Black Rose: An album of moods, textures and layers.
I am listening to Black Rose, a Cláirseach harp and vocal album by the American Celtic musician Scott Hoye. It has all the satisfying elements that you can find in a traditional album. Yet it has the experimental quality of a New Age or Ambient album. There is a good balance between instrumental and vocal tracks here. We find songs that are familiar, including Eleanor Plunkett. His track by track arrangement is eclectic. I hear strains of Liszt in Ultima Thule while other tracks like Oh Rainy Night just oozes with folk/rock vocal harmonies. Black Rose is an album filled with elegance and emotional beauty. And his influences are very refreshing.
Eleanor Plunkett is played the way I remember Clannad did it in the 70s. It has that same down to earth appeal yet with elegance in its simplicity. It is tied up to Fanny Poer which has percussion and whistle. The ambiance is live. This is exactly the kind of sound you hear on live acoustic performances.
Scott used to be part of a rock band the Seranati. Think of Jethro Tull and Traffic. This is evident in his powerful voice that has the crunch of an electric guitar with its remarkable range. But he is being subtle here as he incorporates the Irish Sean Nos style of singing .The Flower of Magherally is rendered in a capella. I heard several versions. One is by Altan and the other is by Anuna. I have to confess Scott’s singing stops you in your tracks.
The South Wind takes us into another instrumental journey. This time we hear the delicate playing as his fingers move from one string to another with an experienced grace. The notes off the harp twinkle like little crystals. Then the tune moves into the poignant melody of Carricfergus. Here the whistle has never been so bitter-sweet. I love how these two instruments complement each other with such subtle ardor.
Black Rose which is the title track is another a capella tune. Again we hear Scott’s strong but expressive voice where he dips from woeful highs to smoldering lows. Partly Gregorian, partly rock, his singing is really magnificent.
A Neansai Mhile Gra begins and ends with the kind of delivery that is expressive and simply beautiful. This track is very visual. This is the same kind of element you can find in his Celtic band The Spriggans.
Oh Rainy Night takes us into a rock twist with its engaging vocal harmonies. This is the style where he shines. Scott isn’t really for tamed emotions when it comes to singing. Like a wolf that needs the wild, his voice is a force of nature, so stormy yet beautiful with its power.
Where Time Stops is gentle as of a balladeer telling a story. “ I can show you a place where the time stops”..he sings with such ease of expression that when he moves to the chorus with layered voices it becomes epic. I’d call for more rainy afternoons with this song. Like a walk in the fields when the downpour stops, watching the leaves glisten. This is the kind of beautiful imagery this song brings to mind.
Sad Nika brings back that Sean Nos air that track 2 and 4 have. With varying arrangements, Scott has created an album of moods, textures and layers without having to call for a lot of collaborations.
The last track Ultima Thule is a long piece with an almost operatic quality. It is dreamy, hypnotic and it is the kind of music you would like to hear when you are waiting for the rain to stop. I think without this track Black Rose would sound incomplete. Everything about Black Rose simply go together like forks, knives and spoons. Dinner has been served. And yes it is a rewarding listening experience.
Blurb about Black Rose from liner notes:
Black Rose has been many years in making. Several of the tracks were written long ago for two other projects, Seranati, a progressive rock group, and The Spriggans, a Celtic ensemble. Both groups performed and recorded in the 1990s in the Detroitarea. These songs did not see the light of day then, and they have simmered on the back burner of my mind over the years. I have re-imagined them for this, my first solo recording. Black Rose has slowly taken shape, like a musical journey with many vistas along the way. It is a fusion of many of the things that impassion me: traditional Celtic, pop, folk, and ambient musical styles.
Black Rose, the tune, was written for a friend when she had hit upon some sad times. I had initially imagined it as a prelude to a tune called Beauty’s Daughters (a.k.a., Lord Byron’s Stanza’s for Music II) crafted by my self and guitarist Patrick Penta, and played by both The Spriggans and Seranati. The refrain was written without my knowledge of the term Black Rose being attributed to Ireland; a sort of code word for the longing for a independent country during the British rule. This was a happy accident, and I humbly offer it up as a new, Sean Nos, or “old style,” a cappella song, like those popular in traditional Irish music. Two other songs here fall in this category: The Flower of Magherally (a traditional Irish tune) and Sad Nika. My friend, singer-songwrite John Hammink, wrote Sad Nika after a hiking trip in Europe. He wrote it for me to sing while I was a member of The Spriggans. I am exceedingly happy to be making it available here now. Thanks so much for waiting, John. Hope you aren’t disappointed with the effort.
Oh Rainy Wind and A Place Where Time Stops were both written for Seranati. Oh Rainy Wind describes my life walking to and from bars with various women, or just walking into and out of pubs on long nights. It was written at the behest of the keyboardist, Stefan Economou. Stefan desperately wanted to sing more bright, pop, rather that dark, blues influenced tunes. Here is your “Beatles” tune, Stefan, re-figured as a three-part, a capella, drinking song.
I like to think A Place Where Time Stops was influenced by Sufi and Hindustani religious, devotional poetry and spiritual traditions. I was also between girlfriends when I wrote it, so I can’t deny the process of sublimation in its inception. Singing in a rock band did have some fringe benefits, I suppose.
Ultima Thule is an improvised theme with multi-tracked harp and whistle. My friend Bryan Moore, sculptor and director of HP Lovecraft film and fandom fame, inspired it, naming his new home after the term. “Ultima Thule” is an idea from the ancient Greeks—the most distant, northerly island, geographically, from their perspective. Perhaps Hibernia? Albion? Who knows? By the time the Romantics referenced it in poetry and lieder, when the world had been fairly well mapped, it was an imaginary country; a land of the dream realms. I thought the pentatonic setting would give it an ancient flavor, as well as lending itself to improvisation.
Eleanor Plunkett/Fanny Poer: two tunes attributed to the 17th century, Irish harper, Turlough O’Carolan. These were both written as slantes, or tributes to two of his patrons. I attempted to give a more “archaic” sound to the arrangement with the inclusion of the descending arpeggios. The second tune includes whistle and djembe, an African hand drum, rounding it out with a full ensemble quality.
The South Wind/Carrickfergus: The first tune is attributed to O’Carolan, but sounds more like a simple folk tune to me, so he may have just grafted his own poetry to an older tune, or it was never really a part of his repertoire. Carrickfergus is a permutation of the Scottish tune, “The Water is Wide.” Dominic Behan, Brendan Behan’s brother, first recorded it, and attributed it to, of all folks, Peter O’Toole who learned in, of all places, a pub; fine couple of folks for a harper to be vicariously connected to.
A Neansaí Mhíle Grá: is a simple instrumental version of this Gaelic love song for the harp.
Thanks to the following for their support and inspiration: Ma & Da and clan Hoye; Dick Anderson of Woodsong Musical Instruments for creating a superior harp that has held up all these years; Eric & Cynthia Cathcart, Rachel Hair, Steve Toth, & Chris Caswell for recording tips, and encouragement; all Spriggans great and small (you know who you are); wirestrungharp.com, my Soundcloud cronies and FB harp associates; John Hammink for writing such a great tune and waiting so long; Regina Harris-Baiocchi for kind words and perspective; Delhi street food vendors, just because you deserve recognition, and Atul Mohan for pointing me in their direction, and providing encouragement for this project; the worldwide Khanna tribe (cheers!), and, especially, my wife Shabnam.
You can purchase the album here: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/scotthoye