Blackmore's Night,
Under a Violet Moon
(Minstrel Hall, 1999)

The cover -- a crowd of peasant revelers in an Old World village -- led me to expect a typical Renaissance faire band playing typical Renaissance faire tunes. Chalk up another one for mistaken first impressions.

Once the Blackmore's Night CD Under a Violet Moon made it into my CD player, it didn't want to leave. Although there are a few throw-away tunes here, the album overall is quite excellent. Instead of old faire chestnuts, Blackmore's Night has filled the CD with less familiar traditionals and several very good original pieces. Even the traditionals are cunningly arranged to elicit a fresh sound, with just enough modern influences to set the band apart from the crowd.

The band (duo, actually, with lots of guests) is fronted by singer Candice Night. (She's also credited for pennywhistle, but it's used sparingly.) Night has a lovely, delicate voice, pure and sweet and perfectly suited to this sort of "minstrel rock."

Her partner in the project is Ritchie Blackmore -- a band in his own right, playing an array of guitars, plus mandolin, bass, Renaissance drum and tamborine. Providing support are more than 25 guest musicians, adding everything from keyboards to flugelhorn.

The album begins with the title track, a band original which immediately captured my attention. Night's fey vocal style, the tight instrumentation and evocative imagery make this a keeper -- and once the pace picks up a bit, it's hard to keep from bouncing and singing along!

Another favorite is the potent "Spanish Nights (I Remember It Well)," which begins with Blackmore's grand Spanish guitar solo before kicking into high gear for Night's soaring vocals.

Other great tracks include band originals "Castles and Dreams," "Morning Star" and "Fool's Gold," and the traditional "Gone with the Wind" (which boasts more electric guitar than most tracks on this album). The traditional "Avalon" has a courtly feel to it, as does the original "Catherine Howard's Fate." "Wind in the Willows" is a lovely ballad about a young, cheerful Jesus with Mary and Joseph in England. A horn section adds a martial flair to the traditional "Past Time with Good Company." There's more of a military air in "March the Heroes Home," about the end of bloodshed.

Blackmore proves his intricate guitar skills in the original instrumentals "Possum Goes to Prague," "Beyond the Sunset" and "Durch den Wald Zum Back Haus."

"Now and Then," written by Night, is a folk-pop love ballad which, while good on its own, seems out of place given the overriding tone of the rest of the album. "Self-Portrait" ends the CD, also somewhat out of place but less so than "Now and Then." (The band definitely had sex on the brain while writing lyrics such as "Hey hey hey -- there's only the devil to pay / I'm ready to go, pull me down from below / Give me a place I can lay" and the fairly direct "Nothing is real but the way that I feel and I feel like going / Down."

Overall, the album is a success. The production is tight and polished -- a product Blackmore and Night can be proud of. Give 'em a listen, I suspect you'll enjoy them as well.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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