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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Blackmore's Night

Winter Carols

Review by Rick Damigella

Here is a recipe for a classic holiday album: Add one guitar legend to an angelic voiced alto singer, mix with a backing band of Renaissance musicians, sprinkle with a generous amount of holiday cheer and you will yield a dozen delicious Christmas treats. Serve up with a warm set of speakers with a glass of mulled wine.

Winter Carols, the second album from Blackmore’s Night in 06, is a festive cornucopia of holiday songs done in the inimitable style of this unique group of musicians. As many traditional Christmas songs are themselves hundreds of years old (the album opener dates back to the 1700’s) they fit into the Blackmore’s Night canon like a generously stuffed stocking.

Mr. and Mrs. Blackmore have given music fans quite the gift this year. While hardcore fans of The Man in Black will undoubtedly pick this one up, this album should not be relegated to fans only. The sheer beauty of Candice Night’s voice and the timeless arrangements from the band make this a must-listen album for anyone who wants to be quickly put in the holiday spirit. With the sheer number of Christmas songs whose origins are over a hundred years past, one can only hope Blackmore’s Night, like the guy with in red coat and hat, will make a return visit with more gifts like these in a future December.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Hark the Herald Angels Sing/Come All Ye Faithful
From the moment the first heavenly notes depart the lips of Candice Night the listener is transported into a mystical winter wonderland of ancient-meets-modern music. A bridge between the two pieces is created with an exquisite “snake charmer” electric guitar lead from Ritchie Blackmore. The substitution of “he is” for “Christ” in the lyrics secularizes the song from its origins, without altering the meaning.
I Saw Three Ships
Modern folk rock at its finest, the deep toned Renaissance drums and penny whistle accentuate Blackmore’s acoustic guitar work effectively. The precise enunciation of lyrics from Candice Night gives the piece a crisp wintry beauty.
Winter (Basse Dance)
Here we have a magnificent instrumental number which showcases why Ritchie Blackmore is not only a master of the electric guitar, but also the soft curves of its acoustic sister. One can almost see snow falling in the forest as a lone rider makes their way to a castle with a warm hearth. I am reviewing this from an advance copy without liner notes, so withhold lumps of coal from my stocking if I am off base here, but I do believe this to be an original composition.
Ding Dong Merrily On High
Once again, Candice Night gives an angelic vocal performance made even more effective with subtle multi-tracking in parts. The entire piece, from guitar to medieval orchestration to the vocals, blend together to create one of the most beautiful performances on the album. A subtle organ refrain and obligatory chorus of bells ring out the song.
Ma-O-Tzur
Ritchie, Candice and crew deliver a unique folk arrangement of this Hanukah number. Despite its origins, the guitar performance from Blackmore very nearly steers this number into a more Christmasy style. It features another enrapturing performance by Ms. Night.
Good King Wenceslas
This is what Blackmore’s Night does best. These modern day balladeers bring what sounds like a truly medieval arrangement to life in the performance on this song. If you aren’t inspired to take the hand of your maiden or lord and dance around your castle’s ballroom to this piece then perhaps you need another listen (and some more eggnog to cheer up).
Lord of the Dance/Simple Gifts
Popular in Mr. Blackmore’s native England, this song sounds truly traditional in origin but in fact was composed in 1963 by Sydney Carter. The secondary song title is where the Carter composition takes its melody from and where confusion over the origins stems from, as it dates back to the 1800’s. The very traditional sounding Blackmore’s Night arrangement should further this notion as one should feel compelled to dance ‘round the village square whilst listening.
We Three Kings
This is not the first foray into holiday music for Blackmore’s Night. A bonus EP included with the US release of Beyond the Sunset: The Romantic Collection in 04 featured three Christmas songs, all of which appear on the new album, including this number. Candice Night demonstrates a lower range in her vocals. Again the urge to take the hand of your lady fair or your princely lord and dance until the dawn creeps through the castle battlements is as prominent here as on any song on the album.
Wish You Were Here
Even though this is the same song as the album closer from the band’s 1997 debut Shadow of the Moon, the song fits in with the rest of holiday themed fare as if it were recorded for this set instead. This amazing original number features Ritchie’s trademark Strat in contrast to the stark, winter time beauty of the folk arrangements and one of Candice’ best vocal performances.
Emmanuel
All those years wielding his Stratocaster like an electric broadsword and little did we know the softer, acoustic side of Blackmore’s playing could be quite so magnificent. A subtle yet no less ethereal performance from Candice Night accentuates each note from Ritchie’s strings. A lovely flute solo serenades the listener midway through the piece. 
Christmas Eve
This number was the lead song on the Christmas Songs EP from 04 (along with “Emmanuel” and “We Three Kings”) and is easily one of the best original Christmas numbers of the modern era. I place it in the realm of Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas” in terms of sheer beauty, originality and timelessness that should have people singing its refrains during future holiday seasons.
We Wish You A Merry Christmas
A short, sweet performance of this carol with multilayered vocals make you wish Blackmore’s Night was that group of carolers knocking at your door to sing for you after you sat down for dinner.
 
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