Friday, March 3, 2023

The View On Pop Culture: Blackmore's Night, Rita Chiarelli, "Chasin’ That Devil Music" & Bob Hyde (2001)

Blackmore's Night Fires At Midnight

Guitarist Richie Blackmore is one of the pioneers of heavy metal, best known for his six-string wizardry with Deep Purple and Rainbow. As an artist, Blackmore has long since evolved past “Smoke On the Water,” leaving both of his former bands behind him better than half a decade ago. These days, Blackmore is going forward into the past as the artist explores the possibilities of Renaissance-era music with Blackmore’s Night. A collaborative effort between Blackmore and vocalist/songwriter Candace Night, the pair’s third album, Fires At Midnight (Steamhammer), is an incredibly charming and infectious collection of songs. A few of Blackmore’s trademark riffs still lurk in the corners, songs such as “I Still Remember” resembling nothing so much as a sophisticated power ballad.

On the album’s traditional songs, however, Blackmore shows off his multi-instrumental talents, adding mandolin and percussion to the songs alongside electric and acoustic guitars. Candace Night is not a powerful vocalist, but rather a mesmerizing one, her vocals weaving a spell of enchantment. Her wonderful reworking of Dylan’s classic “The Times They Are A Changin’” is sheer magic, a gossamer affair that underline’s Dylan’s lyrical mastery. Exotic instrumentation abounds across these songs, with harps and whistles and bagpipes transporting the music to another era. Fires At Midnight is a treasure of an album. The music rings as clearly and cheerfully as the tone of a bell, drawing the listener into a musical sojourn that they’ll not soon forget.

Often overshadowed by male artists, women have nevertheless always been a big part of the blues landscape. A few strong women have left an indelible mark on the blues however; artists like Koko Taylor, Etta James, Bessie Smith, and Ma Rainey earning their seat among the giants of the blues. The distaff side of the genre has continued to grow steadily during the past decade or so, showcasing a marvelous diversity of age and talent that ranges from teen guitarist Shannon Curfman to Saffire, the Uppity Blues Women. Canada’s Rita Chiarelli is a welcome addition to the growing roster of blueswomen. Breakfast At Midnight (Northern Blues) is Chiarelli’s fourth album, a rollicking affair that places the spotlight on her soulful vocals and impressive songwriting skills. Chiarelli explores a number of blues formats on Breakfast At Midnight, from “Never Been Loved Before,” a New Orleans R&B rave-up that would sound perfectly at home in Tipitina's, to the jazzy “Midnight In Berlin.” Chiarelli reminds me a lot of Bonnie Raitt, with great vocal abilities and an artistic palette that includes every facet of the blues. Rita Chiarelli’s Breakfast At Midnight is a breakthrough album by a talent still on the rise.

Speaking of the blues, thanks to historian Gayle Dean Wardlow, the legendary Robert Johnson will finally receive a headstone for his long-lost grave. To celebrate the event, the first annual Robert Johnson Cross Road Memorial Days will be held near Greenwood, Mississippi on August 16 and 17. The celebration of Johnson’s life and career will begin at the Little Zion Baptist Church where Johnson was buried 63 years ago. The event will include a ninety-minute overview of Johnson’s music by Wardlow and record producers Frank Diggs and Larry Cohn, whose efforts rescued Johnson’s wonderful recordings and saved them for posterity.

Gayle Dean Wardlow's Chasin’ That Devil Music
Wardlow was a newspaper reporter and collector of 78 RPM records in the early sixties when he began using his journalistic skills to unearth death certificates for old blues artists. He would then track down and interview friends and families of the deceased bluesmen. Wardlow’s decades-long quest is told in one of the seminal books on the delta blues, Chasin’ That Devil Music (Miller Freeman Books). A fascinating narrative that is complimented by old photos and other graphics, Chasin’ That Devil Music includes tales of well-known artists like Johnson and Charlie Patton as well as forgotten talents like Willie Brown and Tommy Johnson. The book includes a 25-track CD with a wealth of rare recordings and is a great starting point for anybody interested in learning more about the artists and music of the Mississippi Delta.   

It was never my intention to turn this humble review column into a pop culture graveyard, but the loss of so many talents over the past couple of months demands our attention. In the midst of all of the press commentary over high profile deaths, one dedicated rocker has been overlooked. Bob Hyde worked for Capitol Records, where he recently oversaw the compilation of the recent Ricky Nelson box set and reissue series. Hyde was also involved with the first two Rhino Records Do-Wop box sets and produced compilation albums for Mel Torme and George Thorogood, among others. A talented producer, writer and rock historian, Hyde loved the music and fought hard for every project he worked on. In a corporate environment that values bean counters and ‘yes’ men, Hyde was a rarity. He did his work in the shadows, but his contributions in keeping the rock ‘n’ roll flame alive were invaluable by any measure. (View From The Hill, July 2001)    

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