Thursday, December 27, 2018

Alan Simon: “Excalibur: The Ladies Of The Lake” (2018) CD Review

I often look to music these days to transport me away from our questionable reality, if only temporarily. There is only so much I can take of the news of gun violence and fascism and stupidity before I’m ready to scream. How can a third of this country still support the current administration? Is a third of its citizens really that horrible, that cruel, that moronic? Music can provide a way to move beyond it all. And certain music is able to transport us to another land, another time, a journey I am eager to take. Such is the case with Alan Simon’s Excalibur series, what was intended to be a three-part Celtic rock opera and eventually expanded beyond that. Now a new volume in the series has been released. Titled Excalibur: The Ladies Of The Lake, it is a compilation of the tracks with female vocals from the previous four volumes as well as Tristan & Yseult. These tracks, to my ear, are among the very best of the series. We could all use a strong dose of female energy these days to combat the rampant sexism of those currently in power. And yes, this music also appeals to that same part of me that enjoys playing Dungeons & Dragons so much, and might be a good disc to play before an adventure, to set the mood and whatnot. All the tracks on this release were written by Alan Simon, and feature several different talented vocalists, including Moya Brennan and Sonja Kristina.

This compilation opens with “The Origins,” a track from Excalibur III: The Origins, which does feel like the beginning of a journey into the unknown. This track features vocals by Moya Brennan. Then Maddy Prior provides the vocals on “Secret Garden,” a song from Excalibur II: The Celtic Ring. This is a beautiful folk song, and has a comforting effect. “Oh my love, keep on dreaming/Dream your dreams away/And then come to me at dusk beneath the Star of Taliesin.” This is one of my personal favorites.

“Calling For You” is another of the disc’s highlights. This is a powerful, energetic number from Excalibur IV: The Dark Age Of The Dragon, and it feels able to transfer that power to the listener. As vocalist Moya Brennan urges, “Change your way/Before tomorrow/Change your mind/Forget your sorrows,” you feel it can be done. The music has brought out from within you that capability. I love the strong percussion of this track. By the way, you probably know Moya Brennan from her work with Clannad. “Change your life forever/Be yourself as you never show it.” That’s followed by “The Last Lament Of A Fairy,” which features beautiful, ethereal vocals by Siobhan Owen. There is magic in her voice, in this music. I still wonder sometimes if music like this could actually defeat the heartlessness of certain politicians. Would hearing these songs shift something inside them, fill their hollow hearts, change their outlook on their fellow man? Sometimes I believe it would. “You shared my tears/You shared my fears/You shared the feelings of my heart.” This song is also from Excalibur IV: The Dark Age Of The Dragon. “And the world will never be the same.”

Siobhan Owen also brings her considerable talents to “Yseult,” a song from Tristan & Yseult. “Like winds across the oceans/I felt his breath against my skins/Today I felt the flame of love/Today it was a dream/A dream.” This is another beautiful track, with some wonderful work on strings and keys. Also from Tristan & Yseult comes “A Prayer For My Lover,” a gorgeous song with Siobhan Owen again on vocals. This one also features excellent stuff on piano and strings, the instrumental sections as moving as the vocals. Everything about this song is beautiful. “Can’t I see when the sunshine will be back again/Back again in your eyes/Can’t I see when the moonrise will dance again/Dance again in my heart.” This is one of my favorites. Another of the disc’s best tracks is “The Passion,” which features Sonja Kristina on vocals. This track is from Excalibur IV: The Dark Age Of The Dragon, and Sonja Kristina included it on her 2017 compilation Anthology. It is a gorgeous folk song with a moving vocal performance. “I need your love/I need your light/I need your dreams/I need your hopes.”

CD Track List
  1. The Origins
  2. Secret Garden
  3. The Girl & The Demon
  4. Skye
  5. Calling For You
  6. The Last Lament Of A Fairy
  7. There Is Someone
  8. Silver Moon
  9. Yseult
  10. Sacrifice
  11. A Prayer For My Lover
  12. Morning Song
  13. The Passion
  14. Dreaming Again
  15. Dun Angus II
Excalibur: The Ladies Of The Lake was released on October 5, 2018.

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