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Tempest
The Gravel Walk
Catalog #: MA-9018-2

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The Gravel Walk
AUDIO CLIPS


01 – One From The Fiddler
(mp3 or realaudio)

02 – Buffalo Jump
(mp3 or realaudio)

03 – Bonnie Lass of Anglesey
(mp3 or realaudio)

04 – Green Grow the Rashes
(mp3 or realaudio)

05 – Flowers of Red Hill
(mp3 or realaudio)

06 – Sinclair
(mp3 or realaudio)

07 – Plans of Kildare
(mp3 or realaudio)

08 – Trip Across the Mountain
(mp3 or realaudio)

09 – Broken Ring
(mp3 or realaudio)

10 – The Karfluki Set
(mp3 or realaudio)
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The Gravel Walk
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Tour Dates


Released Aug 26, 1997

Tempest, the non-stop touring machine

Progressive folk-rockers find a home with Magna Carta
by Don Dilorio
Progression, Winter/Spring 1998

Although California-based Tempest is fast acquiring fans from the progressive fold, this band is not readily categorized with your garden-variety art-rockers.

Where many of today's progressive favorites conjure spacey, mind-bending excursions of splashy sonic splendor, Tempest travels a decidedly earthy route that favors rustic acoustic modes mixed with biting electric guitar.

Where other progressive acts mine symphonic grandeur and elegant classicisms, Tempest cultivates the less grandiose influences of early folk music to inform their writing process. (Reference the acoustic side of Jethro Tull, or the works of folk rockers Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span for a notion of Tempest's heritage.)

At the same time, though, it's easy to understand the appeal Tempest has to prog fans. Many of the requisite elements are intact: sophisticated arrangements and unexpected meter shifts, cross-genre “pollination” and virtuosic musicianship. All is reinforced by the band's signing two years ago to the progressive-oriented Magna Carta label.

The band also can be credited for possessing qualities in short supply among the prog-rock fraternity - mainly, a formidable endurance for touring and a warm, inviting sense of humor. Both attributes have made Tempest a concert favorite, with a reputation strong enough to vault them into a guest slot at last year's Fairport Convention-hosted Cropredy Festival in England. There, they easily made converts of the 30,000 in attendance.

1998 marks the 10th anniversary of Tempest, and by all accounts it will be as busy a year as ever for this unique Celtic/progressive rock band. Their latest album, The Gravel Walk, is their sixth full-length release and second for Magna Carta, following Turn of the Wheel (1996). The latter featured a contribution from keyboard maestro Keith Emerson on the opening number, “The Barrow Man,” and production by prog-rock veteran Robert Berry.

Led by mandolin player/singer/flautist Lief Sorbye, the band has weathered several lineup changes over the years but manages to grow stronger Musically with each personnel shift. Along with Sorbye, other stalwarts are drummer Adolfo Lazo (who's been with Tempest from its inception) and fiddle demon Michael Mullen, who joined in `92. New members are bassist John Land, who joined in September, and guitarist David Parnell, who adds a touch of sophistication in both writing ability and performance - he studied for two years under a Spanish flamenco master.

If flamenco seems at odds with a Celtic rock band, think again: Tempest probably will find a way to work it into their repertoire. With a sound rooted in indigenous Scottish, Irish and Norwegian folk traditions, Tempest has been known to effectively assimilate a wide array of influences.

"Essentially, Tempest is a world-music band." Sorbye explained in his well-tamed Norwegian accent. "Even if we focus on Celtic and sometimes Scandinavian material, we pick up a variety of other ethnic influences. We have a Cuban drummer, and we've sort of been playing our own form of world music ever since day one.”

Indeed, Tempest relishes an adventurous approach, as evidenced by songs such as “Green Grow the Rashes" from the new album, a track which incorporates - of all things - reggae.

"If there is a certain groove that works with a certain tune to create a certain excitement or tension or feel, then we use it.`Green Grow the Rashes' definitely has a reggae groove to it," Sorbye said. “I remember arranging that song and it didn't have a reggae groove until.. .You see, the way we work, we usually don't record something unless we tried it out in front of an audience.We always communicate directly with our audience so our audience has an influence on our recorded material that way.

"We could take a new song out, play it a few times, see what kind of response it gets, rearrange it, try different things, and then when it settles in, that's the time we record it. In the case of `Green Grow the Rashes,' that's what we did. We played it a few times live and it wasn't until we got the reggae groove going that it really got a response and felt right.

"On Turn of the Wheel, with the song `Cat in the Corner,' you can trace a reggae groove as well. If you go back to some of the earlier albums, the reggae groove has snuck in there a number of times over the years. It’s subtle, because we're a white boy band. We're not a rasta band, and It's not going to sound genuine. But hey, it's part of [showing] there's more than one influence in this band shining through."

Sorbye began his music career playing with high school rock bands in his native Norway. Influenced initially by groups like Jethro Tull and Genesis, he eventually soured on rock music's commercial trend in the late `70s.

"I was influenced, even as a kid, by American folk singers like Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs and that kind of thing," he said. "As rock`n' roll became more corporate, I lost interest in it. It turned me off. I couldn't handle punk, so I just started playing acoustic music."

