Tempest - Balance

Year of Release: 2001
Label: Magna Carta
Catalog Number: MA-9053-A
Format: CD
Total Time: 50:47:00

Tempest (clockwise from top-left: Evans, Sorbye, Lazo, Hurley, and Maxwell)Ever since I discovered Turn Of The Wheel, Tempest's 1996 album, I have been a fan. The album came at a time when I pursuing an interest in Celtic music having already been taken by Celtic history (that because of my interest in Arthurian Legend). So, finding a hybrid of traditional and inspired Celtic-rock seemed particularly interesting. Of course, it was about this same time that Riverdance was capturing audiences everywhere, too, so Celtic music was in the air - perhaps to the point of overexposure.

So, it's five years later and Tempest release Balance, their sixth studio album (in between The Gravel Walk (1997), a live 10th Anniversary (1998) compilation and the live Live at the Philadelphia Folk Festival (1999)). Balance is another mix of traditional pieces and original compositions, including the instrumental "Dance Of The Sandwitches" which is a showcase for two of the three new members - Todd Evans on guitars (who also arranged the tune) and Jim "Hurricane" Hurley on fiddle. The other new member of the band is William Maxwell on various basses. While guitars are the main lead instrument here, on "Old Man Flint" (a collection of three original tunes) it is Hurley's fiddle that takes the lead. Hurley's style and tone fit in with the Tempest sound quite well, though you can tell his technique and style are quite different from Mullen's. There is a more metallic edge to Evans' playing that is quite different from Rob Wullenjohn's, but again, except on the Evans' composed instrumental pieces, his style doesn't take anything way from the Tempest sound. Hmm, saying that sounds like I'm saying the band haven't progressed any. Well, they have, as these three new players have given them different tone colours to play with. But long time fans will recognize the band as Tempest, meaning there is continuity. Remaining with the line up is, of course, Lief Sorbye, and drummer Adolfo Lazo. Guesting is Robert Berry (B-3, synths, and harmony vocals) who again produces (and again does an excellent job of it).

"Iron Lady" is a Phil Ochs piece from the early 60s, a commentary on capital punishment. The liner notes state that the "song was written to protest the execution of murderer Caryl Chessman." It is a grim track and makes a point still valid today. Not to make a pun, but one would have to balance the sentiment of this track against some horrific criminals for whom capital punishment seems fitting. While it is tempting to debate the issue of capital punishment here, of course, as I do have my own views upon the subject, I'll talk about the musical aspect of the track instead. What struck me immediately, before I delved into lyrics and subject matter, was how much vocalist Lief Sorbye sounds like Ian Anderson. It's isn't an observation I've made before, though one might say there is some musical kinship between Tempest and Jethro Tull, both played folk-based rock. Even the arrangement wouldn't seem out of place on an early or more recent Tull album...

The irony, or balance, is "Two Sisters," a jaunty tune that details two sisters vying for the same beau. The song ends with the following to lines: "The miller he was hung by a mountain head / The oldest sister was boiled in lead." The crime, the older sister pushed the younger into the brim (river), and while the younger was album to swim to the mill, the miller pushed her in again. Sisters are at the center of "Between Us," where a similar tragedy befalls the younger sister here, too, but instead of sibling rivalry, it is not as cut and dried as to what happened. The last lines do give some clue, but one can never be entirely sure. But the sum of it is that the gentleman of the piece is in love with the older sister, Sharon, but also knows that he is to wed the younger sister, Claire. The fact that the track ends so ambiguously, balances out the end of the previous track which is unequivocal (as the assumption is that the sister has drowned). Did Claire kill herself, did Sharon do it, or did the beau? As there is a line "Early I knew you forbidden to wed," which could either mean Sharon had resolved not to marry, or her family had forbid it (in favour of her sister), is also a bit unclear (deliberately so, I should think). But, given the first interpretation - that Sharon was uninterested in marriage - her killing her sister scenario seems less likely...though not totally impossible. Well...I don't think Sorbye and his wife, Patricia Reynolds Sorbye, who co-penned the track, intended for the song to be psychoanalyzed quite that much. But that it could be says so much about their lyrics. The two also co-wrote "Wicked Spring," a track that they refer to as "An impassioned little ditty of a favored, flaming season." Spring is the when things come alive again, after the "death" of winter...it is an image that is often used in poetry, with renewal comes hope, and all those associated feelings. You have birth (and rebirth), romance, etc. It's all there in this track.

