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Black Lodge Ensemble (USA): Black Lodge Ensemble (No label, CD, 2007)
Meg Callen (guitar), Gina Gleason (guitar), Cheshire Agusta (percussion)
Like Cheshire Agusta’s other band Stinking Lizaveta, Black Lodge Ensemble’s music is purely instrumental. Unlike Stinking Lizaveta, Black Lodge Ensemble’s music is purely avant-garde, with the disc consisting of two 25-minute pieces, ‘Construct For 9 Piece Ensemble’ and ‘Improvisation For 9 Piece Ensemble’. With lots of electronics and samples, the LP owes a definite debt to the weirder end of Krautrock and free jazz, with Anima immediately springing to mind, although the vibe is rather different. In general I have a fairly short tolerance for this kind of thing, but this is a pretty good album. GRADE: C+.
Black Lodge Ensemble (USA): Jim-Bum (No label, CD, 2008)
Cheshire Agusta (occasional vocals, percussion, glass), Gina Gleason (percussion)
This is a touch more coherent than its predecessor, once again resembling a Krautrock, industrial and jazz hybrid. Although inevitably diffuse, it’s pretty good for improvised avant-gardism. GRADE: C+.
See also Stinking Lizaveta

Black Swan (France): Mirror (No label BS 72204, CD, with poster booklet and insert, 1998?)
Sylvie Vilboux (lead vocals)
The (appropriately enough) mirrored front panel is quite striking, but the music is identikit stripped-down hard rock and metal. Nonetheless, this is a perfectly listenable album and a solid example of its style, giving no hints of its French origins. GRADE: C+.

Black Vulpine (Germany): Hidden Places (Moment Of Collapse MOC091, pink vinyl, 2015)
Sarah Middeldorf (lead vocals, guitar), Daria Stirnberg (guitar)
This German band’s debut is solid stoner rock, featuring short songs driven by some powerful riffs. This isn’t what you’d call groundbreaking stuff, sounding like numerous other bands in the genre, but then that isn’t really the point. GRADE: C+.

Black Water (UK): Diffraction (No label, CDR, with autographed insert, 2017)
June Stevenson (lead vocals)
Limited to 100 copies, this CDR offers pleasant melodic symphonic rock with some hard rock touches; the underlying style is clearly neoprogressive but there’s definitely some promise here. June Stevenson, whose unusual voice lends the song a quirky vibe, was very much the brainchild behind the outfit, writing or co-writing all the material. GRADE: C+.

Black Water (UK): B2S EP (No label, CDR, 2018)
June Stevenson
This EP (more of a CD single, really, with three songs around the four-minute mark) sees the metal elements underpinning the band’s sound becoming more prominent. It’s a positive move, with more confident songwriting, featuring some excellent hooks. GRADE: C+.

Black Widow (UK): Return To The Sabbat (Unreleased acetate, 1969)
Kay Garret (joint lead vocals)
After changing name from Pesky Gee!, but before shedding female singer Kay Garret, Black Widow recorded this early version of the concept album that would later become Sacrifice. Only acetates were made at the time, but the LP received a commercial release in the late nineties. Musically it’s a good early progressive rock set, with a jazzy edge and organ and saxophone-dominated instrumentation.

See also Pesky Gee!

Blackbird (USA): Blackbird (No label VAR-122, 1974)


Amy Gass (backing vocals)

Blackbird was the project of a pair of brothers, who play all the instruments between them, with third member Amy Gass sticking to backing vocals. Musically, it’s a pleasant set of breezy, mildly jazzy folk/rock grooves with a feel occasionally similar to the later Nazjazz. Given the excellent writing and very professional musicianship and recording, it’s surprising that the band didn’t land a major label deal. With a running time of just 17 minutes, this has to be one of the shortest major league collectibles; this didn’t stop one of the two known copies selling for nearly £700 on eBay. As a footnote, there is an active Christian singer/songwriter called Amy Gass, but I’m assuming it’s not the same person – she looks several decades too young, for a start. GRADE: C+.

Johnny Blackburn & Mary Lauren (USA): Echoes Of Love’s Reality (No label JB-5473, with booklet, 1981)
Mary Lauren (occasional vocals)
This is one of those odd duos where one member did all the work: Johnny Blackburn wrote, produced and engineered everything, played the bulk of the instruments and sang all the lead vocals apart from one verse on one song. This is also an odd album for 1981: gentle, reflective and spiritual, though slickly arranged and produced in keeping with the era, which makes for an unusual experience. Finally, Blackburn’s voice is not what you’d expect either: it took me a while to find a comparison, but then I realised he sounds like the Bee Gees in their lower register. Allegedly only 200 copies were pressed, of which just 100 came with the 16-page book, but given the album’s factory-finished sleeve and quality versus its relatively low value this seems unlikely. GRADE: B–.

Blackheart (UK): Indigo (Sugar Tree STR CD 109, CD, 2007)
Chrissy Mostyn (principal vocals)
It’s significant that one song – ‘In America’, unsurprisingly enough ­– charts this duo’s reactions to visiting the USA, as the style offered here is country/rock with a dash of mellow soft rock. The closest reference point might late seventies or early eighties Fleetwood Mac, leaning towards the Stevie Nicks side of the equation, and on ‘Unlike Water’ they actually equal the Mac for sheer verve and musicality. