Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tempest - Turn of the Wheel (1996)

I stumbled upon this band in the metal section of the music store one day. Being a fan of the metal/folk fusion, I pounced on it. However, it's not metal, it's more just folk with a hint of progressive rock. No matter, because it is a great album, and I feel I should delve further into the folk genre.

Tempest are a Californian Celtic band. They've had a number of line-up changes, but the vocalist throughout is Lief Sorbye (he's Norwegian), who also plays the electric mandolin. Formed in 1988, they have released a number of albums and perform both traditional folk songs and original renderings based on folk tales both real and imagined. Other instruments include octave mandolas, flute, harmonica, bodhran, keyboards, violins and a pennywhistle.

The album jacket suits the music - the cover featuring a button or similar, in which 11 frowning faces encircle a dome.  Inside, the lyrics are laid out in a text with a distinctly medieval font that is, nonetheless, easy to read and interlaid with folkish lineart. The inspiration for each track is noted at the top, giving the listener opportunity to research it further, should they so desire. The lyrics are delightfully narrative and a pleasure to listen to.

The general musical style is jaunty folk, with the traditional intruments infused with keyboards and the electric mandolin. These modern instruments are used subtly, so that it never becomes over-poweringly progrock and make a unique and memmorable blend.

The album opens with "The Barrow Man", inspired by the Norwegian myth of the ancient man in the mound.

"Dunmore Lassies" is an instrumental folk dance, combining two reels from Ireland - "the Dunmore Lassies" and "Toss the Feathers". Get up and get dancing!

"The Soul Cages" tells a haunting tale about a merrow who entrances and entraps men and cages them under the sea.

Then it is into "Bogey's Bonnie Belle" which is a traditional Scottish ballad and with a neatly lilting rhythm. It tells the tale of a young man who takes up work for a farmer, Bogey, but gets involved with a farmer's daughter, Isabelle. As their relationship grows, she winds up pregnant and no amount of secrecy can hide their relationship. Bogey, needless to say, does not take this well and sends our narrator on his way - along with the baby. We end with a couple of further folk reels.

A moodier and broodier song, "The Midnight Sun" - a ale of leaving behind your homeland and making the steps into a brave new world. It is a beautifully original ballad and possibly also autobiographical - as it speaks of fjords and the midnight sun, and Sorbye was Norwegian-born. His voice certainly portrays the emotion well.

A crooked little instrumental is "Winding Road". It is recommended that you do not dance to this one. It has a tempting rhythm but is temperamental and changeable.

Then for another version of "The Farmer and the Crow". Here it is entitled "Bonden Og Kraka", the traditional Norwegian folk song followed by several Norwegian halling tunes. These hallingdans is a solo acrobatic dance performed by a man that involves a fair amount of squat-dancing and concludes with him springing in the air and kicking a hat from a stick held high by a woman.

"For Three of Us" is a haunting travelling ballad, and the sort of song that sparks feelings of being far from home, travelling across broad, open spaces with exquisite vistas and rolling hills.  It is tinted with a hint of winter and fueled by the north wind.

Then into two more Irish reels with "Nine Points of Roguery".

Until finally concluding with the bouncy "Cat in the Corner" which tells the tale of a young man's misfortunes - a rogue wanderer with an eye for the ladies and a thirst for whiskey, he is.

If you wish for an eclectic blend of folk music - performed by a band located in sunny California, then Tempest are the band for you. Their music is polished and practised, overlaid with Sorybe's voice.

Rating - 9/10

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