BLACKMORE’S NIGHT – DANCER AND THE MOON

blackmoresnight_dancermoon

Out now on Frontiers Records

9th album from Blackmore’s Night and to be perfectly honest I lost interest in them after their third release, 2001’s “Fires At Midnight” so with almost 12 years between our worlds meeting again I am slightly dubious about what to expect.

Ritchie Blackmore for me was always one of my favourite players, wonderful touch and expression on the guitar, yet I guess I felt slightly uneasy with his turn into pure medieval music. Yes there were some nice songs on the first 3 albums and indeed some good solos here and there but not enough to warrant my interest continuing with the band.

Yet I find myself enjoying “Dancer And The Moon” quite profusely, Blackmore’s magnificent touch on acoustic and electric guitar (of which Ritchie seems to give more time than on my previous experiences) is still in evident, he still has good hands, something many players loose with age.

Candice Night’s (or Mrs Blackmore if you will) vocals also surprised me. Gone are the somewhat weak, high pitched characterless efforts of yore to be replaced by something earthier, more powerful and more original. This is the sound of a vocalist that has found her voice and grown in confidence – no doubt aided by the constant touring the band have done over the last decade – I sort of hear a cross between Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie mixed with the folk ethics of Sandy Denny (RIP). Candice also now writes strong hooks, often with a pop edge, something we all know Ritchie loves and the opening title track kicks off with this radio friendly edge and some fine electric lead work from Blackers.

There seems a real bond between singer and guitarist on this new material and the whole album sounds far more confident and that of musicians at-ease with their sound.  Safe to say this is Ritchie’s true love, and you do get a sense of much of his work with DP and especially Rainbow being built upon the foundations of the traditional style music we hear here, indeed the cover of Rainbow’s “Temple Of The King” works well in its new format (albeit not a million miles away from the original).

Elsewhere we get the traditional Russian folk inflections of “Troika”, a dark haunting vibe for “Lady In Black” complete with flute and hurdy gurdy and this track builds nicely as it progresses.

The back-to-back duo of “Somewhere Over The Sea (The Moon Is Shining)” and “The Moon Is Shining (Somewhere Over The Sea)” are both delightful pieces, the former delicate and the latter bordering as close as we get to hard rock and to be fair could have been on Rainbow’s “Bent Out Of Shape” album and not sounded out of place, a very enjoyable track with some excellent lead work from Ritchie including his trademark slide work and that wonderful vibrato.

Guitar fans will also enjoy Ritchie’s solo acoustic ditties in “Minstrels In The Hall” and “Galliard” both of which feature some wonderful acoustic tones powering along their melodic motifs.

Granted it still might get a little too twee in a couple of places for my own liking with “The Last Leaf” and “The Ashgrove”. but with 2 skipable tracks out of 13 is by no means a bad return.

To finish off the album we get a touching instrumental tribute to Deep Purple organist Jon Lord in “Carry On… Jon”, a delicate slide guitar melody builds into a fitting tribute to Mr Lord.

In conclusion, “Dancer And The Moon” has pleasantly surprised me and I’ve found myself returning to it again and again finding more to enjoy on each subsequent listen.  Maybe my ears have matured? Maybe this is just better? But out of my previous Blackmore’s Night experiences (the first two bought at then high-import prices) this is easily the best and makes me wonder what I have missed out in the intervening years.

Well done Mr & Mrs Blackmore.

Rating – 89%

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DOOGIE WHITE – AS YET UNTITLED

Out now on Metal Mind Productions

Debut solo album from the former Rainbow/Malmsteen vocalist, quite surprising given he’s been on the scene the best part of two decades.  “As Yet Untitled” see Doogie sticking firmly to his Rainbow roots as this is classic hard rock with a dark Rainbow style vibe for the most part yet not quite up to the quality of Blackmore penned tunes.  Its also perhaps a little less interesting that the very good albums he put out with Cornerstone .  But if you like any of the acts mentioned thus far then you will get a kick out of this.

