Blackmore's Night

Minstrels and Ballads

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A very well-packaged and superbly compiled Japanese album highlighting some of the best material from each of Blackmore's Night's first three albums, Minstrels and Ballads emphasizes the gentler side of the project. That it offers little of interest to the dyed-in-the-wool Deep Purple/Rainbow fanatic is no surprise -- even absolute neophytes will glance at the cover and digest the title, and know Blackmore's Night delves deep into what modern marketing calls Celtic and new age pastures. However, Blackmore's long-renowned abilities are by no means dormant as he sacrifices volume and electricity for intricacy and warmth and, if Candice Night's vocals (not to mention her sometimes second-hand Stevie Nicks imagery) can grow a little cloying when listened to protractedly, still there's enough dexterity on display to take your mind off her harsher extremes. Song-wise, the album breaks down via five songs from the duo's debut album, four from its sophomore effort, and five from 2001's Fires at Midnight -- including that genre-bending reworking of Dylan's "The Times They Are a Changin'." There's also (perhaps inevitably) an airing of "Greensleeves," a number that Blackmore has had his eye on since at least the early days of Rainbow, and which says as much about Blackmore's Night's versatility as any of the original songs -- maybe even more. Those other tracks, after all, are the sound of Blackmore realigning old musical traditions to the capabilities of his own band. "Greensleeves" is the genuine article, but loses nothing in its updating. If you already own (and love) any of the original Blackmore's Night albums, Minstrels and Ballads is an extravagance that you really don't require -- just run out and buy the rest of the catalog. Anybody wishing to venture for the first time into the duo's captivating land of castles and cauldrons, however, could find no better guide than this.

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