CD Review: Deep Purple “Total Abandon: Australia ‘99”

Deep Purple
“Total Abandon: Australia ‘99”
Eagle Rock Entertainment
Tracks: 12
Running Time: 73 minutes

Our Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I doubt I’d still be playing guitar if it wasn’t for “Smoke On the Water”.

As a young kid, I expected to pick up a Stratocaster and immediately rock. It didn’t work out that way, though, as my hands didn’t seem to want to merge with the singles in my mental jukebox.

But then Ritchie Blackmore came to my rescue. Armed with the four distinctive power chords that comprise the first 10 seconds of “Smoke on the Water”, I suddenly became the rock deity that I had dreamed of being. I went from being the kid who regularly got beaten up for his lunch money to being an absolute bad-ass that nobody would dare fuck with. The power of “Bom-bommm-bommmmm. Bom-bommm-b-bommmmm. Bom-bommm-bommmm-bom-b-bommmmm” would defeat all.

It’s very clear on “Total Abandon: Australia ‘99”, that Deep Purple knows full well that they created one of rock’s most sacred sonic icons that probably – along with the Ramones – launched hordes of dreamy youth into being legends in their own minds. Before “Smokin’” the Aussie crowd, guitarist Steve Morse – the fourth guitarist in the group’s history – takes them on an aural tour of some of the most well-known riffs in rock history (from the likes of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, the Beatles and the Kinks). And then, after a pregnant pause, he and the rest of the band – including lifer Ian Paice and long-time members Ian Gillan on vocals and bassist Roger Glover – deliver the chords. Indeed, rock and roll’s mothership has arrived to give us all some Close Encounters of the Violet Kind.

The rest of the disc – which is essentially a truncated one-disc edition of a 2CD set that was released in late 1999 that included the entire 116-minute live show – proves that Deep Purple is timeless. Despite the fact that they’d been going for a full 31 years prior to the performance this disc documents, they’d never been trapped by the flash-in-the-pan styles that would claim the musical souls of so many of hard rock’s greatest bands. While bands like Van Halen used the mid-80’s went to the dark side and dabbled with synthesizers and other trendy instrumentation, a reunited Deep Purple delivered some of the most hard-hitting songs of their career – ones that would simply refuse to age.

The only problem with “Total Abandon” is the absence of Ritchie Blackmore’s unique style that, despite its raw and sometimes fumbly nature, was always comprised of rapid-fire notes that pierced like daggers. Guitar wizard Steve Morse of the Dixie Dregs joined Purple in 1994 shortly after Blackmore’s departure in 1993. While he definitely has the skills to pay the bills, he often exhibits too much pyrotechnic flash that’s saturated with blisteringly fast hammer-ons and ridiculous bends. It’s impressive fretwork to be sure but 18 years later it sounds rather dated and ready to be filed under “chronic guitar masturbators of 80’s and 90’s” with the likes of Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen.

Despite Morse’s antics, “Total Abandon” shows that Purple could still bash out the goods more than three decades into their career. For 73 solid minutes, we get to explore the violet vaults and enjoy one of the best hard rock bands that the genre has ever spawned.

CD Review: Candice Night “Reflections”

Candice Night
Minstrel Hall Music
10 Tracks
Length: 39 minutes

Our Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Candice Night’s “Reflections” – her first solo effort since becoming the lead songstress of the folky-renaissance music juggernaut, Blackmore’s Night, 15 years ago – is one that falls short of establishing her as a viable solo artist.  While she does attempt to break the mold of the olde-school 16th-century style music that she and husband, former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, have made unique and refreshing, the vast majority of the songs on the disc stay firmly planted in the landscape of quiet lovelorn ballads that Blackmore’s Night fans have heard many times before.

As has often been the case with many of the releases in the Blackmore’s Night back catalog, “Reflections” opens with the album’s strongest track, “Wind is Calling (Hush the Wind)”.  The song ethereally seeps in with Night chanting a wispy mantra refrain and, with a flourish, her often double-tracked vocal jumps into the foreground – a place where it will stay throughout the entire album.  While the song doesn’t signal a radical shift from her usual style, it’s good enough to provide a strong foundation and raises expectations that the entire outing will at least be an interesting one – and perhaps even a good one.

After the lead-off cut, Candice suddenly shifts gears and throws a rousing country-style romp into the mix in the form of “Gone Gone Gone”.  While it’s a fun tune and her voice fits fairly well within the genre, it’s far too derivative of the myriad of attitudinal down-home country hits that have become staple songs at karaoke haunts.  Night needs to infuse the song with the type of storytelling spunk that make songs like Carrie Underwood’s “Last Name” and the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl” catchy and memorable, but her lyrics probably could at least use a couple of tall cans of Coors as a main ingredient.

“Dangerous Smile” makes “Gone Gone Gone” seem like a gem.  As much as Night can pass as a poor woman’s Shania Twain, “Smile” clearly proves that she should leave Gaga such as this to the Lady herself. With fuzz power chords and the occasional electronic drum mega-fill, it quickly moves from being a confusing anomaly to a sheer annoyance.  It’s simply silly and so unnatural that it makes one wonder if she’s been pulled away from suckling the Renaissance teat completely against her will.

The remaining eight tracks are what we’d expect: a collection of haunting Stevie Nicks-ish ballads that all too often have lost and unrequited love as their theme.  At best, they play as decent demos that could be fleshed out for possible inclusion on a future Blackmore’s Night album.  But her insistence upon this style the quickly becomes repetitive and fatigue-inducing.  Indeed, it’s enough to make “Reflections”’ brief 39-minute running time seem insufferably longer – so much so that, by the time the album’s violin-centric coda is reached, it’s something of a relief that Night’s solo journey has finally concluded.

The disc’s production – helmed by Blackmore’s Night producer Pat Regan – is consistently top-notch. Night’s vocal powers have clearly strengthened in the 15 years since “Shadow of the Moon” was released and Regan keeps her voice front-and-center throughout “Reflections”.  As far as the backing music is concerned, the only musician credited in the album’s liner notes is violinist Elizabeth Cary.  It’s a mystery as to what other players were on board with the project, but it seems that none of the talented Blackmore’s Night band o’ merry men were involved.  And it’s clear that Ritchie is nowhere to be found as he most definitely would have added a much-needed guitar solo to the train wreck that is “Dangerous Smile.”

If there’s anything that “Reflections” proves, it’s that, while Candice Night has strong enough pipes to hold her own vocally, she desperately needs augmentation in the form of a powerhouse backing band like the poofy shirt and tights-clad minstrels of Blackmore’s Night.  Without them, she’s something of a damsel in distress.

Track Listing:
1. Wind Is Calling (Hush The Wind)
2. Gone Gone Gone
3. Black Roses
4. Now And Then (2011)
5. Dangerous Smile
6. For You
7. Call It Love
8. Robin Red Breast
9. Alone With Fate
10. In Time