A Renaissance of the Renaissance. Blackmore’s Night: To The Moon And Back, 20 Years And Beyond

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Blackmore's Night To the Moon and Back 20 Years and Beyond

The Beatles once said, “It was 20 years ago today Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play.” Well, it’s been 20 years since Richard Blackmore and Candice Night taught the minstrels to play, bringing a renaissance to the Renaissance, so to say. And it’s funny to think that the music they play today technically predated the music he played decades prior by centuries.

Now, I have been a huge fan of the Renaissance (the time, not the band (but I do like the band’s music too)) since I attended my first Medieval festival. My friends and I would truck up to the Renaissance Fair in Tuxedo, New York and, closer to home, in nearby Huntington Long Island. I just felt I belonged.

I have also been a huge fan of Ian Anderson/Jethro Tull, and especially the period of their recording history that brought us the music from the albums MINSTREL IN THE GALLERY, SONG FROM THE WOOD, HEAVY HORSES, and the more fantasy based BROADSWORD AND THE BEAST. Once they departed that sound for another, I felt a musical void and I longed for the day someone would again bring light to that wonderful period in history and, more importantly, its music. Well, it took several years, but finally in 1997 I stumbled upon Blackmore’s Night. I say ‘stumble upon’ because the radio stations never played any of their music, but I happened to come across an album of theirs while looking through the CD Racks at a local music store. Being a longtime Ritchie Blackmore fan from the days of Deep Purple and Rainbow, seeing him on the back cover of SHADOWS OF THE MOON wearing his Olde English looking outfit with a 12 string guitar over his shoulder, this beautiful woman by his side holding a staff, I said, “Hmmm.” Then, after looking at the titles of the songs, I said yet again, “Hmmm.” Then looking back on the cover, I see Ian Anderson listed as guest musician and I said an even louder “Hmmm!” I decided I had to go out on a limb and give it a listen. So I bought the CD, rushed home and popped it into my stereo system and… Wow! I was instantly transported back to the time I longed to hear again, enchanted by a voice from heaven and instruments played by masterful musicians. I was blown away, and thus began a decades-long journey, listening to the beautiful voice of Candice Night and the impeccable playing, writing and arranging of Ritchie Blackmore, where each song was a journey to a different kingdom, be it Medieval or fantasy.

I had always felt Ritchie to be a master of his craft, as he has given the world of rock so many of its greatest recorded guitar moments. But here he has raised the bar tenfold. To hear his guitar work on BMN in this context is amazing--not only on the electric guitar, but many of the variations of acoustic stringed instruments as well. His musical prowess doesn’t end with just instrument playing. His writing and arranging is unbelievable. How he has taken classical works and rearranged those to fit the renaissance style is amazing, and I doubt many of his contemporaries, if any (except for maybe the late Paul O’Neill from TSO), could do the same.

The arrangements in the songs run the gamut from electric to acoustic, and use modern, classical and period instruments along with orchestral strings, string quartets and gorgeous horns. And they are wonderful. I have never heard both the period instruments and modern instruments played together in the same song, and have it sound so right, so perfect.

BMN creates songs that are not of the Renaissance “purist” ilk, per se, but more of an evolution of that period’s music--even more so than what Jethro Tull did in the past. And as a band, they have something--or more appropriately, someone--else in their corner that just makes their music so much more engaging than the rest, and that is the hauntingly beautiful voice of Candice Night, Ritchie’s significant other. Candice’s voice just might be the most beautiful, tonally perfect voice I have ever heard, and she sings with such artful feeling and honesty that I feel she really does feel more at home in the past than the present day. Candice also has this characteristic in her singing where she is so articulate in annunciation that you can understand every word she sings, something that cannot be said about too many singers these days.

So now, I have rambled on but I wanted to set the stage before telling you about this 2-CD set which spans the 20 years that BMN has been creating this wonderful music.

What makes this set a must-own is that it is not just for fans who have always known them, but it is also a jumping-on point for new listeners to get a taste of all the band has done. While it contains many of their favorite songs, a live track, bonus tracks and a bonus video, it also offers several of my favorite songs in 2017 versions that take those original songs and makes them even better (which I would never have thought possible).

