Stations of the Sun (2013)
Reviewed by Anthony Servante
Since arriving on the British underground scene in 1992 Mooch have made twenty two albums covering a wide musical range, from ambient to electronic to rock to psychedelic via all stations in between.This summer solstice sees the release of an album long in the making – eleven songs covering the pagan wheel of the year: eight festivals (two solstices, two equinoxes and four Celtic cross-festivals), plus two songs forthe Oak King and Holly King who symbolically battle every solstice, and a final song covering the whole year. Featuring new recruit Beck
Sian (a cousin of Kate Bush blessed with a similarly wondrous voice) the new album covers ‘seventies folk/rock/progressive territory in the style of bands such as Renaissance. A second newcomer Shelagh Teahan sings some of the songs. As ever all the music was written by Steve and recorded at his Studio-by-the-Stream in . Shropshire, UK
Once the music of the 1600s threw off the shackles of Medieval music’s rigid form, Renaissance music was free to explore melodies with more emotionally human themes (not so religious as the Medievals) in addition to experiment with harmonies not reliant on choirs and chorales. The sound went from Gregorian chants to troubadour ballets, from monophonic to polyphonic.
Monophonic music makes every part of the song equal as everyone sings the same thing. With polyphonic, the parts expand in importance as they harmonize with the other parts, making the whole group of parts important to each other.
The difference between mono and poly music.
As the music became more layered, the themes also changed; love of god changed to love of man and woman. Thus the music rhythm reflected the cadence of the love story, seduction or declarations of affection. But Renaissance music still kept its spiritual leanings even as the themes evolved. After all, earthly love was a gift from God, the flip side of the coin, so to speak. So it wasn't uncommon to have songs of the seasons reflecting Springtime for love, for nature was the clothing of God. As more themes were added, more voices enriched the quality of the music. Harmony in music echoed the harmony of man and woman in nature.
Before discussing the sound of Mooch and its polyphonic styling, let's listen to some of today's Post-Renaissance music. “An enormous diversity of musical styles and genres flourished during the Renaissance, and can be heard on commercial recordings in the 21st century, including masses, motets, madrigals, chansons, accompanied songs, instrumental dances, and many others” (Wiki).
Steeleye Span plays traditional Renaissance music with electric instruments. The focus for them is the storyline of each song. Note, however, the use of harmony to accentuate the tale of King Henry.
King Henry by Steeleye Span
The band Renaissance explores more instrumentalism in addition to the harmonies in the telling of its tale. Annie Haslam brings her operatic vocals to rival the orchestral movements here in Opening Out.
Opening Out by Renaissance, featuring Annie Haslam
Then we have Blackmore's Night. When Richie Blackmore, formerly of Deep Purple and Rainbow, fell in love with Renaissance music vocalist Candice Night, he revealed that at heart he, too, held a fondness for the music of the 1600s England. Updating its sound with electric instruments and orchestrations, the elements brought to the genre by Steeleye Span and Renaissance with Haslam, Blackmore keeps the proceedings simple and melodic in the song Under a Violet Moon. It's almost an exaggeration of traditional, but an honest one.
Under a Violet Moon by Blackmore's Night
Steve Palmer fronts the band Mooch. He writes the music and pulls the talent together to capture the sound for each release. In Stations of the Sun (2013) Steve captures the Renaissance stylings of polyphonic music. We have the lush harmonies, simple instrumentation, and spiritual leanings. He forgoes the modernization and bloated orchestrations of his idol Renaissance, and is closer to Gregorian than Blackmore's Night, most of the time, but comes close to Night on the less spiritual songs, like Come-A-Maying, which is virtually all celebratory.
Although Mooch feels joyous, it is not for celebration but mainly for spiritual meditations. Note the titles of the songlist: The Yule Garden, The Holly King and the Oak King, Imbolic Chant, Equinox, Come-A-Maying, Summerland, The Oak King and the Holly King, Fred Barleycorn, Looking Inward, A Samhain Mask, & Wheel of the Year. The seasons play an important role in these songs. But it is the melody that will capture the listeners. When I first heard The Yule Garden, I had to hear it one more time before I heard the rest of the list. By the time I got to The Holly King and the Oak King, I had listened to The Yule Garden at least a dozen times. And with each song, the haunting melodies and somber spirit of the cadence creates a styling at once Renaissancian and Modern, a mix of the three aforementioned bands, but uniquely all its own. One can't help to listen to each song more than once or twice or more.
A sample track:
This is not just a tribute to Renaissance music; it is the new, post Renaissance. Here there is mist and cloud and morning along crooked streets with minstrels playing and lovers heading to church. Here are beautiful harmonies that transport you to begone ages. Steve Palmer aimed high and hit his target. In Stations of the Sun, his band Mooch has captured its inspiration and made it something new for the listener. We do not go to the Renaissance Faire; via this fine music, the Renaissance comes to us.
Stations of the Sun by Mooch: A Sampling