The Painted Caravan is an album which offers a gamut of emotions and inspires just as many in the listener. Occasionally it puts pressure on patience and in other moments leaves unsure thoughts and questions behind from its wash of creative intrigue, but given time for its creative argument to make its persuasion, the release from The Peter Ulrich Collaboration emerges as a resourceful, imaginative, and quite compelling release.
Peter Ulrich, the former Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil percussionist, has drawn much acclaim for his solo work since his enthusiastically received debut album Pathways and Dawns of 1999. The following Enter The Mysterium album of 2005 equally received impressive responses critically and with contributions to the 2009 album Ovations from Piano Magic and a guest live appearance with Daemonia Nymphe in London in 2012 amongst many things Ulrich has remained a stirring musical presence. With The Painted Caravan he returns with his most expansive sounding painting of a release yet, an album with a concept originally conceived and developed by Ulrich and Trebor Lloyd, the CEO of Canyon Records. Its realisation is aided and brought to life by a core of contributors alongside Ulrich and Trebor in David Steele (vocals/guitar), Sara Wendt (vocals), and Anne Husick (guitar), with additional contributions from other accomplished musicians. It is a collaborative effort which ripples with invention though arguably lacks the definition and consistency to ignite the passions as often as it should.
Released though Market Square Records, the album immediately immerses the listener in its colourful creative visual canvas with In This Or Other Skin, a song of war, loss, and passion soaked in simmering despair and a melodic heart. It is impossible not to be mentally taken across the Mexican border especially with the brass cries offering their gentle mariachi caress, and with the expressive vocals of one presumes Steele and the excellent aural kisses of the vocals of Wendt, the feeling of loss wrapped in reflective emotion is a delicious weave upon the passions and an strong impressive start to the release.
The following Pureland is another smouldering kiss upon the ear, the celestial harmonies and Gregorian like chants behind the golden tones of Wendt, mesmeric to the point of being siren like. Steel guitars of some descript add an off kilter tease to the track for further pleasure further enhanced by loping percussive beats and continually shifting harmonies. It is an inspiring and evocative encounter where the use of ethnic instruments and sounds, not for the first time on the album, leave a tingle of mystique and excitement behind. Further songs within the release employ the likes of Uilleann pipes, bagpipes, ocarina, Yuet ch’in (Chinese moon guitar), Mayan drum, Wagner tuba, and darabuka, to name just some and all bring a voice and colour to the release which is irresistible.
The Secret Gardener has a psychedelic breath to its seductive stance but loses out to the previous songs due to the less successful vocals. To be honest it is hard to tell which male voice belongs to which musician across the album with no sleeve indication but here they do not match up to those in the opener which is a shame as it defuses the quality of the song rife with dramatic brass flames, reminding of latter Teardrop Explodes, and stylish blues tinged guitar. The same problem hits Dark Lover, the lead vocals assigned to Jen Elliot and sadly for her up against Wendt she struggles to light any fires, though the song is still an enterprising Eastern European spiced involvement.
Across the album there are other songs and moments which do not quite live up to others though all are close calls rather than badly conceived ideas. Further major highlights which do excel and lift the passions continue with the new single from the release Children Of The Rain, the dramatic Drug Of War, and the traditional sounding folk ballad Hanging Man. The single is a magnificent summer of melodies and emotive warmth led by a glorious five pronged lead vocal persuasion from Wendt, Jen Elliot, Steele, Ulrich, and Saskia Dommisse, and though a little New Seekers-ish it is a joyful companion for the ear and thoughts. The second of the trio grips a strong vibe of The Mission and Dead Can Dance to add to its sinewy folk march and stands as the finest moment on the album whilst Hanging Man is a haunting tale of dark shadows and sinister deeds hypnotically brought by Wendt upon heavy impassioned melancholic sounds.
With the discord joy Fanfare For The Lost Tribe and Love’s Skeleton arranging final elevated pleasures, The Painted Caravan is an excellent album, and though it has times where it goes a little awry it is in hindsight as much down to personal preferences as to missed opportunities. The album is certainly one which deserves at the very least a moment of every ones time and stands as a release to leave the listener engaged, involved, and satisfied.
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