The Airing of Dirty Linen
A recent post on this very blog was found by a certain reader to be insulting to the character of Blackmore. That would be the character of Brythunian Soldier/Thief Blackmore and not his namesake, the English guitarist of great renown, Ritchie Blackmore. The proprietor of 12 Angry Fingers would very much like to take this opportunity to apologize to Certain Reader for the misconception, and would also like to note that this apology is in no way the result of a certain Nordheimer berserker being backstabbed by a Brythunian Soldier/Thief during a particularly frantic moment in the action at this past installment of the Friday Night Role Playing Game Roundtable Argument Society. While it’s true, at the time of the (purely accidental) shivving of the aforementioned Nordheimer berserker (who was indeed a favorite character to play – emphasis on “was”), the other members of the FNRPGRAS were called into duty to separate Certain Reader and the proprietor of 12 Angry Fingers, that was merely the heat of the moment. In the rational light of another day, it is patently obvious that the backstabbing was merely an unfortunate occurrence in the hurly-burly of the fracas, and no ill will was implied or assumed, on either part.
Also, the proprietor of 12 Angry Fingers would like to state, publicly, and also under no duress whatsoever, that “Having entry music for your character is an awesome idea, and forget what I said about it being an egregious anachronism.”
In fact, in a remarkable show of good faith towards our disgruntled comrade, we shall now discuss Ritchie Blackmore’s current project, Blackmore’s Night.
After spending the better part of the ´80s and ´90s vacillating between reuniting with Deep Purple and reuniting with Rainbow, Ritchie Blackmore set course for a new direction: The Renaissance.
Canst thou say “zounds?”
Blackmore’s Night, an ancient music ensemble Ritchie founded with his lady love, Candice Night, is not a historically accurate representation of pre-modern music in the same vein as the works of Anonymous 4; let’s say instead that the music of Blackmore’s Night is inspired by the spirit of the Renaissance. Night does the singing and plays a bit of chanter, Ritchie provides the guitars and some hurdy-gurdy, the Sisters of the Moon (Lady Nancy and Lady Madeline, respectively) provide the harmony vocals, and in a shock twist, Anton Fig (of the David Letterman house band) plays the drums. In addition to the anachronistic drum kit of Mr. Fig, there’s some keyboards and an electric bass in there, at least on the band’s most recent album, The Village Lanterne. These concessions to the present are mollified somewhat by the band’s propensity for dressing like refugees from a Ren Faire (read: Stevie Nicks’ closet), and for Blackmore’s classical mustache, a nice touch if ever there was one.
The music? Well, it’s kind of a hodge-podge of rousing Celtic rock, leavened with a touch of New Agey something or other, and a generous helping of classic British Folk. Blackmore’s playing is as fit and fiery as ever, although it’s his evocative work on the acoustic guitar that rouses more passion here, truth be told. While he provides a few electric leads throughout the album, his heart seems to be more involved in his acoustic work. The instrumental “The Messenger” is a shining example of the things Ritchie Blackmore can do to a guitar, as he summons melancholy vistas of hazy Andalucian plains through a cascade of notes. A cover of Ralph McTell’s “Streets of London” suffers a bit from too much frill – a superfluous, bubbly keyboard progression mars what begins beautifully with just Blackmore’s playing and Night’s breathy voice. The electric numbers, such as the anthemic “Just Call My Name (I’ll Be There)” seem a little over-heated by comparison; the commercial sheen that Blackmore developed writing for early-´80s Rainbow is a touch too strong here, and it’s incongruous with the band’s quieter numbers, distractingly so. Strangely, an actual cover of Rainbow’s “Street of Dreams,” with Joe Lynn Turner guesting on vocals, sounds much more fitting. Blackmore’s gift for a melodic hook and a gradual build-up are aided here by a slower tempo than on the original version of the song, and Turner’s voice blends charmingly with Night’s.
Perhaps the strangest moment comes when the band segues from the foot-stomping folk of “Mond Tanz” into a cover of the Deep Purple chestnut, “Sweet Child in Time.” “Sweet Child in Time’s” simmering, Bolero-esque march is one of the greatest pieces of recorded music; the rhythm section’s ascending triple thuds provide a rocking canvas for Blackmore’s soaring bent notes, while the vocalist (whoever it is in this particular installment of Deep Purple) howls a wordless inversion of the riff. On the Made in Japan version of the song, Ian Gillan skates briefly along the line between “ecstatic” and “shrieking in tongues” before giving in to the latter, howling like a zealous anchorite. The Blackmore’s Night version has a different timbre of howling spirituality. The rhythm section has a stripped-down dryness, lacking the insensate wildness of Deep Purple’s Hammond/electric bass/jazz drum core; it makes up for the loss with the twinned vocals of Lady Nancy and Lady Madeline, soaring along with Night’s own searching voice. Blackmore, as ever, drives the song with a series of well-balanced flourishes, most of them familiar to fans of the original, and all of them on the electric guitar, sadly. It’s a prettier but less frantic version of the song, and when it suddenly reverts back to the thumping folk of “Mond Tanz,” it’s an abrupt reminder of what the song might have been this time around. If Blackmore’s Night had committed fully to an all-acoustic rendition, it might have been a masterpiece. As it is, it’s a near-miss, but a miss on the right side of entertaining.
Blackmore’s Night’s “Sweet Child in Time” perhaps indicates that Ritchie Blackmore can’t escape his musical past, and that he hasn’t quite rectified it with his present. Still, despite the album’s failings, I’d rather have him making new music than just circling the globe with whatever incarnation of Deep Purple exists these days.
And speaking of circling the globe, Blackmore’s Night is scheduled to be at the Chicago House of Blues on October 18. And you know what’s awesome? Fans who dress in period garb receive preferential seating. Time to buy that cape and doublet and get a seat down front. Huzzah.