[Magna Carta MA-9104 (2010)]
On their fifteenth album, Bay Area Celtic rockers Tempest start out with some infectious, high-energy psychedelic pop with their cover of the Grass Roots’ 1967 chestnut “Let’s Live For Today.” The group’s newest member, guitarist James Crocker, and veteran fiddler Michael Mullen both contribute soaring melodies to two sets of tunes, “The New Squire” and “High Rise.” Founder, electric mandolin and flute player, and lead vocalist Leif Sorbye offers two memorable original songs: “Verses of Grace,” written on the occasion of Barack Obama’s inauguration, and “The Great Departure,” inspired by the death of Sorbye’s father last year; the latter is a meditative but driving song that deals with that most final of earthly transitions.
The disc also features several other interesting covers, including a bouncy reading of Andy Irvine’s “Never Tire of the Road” driven by spirited harmonies and Mullen’s spry fiddle and a powerful, heavily syncopated version of Ewan MacColl’s “The Moving-On Song.” One of the album’s high points is a radical reworking of the traditional Norwegian tune “Jomfru,” which features tight ensemble playing in odd meters anchored by the solid rhythm section of drummer Adolfo Lazo and bassist Damien Gonzalez. Working for the fifth time with producer/keyboardist Robert Berry, the group has dialed down some of the heavy metal excesses that characterized some of their middle-period work in favor of a more melodic approach, and the result is one of their strongest efforts yet.
—Michael Parrish (San Jose, CA)
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