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Shapeshifter

by Tempest

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about

Since forming in 1988, Tempest has delivered a globally-renowned hybrid of high-energy folk-rock fusing Irish reels, Scottish ballads, Norwegian influences and other world music elements. Shapeshifter, the group’s tenth album and fifth for Magna Carta, showcases a band at its creative peak. Featuring 10 tracks split 50-50 between original compositions and rocked-up traditional pieces, the album represents a level of finesse and focus that cements Tempest’s status as America’s premier Celtic rock outfit.

“Shapeshifter is the most mature record we’ve made,” said Lief Sorbye, founding member, lead singer and electric mandolinist. “I’ve always tried to achieve an optimal mix of traditional and contemporary musics, and rock and folk. I think this is the closest we’ve ever come. All of the songs and musicians work together naturally. There’s a lot of unity in terms of the record’s stylistic aspects too. Whether listeners are into folk or rock, I think they’ll find something to like about this album.”

The album’s title comes from the track “Carnival” that describes the mythological tale of a man who falls in love with a female shapeshifter. However, the title Shapeshifter also aptly describes the band’s creative philosophy.

“What Tempest does is musical shapeshifting,” explained Sorbye. “We take traditional music forms and recreate them in a more contemporary, progressive mode. The title is also reflected in the fact that the album’s pieces come from a large geographical area, including England, Scotland, Ireland, America and Norway. And often, more than one region’s influences are apparent in a single song.”

Along with Sorbye, the Oakland, CA-based band features founding member Adolfo Lazo (drums, percussion) and recent recruits Sue Draheim (fiddle, viola, harmony vocals), Mark Skowronek (bass, harmony vocals) and Ronan Carroll (electric and acoustic guitars).

“This record truly showcases the band as an ensemble,” said Sorbye. “The group’s new musicians really shine on it. Sue is perfectly suited for our music, particularly given her work with the Albion Band, Richard Thompson and John Renbourn. Ronan is a terrific Irish guitarist who grew up with Celtic music — it’s in his blood. And Mark and Adolfo work incredibly well together as a rhythm section that meshes with the dramatic ebb and flow inherent in our material. It’s by far the best line-up we’ve had to date.”

Another stand-out element on the new album is its lush vocal harmonies.

“The vocals are much more developed on this record than previous releases,” said Sorbye. “The material we chose lent itself to intricate vocal harmonies. The other factor is both Sue and Mark are excellent harmony vocalists. We spent many, many hours working out the vocal arrangements and the results speak for themselves.”

Shapeshifter is the fifth Tempest recording produced by Robert Berry, best known for his work with Three featuring Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer, and melodic rock mainstay Hush.

“Robert is a great producer because he’s an excellent multi-instrumentalist who understands a great deal of musical styles,” said Sorbye. “He also knows the technical side really well. In particular, it was a revolutionary thing for us to make the album with the ProTools HD digital recording system. The record sounds as if it was recorded on top-notch analog equipment, but we benefited from the incredible flexibility ProTools HD offers. Robert is also ideal because he’s got a great personality and knows how to bring out the best in the band — something I think is readily apparent on Shapeshifter.”


Track-by-track comments by Lief Sorbye

1. Tamosher (Trad.)
“I first became interested in this song when I saw Alan Reid of the Battlefield Band perform it at the Cambridge Folk Festival in the ‘70s. We wrote some new musical parts and hipped it up. It’s a catchy Celtic folk song that lent itself to a rock and roll treatment well. As for what a Tamosher is, let’s just say it’s what a Scotsman keeps under his kilt.”

2. Catalina Island (Sorbye)
“Catalina Island is a beautiful resort I visited in Los Angeles last year and this upbeat tune medley reflects some great memories I have from that time. It features three tunes with all kinds of melodic twists and turns. For instance, there’s an Indian scale in the piece, but it’s incorporated into the overall Celtic feel.”

3. Old Man at the Mill (Trad.)
“This is a traditional American roots piece — a 19th Century work song from the Appalachian mountains. Tempest has never recorded anything from America before. Many people from the British Isles who settled in America chose the Appalachian Mountains as their home. They wrote songs that related to their roots, but reflected the new world as well — an idea also inherent in the Tempest philosophy.”

4. Natural Law (Sorbye/Reynolds)
“Natural Law refers to the indigenous intelligence of nature. If you support nature, it will also support you. And we all know what happens when you go against nature. The song reflects that idea that each individual is connected to the rhythm of nature. It also has the elements of a good pop song, but keeps the substance of Celtic roots music.”

