a feudal period that had far more against it than for it, when you consider the average life expectancy alone was half than what it is today.

Of course, on the troubadour ensemble's latest album Secret Voyage, you get plenty of sweet-laced faraway odes and sonnets such as "Sister Gypsy," "Gilded Cage" and "Peasant's Promise" that whisk you straight into the sophistication of old Europe, and if you're not into this stuff, then it's easy to discard it all as nonsense. However, if you are, then Secret Voyage grabs you hook, line and sinker.

If anything, Blackmore's Night has gotten stronger at their craft, and certainly Candace Night makes for an alluring siren to commandeer the lofty vehicle. Though we could've done without the elctronic-aided cover of Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling In Love," at least it's pleasing enough to hear Ritchie Blackmore pluck on acoustic 12 strings, mandola, mandocello and various string and percussion like he's giving a chamber fugue clinic. The instrumental "Prince Waldecks Galliard" especially is delectably daydreamish. Yeah, most people wish he'd assume his rightful mantle as Dean of Rock School, but if this is what he wants to do with himself, and more importantly, with his spouse, then let him fulfill his life's desires. It's easy to throw darts at people for changing their courses when we want them pegged snugly where we prefer to look at them like those aforementioned paintings locked down for posterity.

Our lives are so dependent on order and structure, even as the winds of change force us to move on. Some go with the sails into the great unknown, but a lot of people resist it or at least baby-step their way through. When you stop and think about it, Blackmore's Night is simply a pocket portal to jump into when you don't much feel like going with the tide, or least not letting it carry you faster than you want to go. Secret Voyage is harmless escapism, so fill your stein, as the opening track declares and get thee whence... God Save the Keg, indeed...

6 comments:

Metal Mark said...

No rating? Did you forget or are you going against order and structure?

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

I give no ratings on Sunday Potpourri...might not've mentioned that on the first installment, or maybe I did, I dunno...but SP is basically a free writing period, so no order and structure

bob_vinyl said...

Paris Moon was more than enough of that wanker for me. Richie Blackmore should tour with Sting, because they both like this crap and they don't have an ounce of rock n roll left between them.

bob_vinyl said...

And someone should tell get a memo over to whomever did the cover art: The days of getting away with bad photoshop are over.

DPTH International said...

I have dug the last couple Blackmore's Night albums and I'm looking forward to this one.

It's arefreshing change when I wanna take the metal out of folk metal for a while.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

there we go, it almost wasn't worth doing if Bob didn't come out to slag it up...I feel much yummier inside now

dpth, have fun with it...this stuff is laidback and nonsensical but of course, not for everyone's tastes...I'd gladly pitch that Elvis cover since it really doesn't belong here, but oh well, I'm not the writer of the album