Meditation on the 4 Elements
Wendy Rule, 2008
Wendy Rule’s voice is enchanting, a smoky drift from the shadows of consciousness. That voice can salvage lyrics that might sound ridiculous otherwise, as they did on her 2005 collaboration with Gary Stadler, Deep Within a Faerie Forest. On Wendy’s newest album, Meditations on the 4 Elements, it sweeps across dark soundscapes of droning synthesizers. As its title suggests, this album is more guided meditation than musical endeavor. While this sort of thing isn’t my cup of tea, that hypnotic voice kept me listening.
At Court and Cauldron: The Music of Les Witches
The King of Denmark leaps to a galliard. Lords and ladies revel at a masque in the courtly theater of Renaissance England. Ophelia sings a love song. The cauldron bubbles. The criminal and the persecuted, en route to the gallows, sing “Fortune my Foe,” a melancholy, beautiful tune which has become an early music hit. It is the title tune of this CD — music of Shakespeare’s time, brought to you from France by Les Witches.
On harpsichord, lute, violin, and recorder, Les Witches recreate this music with invention and sizzle. We cannot know exactly how the music was originally performed. It made its way around Europe, its itinerant existence hastened when Queen Elizabeth decided to ban independent musicians. Lyrics changed regularly, ballads became dances, and courtly music became country music (and vice versa).
Candlelight Records, 2004
The sound of waves crashing on a ship starts, the tide taking it slowly out to sea as bagpipes play and women sing a farewell. You can feel Frigga’s grief as Baldur and Nanna sail into the sunset, almost hear the arrow being shot that sets it ablaze and smell the wood as it burns. The waves slowly swallow the ship, and the echoes of the women grieving the passage. This is “The Crossing”, the first track of Frigga’s Web, and sets the tone for the whole album. Frigga’s Web is at once grieving and reverent, powerful and striking. In any other hands this may have been one of the most depressing albums I could have listened to, but with the pounding drums and Andréa Hebel’s dynamic, commanding voice, the songs inspire one to dance rather than mourn.
Blackmore’s Night, 2011
Blackmore’s Night’s dedication to creating and sharing quality music does not disappoint in their most recent album. The album’s overall balance of blended and instrumental styles, as well as traditional and contemporary lyrics, offers a well-rounded musical experience. Fans of Blackmore’s Night might be startled by the opening track, “Highland”, due to its synthesized quality. While it does seem unusual to hear synthesized music from a group so famous for their contemporary acoustic blends, the core charm of Blackmore’s Night is not lost. This album offers strong lyrics and instrumentals that make you close your eyes to listen with your heart instead of only your ears. The mood of the album swings from slow, soulful and dark to upbeat, bright and inspiring. In particular, the songs “Vagabond” and “Darkness” gave me a delightful shiver as I listened to the enchanting and soulful storytelling and traditional folk sound. In addition, the several purely instrumental pieces, such as “Dance of the Darkness” and “Song and Dance Part 2”, make the listener want get up and dance. The variety of musical styles and lyrical themes presented in Blackmore’s Night’s “Autumn Sky” album will offer a soundtrack to just about any mood you are in.
At the Carnival Eclectique
Gypsy Nomads, 2009
Heartbeats and thoughts. Pulses and arpeggios. Drums and guitar with brief hints of vocals. Such is the music of The Gypsy Nomads, “a New York duo” with decidedly international fl air. Their latest album, At the Carnival Electique, blends solid beats with fleeting flourishes, and while the results are playful and deceptively lightweight, the band's appeal creeps up on you and doesn't let go.
Comprised of percussionist/singer Samantha Stephenson and former hardcore string-man Scott Helland, the Nomads form part of the “Cabaret Punk” underground — that energetic hybrid of European Folk roots, Punk attitude, World Beat eclecticism, and traveling-player theatricality. Although their sound recalls HuDost more than, say, The Decemberists, Helland, and Stephenson boil some enchanting concoctions out of that mix.