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BLACKLIGHT BRAILLE

I've seen the view put across in a lot of teenage-written fanzines that people over 18 can't enjoy music, and music made by people over 18 is old, boring and stale. Other slightly older people have stated that they don't enjoy music as much as when they were in their teens. I definitely don't subscribe to beliefs like this - I think that a true love for music stays with you for life. Owen Knight of Blacklight Braille agrees with me on this and if there's anyone that can quash the belief that music made by over 18s is unadventurous, it's Owen Knight. He's not 30, 40, even 50 - he's over 70 and still has a strong passion for music. So put that in your pipe and smoke it, narrow minded teenage fanzine writers!

Blacklight Braille are an extraordinary band. Not only do they have a 70+ year old as one of the main songwriters, the amount of people in the band is astonishing - it varies from release to release but there's generally over 20 people involved with each recording. The music itself is anything but unadventurous and contains so many different facets that it's impossible to describe in one word - it basically involves everything from medieval folk to bluesy rock 'n' roll to dark experimentation. The instruments used are both usual 'band' instruments and more unusual ones, ranging from orchestral to ethnic to improvised instruments like saw, cedar log, metal shield, metal leaf rake, etc.

Blacklight Braille are very prolific and I have a batch of several CDs of theirs that I've not reviewed before. There are too many songs here to describe every one in detail, but standout tracks are as follows. Sailing Away includes the folky, psychey, melodic rock of Floating in the Doldrums and Strands of Starlight, and the atmospheric Middle Eastern influenced instrumental complete with added firework noises of Bon Voyage Send Off. Old Bones and Sacred Stones is essentially an experimental rather than song-based album and favourites from this one include the experimental instrumental rock of Golden Dragon of the Sword and Stone and The Dark Champion Fragment, and the experimental/psychedelic instrumental with narration that is Forgotten City.

Dietles Tavern has The Rising Suns (instrumental psych-rock), Blacklight Braille Takes The Stand (a spoken word piece entirely in 1950s/60s slang. This returns later with musical accompaniment as The Song of the Blacklight Braille), Joe Joe Chopped Off His Toe (a good rock song with elements of psych, prog and blues, but then it goes all experimental noise-ish on us which is a shame - but all is not lost as it then changes into a spacerock piece that's stacks better than the noise interlude, and then it returns to the original song), The Passing of Old Man Cigar (poetry and bluesy psych-rock), Satchel Packers and Trip Takers (a mixture of prog, psych and jazz), Kitty in the Well (instrumental prog-blues-psych), Wind Tossed Shadows (rock with both atmospheric and powerful elements, and poetry), Merry Yule Apple Tree (electronic/psychedelic music and poetry), Cincinnati Horn Dance (a blues/jazz tune with added discordant brass) and Song for the Dying Wind (psych-folk-rock). This album was later re-released in a slightly different form as Dietles Tavern to Shadowland. Some individual tracks are all lumped together as one long track on the new version, some tracks from the original have been left off, and there's a track here that wasn't on the original, The Window Toward The Hall Of Death, which is eerie, spacey experimentalism.

The Castle of the Northern Crown contains the instrumental experimentation and psychedelia familiar of this band, but there is also a fair bit of input from Emily Baehr, who has co-written some fantastic material with Owen Knight. Song of the Battle of the Birds is a traditional style folk song with twin female vocals, accompanied only by percussion. Very reminiscent of the Mediaeval Baebes, who are somewhat laughably pigeonholed as classical. I see them more as folk; they do modern interpretations of old folk songs, and new compositions in the traditional style, sort of like a Steeleye Span for the 21st century. Likewise, this Blacklight Braille song has things in common with early Steeleye Span. Going to Leicester also has two female vocalists and sounds mostly like the sort of music from the more serious musicals, with hints of folk and opera. The Towers of Avalon features poetry from Owen and almost operatic-style singing from Emily. The Dungeon of the Long Blue Chains is a traditional style instrumental, written solely by Emily. The Song of the Streets of Yesterday is another traditional style song that again sounds like the sort of thing Steeleye would have done a version of. I would be very keen to hear a full album of Baehr/Knight material, it really is exceptional. Other highlights from this album include Welcome Dark One (chanting accompanied by harp), The First Tree of the Greenwood (this traditional song is set to atmospheric experimental music), Three Sides to the Story (blues rock) and The Everlasting Smile (folkish, tuneful rock).

In A Dark Garden appears to be a compilation, as I recognise some of the tracks from their other CDs. Other tracks are unfamiliar though, but I don't know if they're from albums I don't have or whether they're exclusive to this release. This album has an emphasis on the songwriting of Greg Morris, who specialises in melodic laid-back rock with a folky, psychey, and sometimes country touch. Greg's brand of folk-rock is the American variety, much more Byrds than Steeleye Span. It wouldn't be right for a Blacklight Braille album to just focus on one songwriter or style though as they are such a diverse band. Therefore there's the usual variety here in the shape of various experimental and psychedelic tracks. One of my favourites here is Persephone of Short Vine; I remember this from one of their albums from a few years back, Into the World of the Gods. This is penned by Morris but begins with some folky violin and recorder that's more reminiscent of British folk music than the material he usually writes. The song itself is part way between British and American folk, with some psychedelic additions, and has lead vocals from Emily Baehr. The atmospheric choral part at the end is truly amazing - but then so is the whole song. Other notable tracks here include Emily Baehr's instrumental Dungeon of the Long Blue Chains and Greg Morris's Jennifer the Renegade, Something to Show and Long as it's Now.

For further info on these and Blacklight Braille's many other recordings, write to Owen Knight, 530 Flatt Terrace, Cincinnati, Ohio 45232, USA.

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Text Kim Harten, 2003.