Playing acoustic instruments proved more practical, because Sorbye spent the latter half of the decade traveling Europe as a street musician, or so-called "busker." He came to the United States in 1979 seeking a new audience, and hooked up with the acoustic folk band Golden Bough, with whom he recorded six albums during the `80s.

But eventually, Sorbye heard the call of rock music beckoning once again. When Golden Bough rejected his idea of adding electric instrumentation, he set about forming his own group. In October of 1988, Tempest was born.

"Basically, I started off playing in rock bands, then became a diehard folkie. It came full circle after about nine years or so when I formed Tempest to combine the two elements," Sorbye said. He noted it was this distinct combination of rock with other forms that always intrigued him.

"What got me into traditional music was the folk-rock movement,” he said. "It started pretty much the same time in the States - maybe a few years later, when bands like the Byrds started doing Dylan songs and folk-rock became its own genre. Then, on the British Isles, you have bands like Fairport Convention dabbling in English folk music and playing in a rock band setting. I got exposed to fiddle tunes by listening to bands like The Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention and whatever, and from there I got involved in traditional music."

Sorbye relishes the idea of bringing obscure folk music to virgin ears, as well as reworking classics into modern numbers.

"We're playing traditional music or electric folk, but to a rock `n' roll audience. A lot of times you'll see people in the audience who are hearing traditional music or Celtic music for the first time. They later get involved in the purer forms of the music from listening to us, which is the reason I did it to begin with.

"These days, I think the energy in traditional music is totally relevant to a rock `n' roll band; to me, it goes hand in hand. It also brings the music to a larger audience. You can create a bigger effect because you're mixing the traditional and modern instrumentation, and you're utilizing contemporary sounds. It gives us a bigger marketplace and we get a chance to play both for a folk audience and a rock audience."

Sorbye can most often be seen sporting a doubleneck electric mandolin/mandola onstage when he's not playing flute or harmonica. Along with Mullen's hyper fiddle lines, the duo provides an interesting foil to the drums/bass/guitar rock bombast of their bandmates. The combination yields a genre-busting sound that has pleased widely divergent audiences across the country.

"We have such a large variety of audiences and age groups," Sorbye said. "A real strength of the band is the fact that we can appeal to everyone from a punk who really likes the energy to a granny who enjoys the traditional flavor.

"At one show, we might have a bunch of [Grateful] Deadheads showing up because they like the groove of our music. In another place, it might be more of a middle-aged conservative crowd. And in yet another place, it will be a bunch of rowdy kids who want to stagedive. It's such a large spectrum that I think whether young or old, whether they're into rock or folk, they can find something to enjoy at a show like ours."

Despite the many influences, progressive rock might be the only genre under which Tempest is comfortably classified. For all the traditional ethnicities inherent to their music, there is no mistaking the intricate progressive flair of a tune such as "Plains of Kildare," or the Baroque-flavored "Trip Across the Mountain." Also, the band's penchant for reviving old tunes and injecting a contemporary feel with modern instrumentation and varied arrangements is an approach that most definitely renders a "progressive" evaluation.

"If it's a museum piece and you keep it very pure, then it's a lot easier to keep it intact. But when it's part of a living culture, things sneak in all the nine and out of it comes new ideas and new music," Sorbye said. "Folk music is there to be played whether it's electric or acoustic, and it's there to absorb what is going on right now.

"With the high level of communication we have now, with the Internet and everything else, people learn, borrow and steal [cultural and artistic ideas] all the time. That's the way it should be when [the music] is part of the culture. Because of that, you can hear traces of different things. There's a lot of crossover, historically.

"I love that form of music, because it's got substance and survival potential. Obviously, a song like `Green Grow the Rashes,' which really is 200 years old, is got to be a good song. Otherwise, it wouldn't have survived. I think a new treatment, whether it’s a reggae groove or whatever, is just giving it another chance to go through another evolution and survive. People will sing that song into the next century because people play it. It’s like being part of a living tradition that is constantly changing, like being part of a work in progress."

In addition to Tempest, Sorbye and Mullen have just released an acoustic record under the name of Caliban (as in the savage from Shakespeare's The Tempest, for all you literature majors). The disc is out on Magna Carta. Sorbye figures Caliban will give him yet another avenue of expression, though Tempest remains his baby and his priority.

Playing some 150 to 200 shows a year, Tempest appears to have a bright future sustained by an enthusiastic fan base and the band's genuine love of what they do, he said.

"It's a fun style of music to play. It's very challenging and very arrangement intensive,'" he said. "You don't get stuck in one groove or one sound. There's always another step musically or professionally to be taken.

"There's a lot of activity. There's always a new album to be recorded, always another tour to go on, always another musical avenue to be explored. You add all that up and find a lot of movement there and a lot of potential for growing.

"I think when you dabble in traditional music, you get into situations where there's a lot of uncharted territory, a lot of possibilities. When you deal with rock `n' roll there's endless possibilities, because you can take rock `n' roll and add anything you want to it and make it your own. That's what is great about rock`n' roll. And what's great about traditional folk music is that there's a wealth of material that hasn't even been discovered. There's so much to be done, you never run out of good material or good ideas or new ideas.

"So, because of that I feel it will take a lot to make a band like this stagnate. As long as we're 100 percent into what we're doing it's a heck of a fun band to be in."

 



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