5. Byker Hill (Trad.)
“This traditional English coal mining song was popularized by Dave Swarbrick and Martin Carthy, as well as a group called The Young Traditions. We’re always looking to work in the traditional domain, but giving it contemporary validity via new arrangements and melodic elements. It’s a fresh viewpoint on a much loved piece.”

6. Carnival (Sorbye/Reynolds)
“Co-written with my wife Patricia, this mythology-based piece is about a man who falls in love with a Carnival woman who is a shapeshifter. The song inspired the album’s title and is the first acoustic piece we’ve recorded in a very long time. It also represents the shapeshifting nature of album in that we wanted to make it as diverse as possible.”

7. Coalminers’ (Trad.)
“This set of three traditional Irish reels was something Sue and I started playing in the acoustic Tempest offshoot band Caliban. It’s a real crowd favorite. The pieces have a great live energy we felt would work well within the rockier Tempest format. We feel we really captured that live vibe in the studio.”

8. Winter Night (Skowronek)
“A song written by our bassist Mark Skowronek and inspired by thoughts of December in New England. It’s the first song we’ve done where the mandolin serves as the basic rhythm instrument. The tune also features some nice interplay between guitar and fiddle, giving it a nice, lush feel.”

9. Fjellmannjenta (Sorbye/Trad.) [pronounced fyehl-mann-yenta]
“There’s always been a strong relationship between Celtic and Norwegian music, so pieces like this blend well with our style and repertoire. I also always like to include a piece of native Norwegian music from my own background on every record. So, I wrote a new melody for a traditional lyric and gave it the Tempest treatment. Fjellmannjenta is a mountain girl with a great appetite for dancing, food and drink — something a lot of Tempest fans can relate to.”

10. The Cruel Brother (Trad.)
“I’d been looking for a good, epic murder ballad that hasn’t been done to death and finally found one. I love how folk songs can paint a picture of the human condition. This one is also notable because it’s followed by three instrumental tunes, including ‘The Tempest Reel’ — which is the piece I took the band’s name from.”

credits

released May 20, 2003

LIEF SORBYE - lead vocals, acoustic and electric mandolins
and octave mandolas, bodhran
ADOLFO LAZO - drums, percussion
SUE DRAHEIM - fiddle, viola, harmony vocals
MARK SKOWRONEK - bass, harmony vocals
RONAN CARROLL - electric and acoustic guitars
With special guest ROBERT BERRY - keyboards

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Track Name: Tamosher
There were two bonnie lassies
And they were dressed in wool
And they went out some rushes for to pull
And one of them caught a wee thing
Before she did return
And she bundled it and put it in her apron

Oh the first man that she met
Was her father on the stairs
Daughter, dear daughter what have you got there
Who gave to you the tamosher
To wear the starched gown
And you bundled it and put it in your apron

Oh was it to the baker
Or was it to the clown
Or was it to the bonnie boy that sails the world around
Who gave to you the tamosher
To wear the starched gown
And you bundled it and put it in your apron

It wasn't to the baker
It wasn't to the clown
It was to the bonnie boy that sails the world around
He gave to me the tamosher
To wear the starched gown
And I bundled it and put in my apron
Track Name: Old Man at the Mill
Same old man working at the mill
The mill turns around of it's own free will
Hand in the hopper and the other in a sack
The ladies step forward and the gents fall back

Down said the owl, his head all white
Lonesome day and a lonesome night
Thought I heard a pretty girl say
Work all night and sleep next day

Who am I said the raven as she flew
If I was a young man I'd have two
One for to fetch and the other for to sew
I'd have a little string from a bow, bow, bow

My old man is in Kalamazoo
He don't wear no "Yes I do"
First to the left and then to the right
This old mill grinds day and night
Track Name: Natural Law
We walk a lot of roads, and only one way home
To live through this one day can be enough
And in our one day, a truth may unfold
To carry that along must be enough

The judgment of nature
A cultural thaw
No sugar-sweet heaven
But natural law

We all have some to know to move along the path
To feel a bit of light may be enough
The destiny of all is dealt by choice
A thoughtful one for now might be enough

The virtue of nature
Is the very last draw
No sugar-sweet heaven
Only natural law

Before you turn away do what you can
To live in such a way will be enough
If any should be lost then all are undone
The finish of the thing shall be enough

The wisdom of nature
Is no mindless saw
No sugar-sweet heaven
Just natural law

Before us many roads and only one leads home
The color of this day could be enough
To make it through a day is not enough.

