Rock and Reprise.net
If we have to put a label on what plays, let us call it folk/psych/prog rock because they touch upon so many styles and genres in passing and, like that potato chip, you can't eat just one.. Not unlike Pentangle, they weave chord progressions and rhythmic patterns and a variety of instruments into a sound all their own, but do they sound like Pentangle? Not at all. I do remember having the same problem years ago trying to pigeonhole Pentangle, though. For three or four measures, I could almost hear patterns common to other bands, but when I went back the next time, they were gone. They were just Pentangle. And Blue Petal is really just Blue Petal.
That may partly be due to the unique voice and phrasing of their vocalist/guitarist Manya Repnikova. Vocal chords taut, she sounds at times like she spent the night before the recording session cheering at a football game, and that is not a slam. It adds a quality quite unlike any vocalist I've ever heard. Depending on song, she harbors tones close to but not quite like a string of topnotch folk and jazz artists without locking on one. Partially it is the phrasing, for she has a way with words my ears are still getting used to, but mostly it is that voice. If I could describe it, I would, but all I can say is that at the oddest moments, it cuts through the white noise (what I call the mass of music which has been growing and bouncing around in my head all these years) and makes itself heard.
It certainly doesn't hurt having musicians and composers the quality of Peter Anderson and Bryan Butler hanging around, either. While Repnikova takes us into the damnedest Golden Storybook I've ever imagined, full of both dark and light modern fairy tales excavated from the depths, Anderson (and Butler, on the title track) weaves instruments to fit the occasion, from simple acoustic guitar to what sounds like full orchestral backup courtesy of excellent sidemen including Erik Grande, Aaron Funk, Heather Test, Buffy Jacobs, Annie Benjamin and Eddie Horn playing instruments from flute to cello to french horn and beyond. Add solid arrangements and you have a somewhat intense and intriguing musical adventure.
Right off, you get the Blue Petal treatment with Anderson and Repnikova's floating prog Galaxy, Moody Blues instrumentation taken into another realm. Repnikova, breathing as much as singing, squeezes ?Who owns the galaxy/Who stirs the fire in me?, reaching for someone or something through an emotional haze. Throw a little chamber orchestra mixed with folk in the mix with the melodic Golden Storybook and you get the drift. Float above the clouds with the barely over a minute interlude, King of All Wild Things; delve into the depths with the folk rocking and out-there Climbing Trees; feel hope with the lullaby-like Castle In the Clouds; feel the pain of alone in the verse of Flying Home (and the desire for reunion in the haunting chorus). It is a ride.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Manya Repnikova...
Is it a musical novella? You tell me. The songs certainly flow from one to and through the others smoothly and the thread could be there. Myself, I live in the moment. Each song is a separate and unknown quantity every time I hear it, and I have yet to wrap myself around Golden Storybook as a storybook. I will get there, I am sure, but for right now, I prefer to immerse myself in Repnikova's voice (keeping the lyric sheet handy because she does have that unique phrasing I mentioned earlier) and the music. While maybe not a storybook, it is certainly an adventure.
Frank O. Gutch Jr.