Writing on the Wall contains a mix of period and modern instruments that I mentioned earlier, and has this wonderful electric guitar playing that goes so perfectly with Candice’s voice, and leads into the next song, Coming Home (an instrumental). Both just blew me away.

The sound is just gorgeous--every song rendered in wide, deep sound stage with dead black backgrounds, resin rich strings, deep impactful drums and guitars recorded so well you can tell the difference between the types of strings used on them--even the live song Home Again makes you feel like you are there. This song in particular (the only live one in the set) gives you a glimpse of what a live show of theirs is about. The way Candice talks to the audience in the song is as if she is talking to friends (which I believe they all feel as such). They are creating a song and incorporating everything from The Happy Wanderer to Hava Nagila in it, and making it sound fun, entertaining, period, and right. The audience loved it, and so did I.

There are other songs in the set that are instrumentals, and on them you get to hear some guitar playing that rivals Candice’s voice in beauty, such as Ritchie’s re-imagining of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance on Land Of Hope And Glory. It really showcases his musical genius, and should be the version played at every high-schooler’s graduation from this point forward.

Another great song (and they are all great here) is Fire at Midnight, which has Candice singing and this wonderful electric guitar playing that both take your breath away. It’s not what you play, it’s how you play it. It’s not what you sing, but how you song it.

And of course Renaissance Faire…well that song just says it all for me. Blackmore’s Night to me is this perfect blending of Jethro Tull’s Song from the Wood and Uriah Heep’s Demon’s and Wizards--medieval and fantasy, old with a sense of new, taken to the next level.

The only song I wish was on here that isn’t is their rendition of Uriah Heep’s Lady in Black. But, you can’t have everything I suppose.

 

 

This set begs to be heard on a high quality home stereo system. While the music sounds wonderful on any system, it is when it is reproduced on a high-quality system that you are transported to the musical event, and they are performing in the listening room for you.

There are some liner notes on the insert that were penned by Ritchie, but it would have been nicer to have a booklet detailing a little more about the band; the reason being that their albums are not easy to come by. They never really have been, and you’re going to have to order them online or stumble upon them within the ranks of a video/music store, or have a friend share them with you. While that’s a shame, it isn’t unexpected; because their music is music that they themselves enjoy making and performing, and done for those who are willing to make the journey with them. It’s not for the main-stream ilk, and they don’t care that it’s not. Neither do their fans, of which I am one forever. Music for the sake of musical pleasure, this group is the quintessential expression of the term ‘minstrels.’ If you have ever felt out of place in this age, have felt a quiet calling every time you’ve ever gone to a Renaissance Faire (the song of the same name included here I have always felt was written for me) that made you want to stay and sad when you left, then seek out this set. Search out for their other albums, grab you garb and a goblet of wine, some fruit and cheese, sit back and let Candice Night’s sultry voice and the rest of Blackmore’s Night take you back 400 years to the time that they hold dear.

Songs in this set:

CD1

  1. Shadow Of The Moon

  2. Spirit Of The Sea

  3. Renaissance Faire

  4. Play Minstrel Play

  5. Under A Violet Moon

  6. Spanish Nights

  7. Fires At Midnight

  8. Ghost of A Rose

  9. Cartouche

  10. Village Lanterne

  11. The Circle

  12. 25 Years

  13. Dandelion Wine

  14. Home Again (Live)

CD2

  1. I Surrender (Bonus Track)

  2. Moonlight Shadow (2017 Version)

  3. Somewhere Over The Sea (2017 Version)

  4. Writing On The Wall (2017 Version)

  5. Coming Home (2017 Version)

  6. Ghost Of John (Bonus Track)

  7. Minstrel Hall

  8. Possum Goes To Prague

  9. Durch den Wald zum Bach Haus

  10. Nur eine Minute

  11. Village Dance

  12. Land Of Hope And Glory (2017 Single Version)

  13. Bonus Video

Grade: 
5.0 / 5.0