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The Gravel Walk

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Album Review

The results of the tinkering that Tempest has conducted on previous albums are unveiled with resounding results. The Gravel Walk achieves a solid balance between their foundational classic '70s rock and folk influences. Lead singer, flautist, and mandolin player Lief Sorbye is no longer the dominant centerstage occupant. His once commanding presence has blended smoothly with that of his bandmates. Most of these fellows have played together for years but are now reaching their height as performers who have settled on their musical blueprint and grown comfortable with it. Particularly well-suited for Tempest's dual-purpose is fiddler Michael Mullen. He is just as adept at incorporating traditional Irish reels ("Flowers of Red Hill") as he is at integrating a searing Robbie Steinhardt-esque electric violin solo. Robert Wullenjohn compares favorably to Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre. Many of his mannerisms resemble Barre's, including his well-tempered, crafty but not self-absorbed style. He's forever hovering around each song, preparing to plunge in with an irresistible riff or to playfully insert some humorous fretwork when applicable. As usual, a couple of Norwegian folk songs from Sorbye's vast catalog are included. "Sinclair" is a quaint number sung in Norwegian that, were it not for the English introduction and translation, could easily pass as a harmless courting or seafaring song rather than the conniving and pillaging account of battle that it is. Buried deep in the "Karfluki Set" is yet another version of "Music for a Found Harmonium." An accommodating piece, it lends itself nicely to a variety of arrangements including this funky, free-form, folk-rock assault by Tempest. Bassist Jay Nania and drummer Adolfo Lazo flawlessly provide the rhythm necessary for those versatile jaunts into the wonderful world of "Celtodelia."

Customer Reviews

For fans of Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull

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.”


Formed: 1972

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '70s

Tempest has a band name that might suggest a group of sneering, leather-wearing, head-banging metal heads, but the group's music is less threatening and more expansive than its name suggests. Tempest plays traditional Celtic music with a rock & roll intensity that's accented by a wide range of influences from the blues to American country music, Cajun 2-steps, and Arabic music, with some old-time San Francisco psychedelic flair. It's a mix bandleader Lief Sorbye calls "Celtodelic". The band's music,...
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The Gravel Walk, Tempest
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