The Minstrel’s Ghost – The Road to Avalon (2012)
US project THE MINSTREL’S GHOST is the creative vehicle of composer and musician Blake Carpenter. He released his first album under this moniker in 2011, and towards the end of 2012 “The Road to Avalon” was released through Melodic Revolution Records.
Those familiar with Carpenter and his musical background will know that this most recent production actually was planned as the debut. But for one reason or another that didn’t happen, and by the time the material was ready for recording Carpenter had more or less by luck and chance managed to assemble many a skilled knight to help out with the proceedings. The artwork has been handled by Ed Unitsky, and the instrumental roles not handled by Carpenter himself is catered for by an international crew of fellow musicians. The best known of these arguably Zoltan Csorsz of The Flower Kings fame.
The end result, following a birth that have taken just about 10 years if I remember correctly, are two suites each clocking in at about 30 minutes in length, both of them subdivided into six chapters. And for the more impatient listeners, the main parts from both of these fairly elaborate sets have been assembled in a single track clocking in at a mere 15 minutes. This latter piece credited as a bonus track for rather obvious reasons.
The music itself is of a kind that should find favor with those who enjoy the more mainstream oriented material by the likes of Pink Floyd and Eloy, the latter part of the 70’s material from the former and the early 80’s productions by the latter. Layered, gentle keyboards with quite a few nods in the direction of vintage symphonic progressive rock are mainstays throughout, supplemented by acoustic guitars first and foremost, but with frequent use of electric guitar as well. The latter partially supplying darker toned contrasting details in the arrangements and partially for lighter toned effects and soloing duties. Those expecting atmospheric laden guitar soloing David Gilmour style will be disappointed however, as axeman Colin Tench appears to draw his inspirations from a rather different direction, at least on this album. His delicate, haunting guitar solo style is one I’ve heard before however, but it took me quite some soul searching to finally conclude with where I’ve heard a similar sound before: On UK band Demon’s 1989 disc “Taking the World By Storm”. Which most likely is an accidental similarity.
One should also note that the use of instrumental contrasts on “The Road to Avalon” is a delicate one. Counterpoints and stark differences aren’t elevated to any limelight position, instead they exist as subtle undercurrents, details for the intent listener to uncover and enjoy. The soundscapes are generally silken smooth as a matter of fact, and mix and production have been applied with care to produce a warm and organic mood and atmosphere. Compelling if you like, and in a manner that should give this album a wide appeal. Another aspect that should see this album gain interest from more than a marginal crowd is the compositional structure itself. The individual chapters of both suites as well as the suites as a whole doesn’t follow the common progressive rock formula of constantly altering between myriads of themes and the themes themselves are of a fairly accessible nature. Whereas instrument arrangements and the multiple part suite construction are more closely related to progressive rock, the structure of the individual pieces and instrumental motifs are more closely related to mainstream oriented rock. And while I personally found the more sophisticated bass and drum arrangement on Camelot (named Camlot on the CD cover art for fits and giggles) to elevate this piece to a slightly higher plane than the rest, this is one of those details that comes down to individual taste more than anything.
But I’ll also have to chime in with a few negative remarks. The theatrical inserts that appear now and then. Why? Casting Gollum in the role of Morgana la Fey was an inspired choice perhaps, but apart from that very vocal invite to jest I’ll advice both Blake and others who want to spice up an album with inserts of this kind to find some decent voice actors to cater for conceptual flavoring of that nature, and to think long and hard about whether or not they are actually needed. Employing someone with playwright experience to cater for the actual dialogue should also come in handy. These theatrical features are kept to a minimum on this disc, thankfully, but at least from my perspective the odds are greater for such additions to be of a detrimental rather than the opposite.
A few small sour grapes aside I do find “The Road to Avalon” to be a CD well worth recommending. I’d imagine that a typical audience for this production to be those who enjoy accessible, melodic rock in general, and in particular those amongst that rather crowded audience who frequently listen to Pink Floyd’s late 70’s albums. Fans of early 80’s Camel might also desire to find out more about this album however, as well as those who truly enjoy Eloy’s early 80’s albums.
My rating: 80/100
1. The Journey Begins (The Avalon Overture)
2. Avalon, Pt. 1
4. Lady of the Lake
6. Avalon, Pt. 2
8. A Love Betrayed
9. The Son
10. Avalon, Pt. 3
11. Le Morte D’arthur
12. The End
13. The Road to Avalon