Backed by a very capable supporting staff of Patrick Johansson (Yngwie Malmsteen, drums), Thomas Broman (Glenn Hughes, drums), Derek Sherinian (Black Country Communion, keyboards), Tony Carey (ex-Rainbow, keyboards), Neil Murray (ex-Whitesnake, bass), Greg Smith (Ted Nugent, bass), Paul Logue (Eden’s Curse, bass), Pontus Norgren (Hammerfall, guitar), Marcus Jidell (Royal Hunt, guitar) and Mick Tucker (Tank, guitar) its good to see Mr White friend’s from his various musical acts over the years contributing.

Opener “Come Taste The Band” sets the scene well, rocking yet quite simplistic in its outlook .  “Dreams Lie Down & Die” is Rainbow through and through but could be argued missing the final magic Blackmore would inject.  “Lonely” is one of the albums more ‘in-yer-face’ numbers and kicks more ass than an angry mule .  From here on it’s a case of likeable enough material that never gets too exciting until closing number “Times Like These” which is a bit of a corker pure and simple.

Doogie’s voice in fine fettle throughout, he’s one of the more distinctive vocalists out there and in a good way.  “As Yet Untitled” is a solid album pure and simple but one that does lack some excitement in places.

Now if only Yngwie could ditch Ripper…..

Rating – 83%

IAIN ASHLEY HERSEY – VINTAGE LOVE: THE BEST

Out now on Avenue of Allies

American guitarist Iain Ashley Hersey has always been a player that commanded my respect.  Great tone, great phrasing and all round tasty player it’s a shame he’s never made it out of cult status which to some degree is a surprise considering he’s released albums on Frontiers, Lion Music and Perris Records.  If you like classic hard rock ala Purple/Rainbow and pre perm lotion Whitesnake then you are strongly advised to use this compilation as a starting block.

15 tracks in total with 4 off debut “Fallen Angel” (1999), 5 from “The Holy Grail” (2005), 5 from 2008’s “Nomad” and one all new track “Red Head Rampage”.  To compliment Iain’s finger picked tones (for he eschews a pick) there has been no shortage of vocal talent over the albums as well and featured here we get Dante Marchi, Paul Shortino, Carsten Schulz, Graham Bonnet and Doogie White amongst the more recognisable names.

With the track listing in chronological order we get “Goin’ Down & Dirty”, “Distant Memories”, “Hold On” and “The Outcaste” from “Fallen Angel”.  All strong selections with the pick of the bunch being “Distant Memories” and “Hold On” which still scream “class” 12 years on from original release, lush vocal melodies and a guitar solos to die for make these compulsive listening.

“The Holy Grail” is represented by “Blood Of Kings”, “ Walking The Talk”, Calling For The Moon”, “Blink Of An Eye” and that albums title track continue the quality levels with a less aggressive approach to their predecessors.  “Calling For The Moon” still is a song that Whitesnake would kill for and its nice to hear Carsten “Lizard” Schulz belting it out.  Graham Bonnet is his trademark shouty self on “Walking The Talk” but a little more subtle on “The Holy Grail”.

Hersey’s, to-date, last solo album “Nomad” was arguably the weakest of the three though in the most part its cause wasn’t helped by a lousy mix.  Sonically the remaster has helped somewhat but the flaws are still there to some degree i.e. lead guitar being mixed way too low etc.  A shame as Carsten Schulz once again delivers the goods on “Voodoo Spirits”, “Sacrifice The Sun”, “Vintage Love” and “When Will My Love Fade”.  Doogie White appears on the mic for the faithful rendition of the Rainbow track “L.A. Connection”.  In hindsight the tracks are good indeed and it one you might hope Iain might remix down the line and perhaps make available to a European market better (considering the majority of personnel on it where), not to mention Perris Records did a lousy job marketing it.

Finally we get the bonus track “Red Head Rampage” which is a nice addition, bluesy rock in a Deep Purple “Burn” way.

Overall, whilst some of my favourite tracks are missing this is a nice starting point for the uninitiated and is highly recommended for classic rock fans, or fans of A1 guitar work.

Here’s hoping for a new studio album soon.

Rating – 90%