Asleep By Dawn is a magazine devoted to contemporary interpretations of Medieval music. A couple of years ago they made a compilation CD titled Stand and Deliver, from the catalog of performers at Noir Records, for sale and distribution at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. As a subscriber to the folk music magazine Dirty Linen, I had a leftover copy of this disc fall into my hands when I sent in my renewal. The cover art is cheesy to say the least, and you can't help getting the sense that the music on this disc was pulled off of some SCA geek's iPod. But there are actually quite a few good performers out there doing creative things with Medieval music, and several of them are represented here.
The biggest scene for modern Medieval music right now is in Germany, so the ".de" at the end of most of the websites of the bands included in this compilation did not surprise me. Indeed, the CD opens with a fun frenetic song from the most well-known of the German Medieval bands, Corvus Corax, whom I've reviewed here. Germany's folk traditions evidently lean heavily on the bagpipes, as pipes figure prominently on many of the tracks, especially in the first half of the CD. This is not a bad thing necessarily, as a few of the pipe tracks are quite strong, including "A Voi Gente" by Estampie.
Not all the tracks are pipe pieces though. "A Virgen Mui Gloriosa" by Des Teufels Lockvoegel features a really pretty melody sung by a soprano above flute and guitar accompaniment. A couple of heavily percussive songs are well suited for belly dances. The Bulgarian group Irfan performs an ominous interpretation of an ancient chant. I happily get my hurdy-gurdy fix courtesy of Angels of Venice and their song "A Chantar Mar." The German group Filia-Irata performs an old Finnish runo song "Vikon Vaivane." Their dark, sparse arrangement of this song improves on the version of it I'd previously heard, on Värttinä's 1990 CD Oi Dai. Then again, Värttinä has done a better job of tapping into the Medieval elements of Finnish music, particularly the primal elements, on their more recent efforts than they did on their earlier albums. The album closes with a beutifully airy sixteenth-century chant "Polorum Regina," sung by the female vocal group Sarband.
Despite the cheap packaging, Stand and Deliver is a fun listen with many strong songs. It also serves as an excellent introduction to the contemporary performers making music from, or inspired by, the music of the Middle Ages. Granted, this will probably not appeal to anyone who wouldn't be caught dead at a Renaissance Faire. But if you've got your cloak and feathered hat packed, this is the perfect CD to play during the car ride.
Overall Grade: A-
reviewed by Scott