Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Review of Blackmore's Night's "Ghost of a Rose"

I posted this review a few minutes ago on the Sputnik Music website.

Review Summary: "And the winds would cry/And many men would die/And all the waves would bow down to the Loreley."

Ghost of a Rose (2003) is one of Blackmore's Night's stronger LPs. It's their fourth studio album, and on this one, they continued a process which had begun on their previous album, that of stretching their musical boundaries. While the English Renaissance sound remains the defining characteristic of the band, on this one, they've expanded into various other sub-genres of folk music as well, including Slavic and gypsy folk, American pop folk and maritime music. 

There are fifteen tracks on Ghost of a Rose, and several of them are outstanding. The title number is one of those delicate, romantic songs that Blackmore's Night absolutely excels in. It's partially inspired by a cello concerto written by the British composer Edgar Elger, and is dedicated to Elger and Jacqueline Du Pre, who famously recorded the piece in 1965. It tells the story of a free spirited "maiden fair" (who seems to be supernatural in origin) who is separated from her "true love", but remains in his heart because she's taught him to always think of her whenever he sees a white rose. Candice Night has one of the loveliest voices in all of modern music, and the song's simple beauty is tailor-made for her. 

A second standout track is "Loreley". This is an upbeat little sea chanty based upon the German legend of the Lorelei, a siren whose haunting voice draws sailors to crash upon the rocks at the base of a cliff that overlooks the Rhine River. "Diamonds and Rust", on the other hand, is based on a legend of a different kind, namely that of Bob Dylan. This is a cover of a 1975 hit single by the American folk artist Joan Baez, and it's basically an F.U. song to Dylan, who seems to have broken her heart a decade prior. I miss Baez's exquisite finger-picked guitar on this version -- it's replaced here by some of Ritchie Blackmore's acoustic Renaissance stylings -- but Night presents us with a compelling alternate version of the song that might not eclipse Baez's original, but at least gives us an interesting variation of this classic track.

There are a number of other really strong numbers here as well. "All for One" is a stirring medieval anthem that mines some of the same territory as "Past Time With Good Company" from the band's 1999 Under a Violet Moon album. This one even gives Blackmore a chance to insert just a smidgen of emotive electric guitar. "Cartouche" mixes gypsy folk rhythms with the ancient Egyptian concept of the cartouche, a type of amulet that was buried with kings and queens to grant them immortality. "Way to Mandalay" is the album's sole single, which is strange considering the song is over six minutes long. It didn't really go anywhere on the singles charts, but it's still a pretty cool little track, featuring some Middle Eastern percussion and some atypical (for Blackmore's Night) synth work. It's something of a haunting musical journey through a "misty moor". There's also a cover of a relatively obscure Jethro Tull song ("Rainbow Blues"), and a couple of little acoustic instrumental ditties that give Mr. Blackmore a chance to show off some of his subtler guitar magic ("Nur Eine Minute" and "Mr. Peagram's Morris and Sword").

I have friends who are huge fans of classic rock music who are appalled that a rock legend like Ritchie Blackmore, a man who is, after all, responsible for one of the most iconic electric guitar riffs of all time in Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water", "wastes" his talents (as they see it) pretending to be a minstrel in a Renaissance Fair. If you're of a similar mind, then other than the occasional guitar lick that's just going to make you wish there were more like it, this isn't going to be an album for you. But if you enjoy folk music in general, and appreciate Renaissance music and/or myth-themed folk, Ghost of a Rose will definitely scratch that itch for you.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars