FALL, 2004 / ISSUE 65

Verdun - Verdun
(RCI 829757-81682-1)

"Purple Haze"
Contemporary, electro-acoustic art rock with new age space-fusion ambience. Verdun is the brainchild of Washington, D.C.-based guitarist/keyboardist Neal Barnard as a release for his majestic soundscapes.

A key feature to his composition style is integration of contrasting counterparts to work together. To reach this goal, Verdun is composed of two female vocalists - Martha Roebuck and Ngoc Hoang - whose heavenly voices are used as soft instruments which he blends against the harshness and aggressiveness of his guitar and keyboard work coupled with the demands of drummer Mike Stetina.

The band's signature song, "Dream of a Black Horse," draws on an ancient Vietnamese folk song and melody. An interpretation of Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man" flows in a German monotonistic club mix form. Lyrics flow from English to Vietnamese in an angelic, operatic fashion more musical in nature than lyrically valid.

Barnard's approach to "Purple Haze" is to slow the song down in an effort to better define the imagery Hendrix created.

"I did not want to just redo 'Purple Haze' or convert it to strings, accordion, tubas, or whatever, as you hear so often," he says. "I kept imagining the song as something else, very slow and dramatic, and I kept hearing it in 7/4 time. And in contrast to a heavy musical undercurrent, we used a very quiet and delicate female vocal. So while all the original aspects of the song are there, it became a totally different entity."

In an interview with New Age Reporter Jamie Bonk, when asked about the challenge of covering "Purple Haze," Barnard says, "sometimes, when you change a song's tempo, it becomes something entirely different. I kept hearing it very, very slow - letting the guitar really linger and bringing out the drums." He goes on, noting in Jimi's original version, "the solo was like an oration where he really had something to say, but he sped through so quickly that you couldn't concentrate. So, for better or worse, we used a very slow beat with lots of drums and shunted it into 7/4 time. The guitar part is original, note-for-note, except very slow."

Barnard emphasizes, "Jimi's music has always been important to me. He had such power and cleverness, and the day he died, it was a terrible tragedy. But I never would have presumed to try to copy his style. Very few people could attempt it (with some brilliant exceptions, such as Stevie Ray Vaughn's 'Voodoo Chile')."

The results are very ethereal, almost commanding the listener to study the music more than listen to it. Some have said Barnard has created another new music genre. Not being able to pigeonhole the music of Verdun, that may be an accurate statement. (2004)