REVIEW BY TOM ROBOTHAM
do you characterize an album that includes an ultra-slow version of "Purple
Haze," a rendition of "Stand By Your Man" in which the lyrics are
spoken, rather than sung, accompanied by a wahified electric guitar, and an opening
tune featuring lyrics in Vietnamese?
The answer, I suppose, is that you
don't even try. You simply listen and let the music take you where it will. At
the end of the journey, you won't be sorry-for you will have gone where no other
album has taken you before. Indeed, this is one of the most innovative and intriguing
records I've ever heard.
Let's start with that rendition of "Purple
Haze." When I say slow, I mean slowwwww. Listening to the opening bars feels
almost hallucinogenic, and the dreamy vocals-performed by Virginia Beach resident
Martha Roebuck-make the contrast to Hendrix even starker. Undoubtedly, this will
strike some listeners as sacrilege. But as Verdun's leader Neal Barnard observed
in an interview, Hendrix himself distorted our national anthem almost beyond recognition-and
in doing so, he created a version that is now as iconic as the original. I'm not
suggesting that Verdun's version of "Purple Haze" will achieve the same
status. But it works. Barnard is to be congratulated not only for artistic chutzpah
but for his achievement.
The same can be said of "Stand By Your Man"-although
unlike the version of "Purple Haze," which is true to the spirit of
the original, Verdun gives the Tammy Wynette classic an ironic, post-modernist
The seven other songs on the disc are Barnard originals-and the performance
of them covers quite a range of styles, from New Age to hard rock, fusion, world
music and beyond.
The most beautiful selection in the mix may be "Song
to a Sparrow." Set aloft by Roebuck's ethereal vocals and Barnard's tender
lyrics, the song floats as gently as a feather on a spring breeze. (More specifically,
it reminded me of the rarefied atmosphere of Rivendell, home of the elves in Lord
of the Rings.) Backing from Virginia Symphony cellist Carter Melin and guitarist
Sam Dorsey, who is also based in Hampton Roads, provide an added dimension.
album, which also features an excellent local drummer, Mike Stetina, incorporates
many other moods and colors-too many to go into here. That's just as well, I suppose.
I'll let them take you by surprise. The important point is that none of these
innovations feel contrived. Barnard, who's based in Washington, D.C., is clearly
a writer and musician with extraordinarily subtle sensibilities and a knack for
grasping musical essences. I look forward to his next venture with great anticipation.