The album also includes "The Journeyman" a track that also appeared on Caliban, Sorbye's acoustic-based project with ex-Tempest fiddler Michael Mullen. Of course, here there are additional instruments to fill out what was voice, mandolin, and violin on the Caliban version. The version that appears on Balance begins similarly, with a minimum of instrumentation, a bit darker, a bit warmer, but from the second verse on, add percussion, bass, and guitar to the mix. The arrangement seems a little bit faster, but not by much. Which presentation is better? Well, one isn't better than the other, as they are both effective. They are just different. This version has two traditional pieces appended to the end "'Alexander's" and "The Harvest Home" (tracks referred to in the liner notes as hornpipes).

Hmm, that's only half the album. There are six other tracks here as well, including "Villeman" which is another of the band's arranged traditional, this one sung in Norwegian, as Sorbye is wont to do. This concerns a "mythical medieval ballad [that] tells the story of a Mahnhild, the fair maiden, captured by "Nøkken," a supernatural creature and water spirit. Sorbye's cadence carries you along for the ride. Two other instrumentals are "Battle Mountain Breakdown," another scorching piece from Evans, and "Royal Oak," a "medley of jigs written by Tempest members, past and present..." including Mullen, Land, and Sorbye. There's "Captain Ward" which opens the album energetically and immediately telling you that this Tempest. In some ways, it harks back to previous Tempest material. This leaves only "Dancing Girl" unmentioned, which is a track where the protagonist has been taken in by a girl he's attracted to - i.e. she relieved him of the burden of his wallet. Rhythmically, it's a bit like "Buffalo Jump" (The Gravel Walk).

Short of some corny summation, playing on either the band's name or the album's title, can I say that this is another tasty entry into the Tempest catalog that should attract new fans and please long time ones as well. Containing something for everyone, Tempest have created a nice Balance (okay, so I didn't entirely eschew the summation).

Captain Ward (3:34) / Dancing Girl (3:50) / Dance Of The Sand Witches (4:19) / Iron Lady (4:39) / Two Sisters (5:26) / Wicked Spring (3:49) / Old Man Flint (3:28) / Villemann (4:35) / Battle Mountain Breakdown (2:53) / The Journeyman (5:35) / Between Us (4:22) / Royal Oak (4:00)

Lief Sorbye - lead vocals, acoustic and electric mandolins and octave mandolas, harmonica, bodhran
Adolfo Lazo - drums
Todd Evans - electric and acoustic guitars, harmony vocals
William Maxwell - fretless and fretted basses, bass pedals, keyboards
Jim 'Hurricane' Hurley - fiddle


Robert Berry - B3 Hammond organ, synthesizer, harmony vocals

Springdans (1987) (Lief Sorbye)
Bootleg (1991)
Serrated Edge (1992)
Sunken Treasures (1993)
Surfing to Mecca (1994)
Across The Borders (1994) (Sorbye)
Turn of the Wheel (1996)
To Cry You A Song - A Tribute To Jethro Tull (1996) (contrib. one track)
The Gravel Walk (1997)
Caliban (1998) (Sorbye & Michael Mullins)
10th Anniversary (1998)
1999 Live at the Philadelphia Folk Festival (1999) (only available through Tempest)
Balance (2001)
Shapeshifter (2003)
15th Anniversary Collection (2004)
The Double Cross (2006)
Lief's Birthday Bash (2007)
Prime Cuts (2008
Another Dawn (2010)

Live At Karfluki Fest 2006 (DVD) (2006)

Genre: Progressive Folk

Origin US

Added: May 8th 2001
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.tempestmusic.com
Hits: 2188
Language: english


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