Blackmore’s Night/Winter Carols/E-A-R Music/Edel
3.5 Out of Five Stars
Given Ritchie Blackmore’s reputation as a blustery guitar god that spawned relentless riffing in his iconic outfits Deep Purple and Blackmore’s Rainbow, it probably still takes some folks by surprise to hear him sharing medieval music and following a minstrel’s muse. Better known for his classic riffs on Deep Purple’s signature song “Smoke on the Water” and any number of other proto-metal anthems, he abruptly changed course 25 years ago when he reinvented himself with a hoary middle ages mantra, teamed with singer Candice Night and formed Blackmore’s Night, a quaint if somewhat curious amalgam whose music favors a kind of novelty niche.
Considering the fact that this is a time of year that favors traditional tapestries, Blackmore Night’s music seems appropriate, if only for the pair’s fondness for all things attached to home, hearth, and the romantic recesses embedded in a wizened folk firmament. It follows then that many of the songs are all too familiar—“Deck the Halls,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “O Christmas Tree,” “Good King Wenceslas,” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” with “Silent Night” being among the standards that get a reverential treatment over the expanse of this two-disc set.
At this point, it’s best to provide full disclosure. Winter Carols was originally released 15 years ago, so ardent collectors may be surprised to see its reappearance. This time around, however, it comes with a bonus of four songs previously omitted from the original version, as well as extensive remastering and a new track, “Coventry Carol,” an old English folk song that dates back to the 16th century, but in this case, boasts new lyrics by Night and an original arrangement birthed by Blackmore.
Blackmore’s previous posture aside, he and Night can clearly take pride in their ability to rework this music with the majesty and respect it deserves. The somewhat precious folk-rock template naturally serves these songs well, resulting in a sound that emits both spectacle and finesse. That combination is ably demonstrated by the five songs recorded live at Minstrel Hall, presumably a natural environment for medieval musings of this sort. Taken in tandem, the artful reworking of these classic carols nothing becomes less than an essential additive.