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(67:34, ‘Sky Rocket’)
TRACK LIST: 1. Dream of Me 8:23 2. The Spell 4:29 3. By a River 3:20 4. Could Have Been 5:53 5. Offertory Song 5:07 6. Falling 3:21 7. Hold Me 4:15 8. Ill Wind Blowing 4:41 9. The House 4:22 10. Better Be Good 5:39 11. For Mercy 4:42 Bon tracks: 12. In Control 4:24 13. Haunting You 4:36 14. Cross the Line 4:22 LINEUP: Doris Brendel – vocals; flagelot; guitar Mark Waite – keyboards Martyn Wilson – guitars Sean Holborn – drums Andrew Fox – bass
Prolusion. The UK outfit THE VIOLET HOUR was formed in 1988, when Doris Brendel was invited to join Mark Waite's then instrumental-only band Telefunken U47. A few line-up changes later and a name change saw the birth of The Violet Hour, and 5 demo tapes later they were signed by Sony Music. "The Fire Sermon" was issued in 1991 and while it did make somewhat of an impact, internal band dynamics saw the band folding at the end of 1991 and the CD withdrawn. For many years their one and only production was hard to get hold of, but as interest in the band started growing over the years it eventually lead to a reissue of the CD in 2009, first and foremost due to the efforts of Doris Brendel.
Analysis. For those who are well-versed in European arts, the name Brendel should strike a familiar chord. Iris Brendel is a well known ceramics artist and Alfred Brendel is a famous and celebrated pianist, composer and writer. Their daughter Doris is best known for her endeavors in the field of popular music though, and The Violet Hour became the band that put her solidly in the limelight for the first time. As one might surmise by this, this album and this band are very much about her role. The compositions were mostly written by keyboardist Waite though, and the peculiar blend of folk-tinged rock with strong art rock embellishments that can be found on this album is to his credit. The songs are mostly piano-driven affairs, where features of various kinds have been added to the central motif supplied by the tangents. Several compositions seem to be strongly influenced by later Beatles, sporting symphonic textures and layers in the chorus segments and vocal harmonies that both to varying degrees recall the Fab Four. Other efforts have nods in different directions though, Ill Wind Blowing in particular featuring more than a passing resemblance to Jethro Tull in general and their track Fallen on Hard Times in particular. The opening number Dream of Me adds mystical moods and atmospheres as explored by acts like Clannad to the proceedings, repeated later on in a less elaborate manner on Could Have Been. And second-to-last of the original efforts on this production, Better be Good, sounds like a pretty good take of what the end result might have been if Janis Joplin had added art rock features to some of her compositions in the early ‘70s, but with more of an ‘80s sound to it overall. And if anyone fancies tracks with faint psychedelic leanings, there are a few of them on this CD as well. Overall, a slightly eclectic mix of songs, going back and forth between art rock with mainstream orientation and mainstream rock with art rock embellishments, as a general summary. Some tracks are better made than others and as such a rather typical debut effort: Uneven, with a few moments of brilliance amidst more or less ordinary creations. The lead vocals of Doris Brendel add quality in leaps and bounds though. Still a developing talent at the time from my understanding, her skill is notable, nonetheless, and her passionate performance even more so. Doris’s slightly deep, raspy and highly expressive voice is a treat, and the fact that she has been compared to the likes of Janis Joplin is easily understandable. It should be added that Brendel's performance is much more controlled, where skill rarely succumbs to raw passion. And the skillful, passionate vocals are the aspect that lifts this production from an uneven ordinary affair to something better, albeit still uneven. Dream of Me, The Spell and Better Be Good are all brilliant efforts; a few other songs are close behind, and even the ordinary and less than ordinary pieces improve, at times very much so, due to this.
Conclusion. "The Fire Sermon" is a production featuring tracks residing in the borderland between art rock and sophisticated mainstream rock, with venture into both fields throughout. And while the compositions as such hardly can be described as boundary-breaking affairs, the sheer quality and passion of lead vocalist Doris Brendel add life and soul to these efforts by the truckload. Those fond of art rock with a strong mainstream orientation and vice versa are well-advised to seek this album out, in particular if strong, powerful female lead vocals are regarded as an asset with such a production. Existing fans of this act will probably want to buy this disc anyhow, and the addition of three bonus tracks, previously featured on the two singles issued by the band in 1991, is obviously an additional treat for that particular crowd.
OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: May 19, 2010
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