CD: Dancer and the Moon
Artist: Blackmore’s Night
I’ve become quite a fan of Blackmore’s Night since becoming familiar with their music and doing a feature article on their excellent Autumn Sky album here on Music and Media Focus in 2011. As I wrote at that time: “If the name Blackmore rings a bell, you may recognize it as the surname of Ritchie Blackmore who created one of the most recognizable riffs in rock history: “Smoke On The Water” and ascended the stairway to heaven of guitar stardom in Deep Purple and later in Rainbow over a career spanning three decades. The other half of the Blackmore’s Night name belongs to award-winning songwriter, vocalist, and woodwind player, Candice Night, an incredible talent in her own right.” I also had the pleasure of writing about Candice’s beautiful solo album, Reflections, as well.
For those who may not be familiar, the music of Blackmore’s Night is an alchemical brew of Renaissance and Medieval music, Celtic, English folk, and of course, rock influences. The seven-piece band employs a wide range of instruments harkening from the Middle Ages to the present. Dancer and the Moon is their ninth studio release, and as with many of the others, the moon is an ever-present element in their music and imagery. Like their personal relationship, which has been going strong for 20 years and includes two children together, Candice and Richie’s songwriting process is also a partnership. According to Candice, generally, Richie first comes up with a melody, after which they work on it together. When it gets to a certain point, Candice goes off on her own, to create the lyrics. Richie adds: “We’re often torn between doing an acoustic version with all the correct (historic) instruments, which we can do, or making it a little more radio-friendly. So we kind of sometimes end up going down the middle, between trying to be in a purist form or arranging it and appealing to the masses.”
Interestingly, Dancer and the Moon is available in two versions. One is the standard CD by itself, and the other is a “Deluxe Edition,” which also includes a DVD, and sells for just a few dollars more. On the DVD are bonus videos of four of the songs performed informally on acoustic guitar and vocals by Richie and Candice. Also included is a half hour documentary where the duo discusses the making of the album, individual tracks, and other facts related to Blackmore’s Night. One of the topics is the great regard they have for their loyal fans. As Candice remarks, “It’s become like a community at this point.” She likened it a bit to the Grateful Dead fan base that follows the group to their concerts around the world. It becomes a big event and a gathering of the tribes, so to speak – a “family reunion” decked out in full Ren-rock attire, oftentimes set in European castles. She goes on to say: “Relationships that get built at our shows last a lifetime. People love to come out and dress in costume.” Richie also enjoys the connection with the audience and likes playing smaller, more intimate venues than he did in his rock band days. In his words: “it’s a challenge to entertain smaller groups of people. By comparison, playing with Deep Purple in front of 275,000 people at California Jam was easy.”
I liked how the first track on the album, entitled “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today,” opens with a slow chugging rhythm and Candice’s soulful vocals for the first verse, only to explode like a thundershower into a fully orchestrated ensemble piece with traces of Celtic, pop, and rock. Richie doesn’t make his electric guitar fans wait long for a taste of his fiery fretwork as he cuts loose with his trademark solo sound on the opening track. The spirit of the Renaissance period that Blackmore’s Night is so well known for, is captured in a song called “The Last Leaf.” Candice’s lyrics are poignant and describe “a parallel between the lives of the leaves on trees and we as humans fearing change.” The tune “Lady In Black” has an interesting story of how it came to be on the album. Richie and Candice originally heard the song on the radio, but had no idea who it was by. Eventually they hummed the melody to some of their fans who identified it as being written and recorded by the 70’s hard rock band Uriah Heep. After reading that, I went to Youtube and listened to the original, but I really appreciate the personal spin Blackmore’s Night has put on the song. The first instrumental track on the album is “Minstrels In The Hall.” In the accompanying DVD, Richie describes it as “based on the kind of music that was used for dancing in the 1500’s. Its very regimented, very strict timing because of the religious views at the time that prohibited any form of sensual movements.” He went on to explain that that is the reason why in some of the traditional Irish dancing, the dancers only move their legs and their arms are held tightly by their sides to prevent any possibility of suggestive gesturing.
While many people assume that Richie’s interest in Renaissance music started more recently, he was actually listening to it back in the early ‘70’s while in Deep Purple and elements of it show up in their songs like “Highway Star” and “Smoke On The Water” which is played in parallel fourths – typical of the music of the 1500’s. As mentioned earlier, the moon is an important symbol in their music and reflects the role of nature in their music. Part of the inspiration for the title song comes from a festival they attended in a village in Germany many years ago and the image of a gypsy girl dancing around a huge bonfire under a full moon, with thousands of people dressed in medieval costume. According to Candice: “I think there is something so spiritual about just giving yourself completely to the song, to the music. Whether it is through dance or just through your own emotions – that complete abandonment, surrender.” The music on this song perfectly captures that feeling.
In an unusual move, the album features two songs based on the same melody, although they couldn’t be more different. Derived from an old Czech tune from the 1500’s, “Somewhere Over The Sea (The Moon Is Shining)” is a slow ballad with a traditional folk feel. While “The Moon Is Shining (Somewhere Over The Sea)” is a pedal to the metal rocker that would certainly appeal to Richie’s fans from his Deep Purple days. However, most uncharacteristically, the song begins with an arpeggiated synthesizer sequence and electronic percussion that would be at home on an album by Tangerine Dream or Jean Michele Jarre. However after that decidedly techno intro (which I loved), it opens into a bit of grand prog-rock flourish and takes flight. These two songs highlight Candice’s impressive vocal range, which can go from a fair maiden on one track to a rock diva the next. And of course it’s no surprise that Richie delivers some of the album’s most incendiary electric guitar work on this tune. Also, huge props to the rest of the band who add keyboards, bass, strings, horns, percussion, and harmony vocals throughout the recording. A music video of this track with the whole band can be seen on Youtube. The album ends with a bluesy instrumental rock tribute to Deep Purple organist Jon Lord who passed away recently and features Richie’s electric lead guitar at its finest, and of course a smoking organ solo by Pat Regan in the style of the late great Jon Lord.
Dancer and the Moon is another outstanding release by Blackmore’s Night with something to please the rainbow spectrum of their fans. From earthy Renaissance reverie to rousing rock, there is something for everyone. In a previous review I compared elements of Blackmore’s Night’s sound to aspects of Jethro Tull, and with this album featuring more electric guitar, the comparison is still apt in certain respects. Although the elegant vocals of Candice Night put Blackmore’s Night in a league of their own. Fan’s of Richie’s soaring Stratocaster who wanted to hear more of it in the music will certainly be happy – I know I am. And those who love the group’s more traditional acoustic fare will find a nice balance of that on Dancer and the Moon as well. Despite the wide variety of influences in their sound, or possibly because of it, the group has managed to build a huge following around the world, showing that there is a market for original music that breaks the mold of standard radio fare. And that is something Blackmore’s Night does in grand style.