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(39:04 CD + DVD, Tigermoth Records)
TRACK LIST: CD: 1. Portsmouth 3:11 2. St. Clement’s Isle 2:28 3. Nobody's Jig 1:33 4. Easter 84 3:38 5. Sellinger's Round 1:20 6. British Grenadiers 2:13 7. Tower Hill 4:07 8. The Baskerville Down 1:53 9. The Stones Feel Warm in Belerion 2:33 10. The Sussex Carol 2:25 11. Bach Minuet 2:14 12. Quirk 1:29 13. Lymme 7:09 14. His Rest 2:51 DVD: -Interview -Portsmouth video -Sellinger's Round video LINEUP: Les Penning – recorder, crumhorn, pipe, whistles; keyboards; vocals Robert Reed (Magenta, solo) – guitars, bass; bodhran; keyboards Phil Bates – guitars, bass With: Miguel Engel de la Llave – guitars
Prolusion. UK composer and flutist Les PENNING is most likely a name most people won't have too many associations with. His talents will be familiar for quite a few though, as he does provide the flutes on some popular Christmas songs in the UK as well as on Mike Oldfield's album "Ommadawn". "Belerion" is the most recent CD by this veteran musician, and was released in 2016 by Robert Reed’s label Tigermoth.
Analysis. I do not know just how much music Penning has released under his own name over the years, but with this latest album of his this is an artist that comes across as one passionate about music rather different than what you'd normally place inside a progressive rock context. While the end result is a production that will find favor among many progressive rock fans, the roots of the music at hand appear to be rather older. Robert Reed and Phil Bates do a masterful job of adding rock elements to these compositions, and whether the keyboard arrangements are from Reed, Penning or both, these also add a more contemporary flavor and an enriching element to the music explored. But even with compositions developing, arrangements circulating and the songs more often than not transforming in one way or another, usually by gradually developing from a careful start to a more majestic end point, the greater majority of the tracks still come across as music fleshed out with rock music arrangements rather than written blend of folk music and rock. Medieval dances are the key association I'm left with after going through this disc. We do have at least one purebred minuet at hand, and several other cuts with that sound and mood that makes me think of the baroque era and, possibly, official dance arrangements at an aristocratic location. A few ballads of a more melancholic mood are present, as well as a few friskier tracks with more of a regular folk dance feel, but my main impressions is of a more cultured variety of folk music written for formal dance arrangements from older days, on this occasion explored in a folk rock context. This is a well made expansion of the material however, performed and explored by able musicians that do appear to have a passion for the music they explore. So the end result is compelling and alluring, despite of or because of the manner in which the early music and the more contemporary additions contrast each other and create a tension that will only be possible in these arrangements. I understand that a handful or so of the compositions on this CD date back to the days when Penning worked with Mike Oldfield. The interview on the DVD included with this album goes rather in depth about what took place back then, and will be a fascinating watch for many Oldfield fans I reckon. I don't know how much of this that is already well known, but I suspect that many casual fans will get to learn about at least a few details they weren't aware of already and possibly more. The sound on the interview as well as the promo videos did come across as slightly weak though, with the sound breaking here and there, but that may well be a result of a budget TV and soundboard rather than the audio quality of the DVD itself.
Conclusion. Progressive folk rock isn't the genre most heavily explored these days, .and the type that orients out from a foundation of medieval and early music is perhaps the rarest of them all. Those who tend to like their minuets and material of a similar kind should have a field day with this CD, and I rather suspect that fans of a band like Gryphon may be charmed by this production too.
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