The justice of nature
Will be the final draw
No sugar-sweet heaven
Only natural law
Track Name: Byker Hill
If I had another penny
I would have another gill
I would make the piper play
The bonny lass of Byker Hill

Byker Hill and Walker Shore
Collier lads for ever more
Byker Hill and Walker Shore
Collier lads for ever more

The pitman and the keelman trim
They drink bumble made from gin
Then to dance they do begin
To the tune of Elsie Marley

When first I went down to the dirt
I had no cowl nor no pitshirt
Now I've gotten two or three
Walker Pit's done well by me

Geordie Charlton, he had a pig
He hit it with a shovel, and it danced a jig
All the way to Walker Shore
To the tune of Elsie Marley
Track Name: Carnival
I walked alone one early evening
‘Long the gilded road from town
And in the vivid cold of dusk
The Winter carnival came down

As they passed I heard them whisper
I watched the passing ships unfurl
Soft they drifted toward the village
And in the wagon was a girl

Days flew past, the laughter rising
From the camp that bordered town
Here and there I glimpsed her beauty
Burning like a stolen crown

No one could I ever want so dearly
No one have I ever wanted near

Gentle people walk the evening
Troll the carnival’s delight
But I can only haunt the grounds
For blue-eyed woman, hair of night

Colored cloth and smoky darkness
I move into the shadowed camp
From the folds of foreign fabric
The face of love beneath a lamp

And we away into the blackness
Cold forgotten, night too still
And crushing frozen blades of grass
We made our pact on yonder hill

I Woke at dawn upon the hillside
A solitary man undone
The music of the wagons fading
Lost to me my only one

No one could I ever love so dearly
No one would I ever love so dear
No one could I ever love so dearly
No one would I ever love so dear

Vision clearing as I followed
And watching from the trailing dray
Sleek and black, a sultry feline
Blue eyes brighter than the day

Water-eyed with midnight coat
My sense had vanished with my hat
From in the wagon, Tattooed Man
And he took up the shining cat

Walked alone one golden evening
'Long the dusty road from town
And in the vivid cold of sunset
A winter Carnival came down
Track Name: Winter Night
It's been nearly a year since you went away
I missed you in the summer sun, and more each Autumn day
Now the days are shorter, and storms are coming on
And it's hard to be without you from the twilight to the dawn
I've stayed in our home, and kept it up with care
But it doesn't mean anything as long as you're not there

So come on girl come, come on come on home
I don't want to spend another bitter night alone
The fire's burning strong, I'll pour us the wine
I'll be your present if you say you'll be mine
So come on girl come, come in from the barren trees
And spend a winter night with me

I know you and I haven't always been good
We haven't always acted the way that lovers should
But I think that you can say that we had a lot of fun
And as far as I'm concerned, our story isn't done
So come on over here, come on in from the snow
And I'll make sure that you never want to go

Come tell me stories of places you have seen
What you have been thinking of, how your heart has been
Sing me a song that I've never heard before
Wash me with the waves that you felt on other shores
So come on over here, come on over here,
come on over here…
Track Name: Fjellmannjenta
Fjellmannjenta oppunder li
Fjellmannjenta oppunder li
Danser og drekker og aker på ski
Fjellmannjenta oppunder li

Fjellmannjenta oppunder ås
Fjellmannjenta oppunder ås
Danser og drekker og smeller i lås
Fjellmannjenta oppunder ås

Snillaste jenta ho var fin
Snillaste jenta ho var fin
Ho åt opp ein geitost, ho stjal han te
Tore du tore du seia det

Snillaste jenta bortafor bakken
Snillaste jenta bortafor bakken
Beila til guten med sekken på nakken
Snillaste jenta bortafor bakken

Snillaste jenta bortafor elva
Snillaste jenta bortafor elva
Beila til guten på laurdagskvelden
Tore du tore du seia det
Track Name: Cruel Brother
There were three sisters lived in a hall
Aye the rose and the lily-o
There came a knight and he courted them all
Oh the rose it smells so sweetly

Well the first one she was dressed in red
Would you come with me and share my bed

And The second one was dressed in green
Would you come with me and be my queen

Oh the third one she was dressed in white
Would you come and be my own delight

Well you may ask my father the King
And you may ask my mother the Queen

And you may ask my sister Ann
Oh but don't forget my brother John

So he has asked her father the King
And he has asked her mother the Queen

And he has asked her sister Ann
But he forgot her brother John

And her father he led her through the hall
And her mother she danced before them all

And her sister Ann led her to the course
And her brother John helped her on her horse

He has taken a blade both long and sharp
And he pierced the bride right through the heart

Oh lead me gently up the hill
And there I'll sit and make my will

And what will you leave your father dear
the bonnie stead that brought me here

And what will you leave your mother dear
the bloody robes that I do wear

And what will you leave to your sister Ann
The golden ring from off my hand

And what will you leave to your brother John
The gallows tree to hang him on

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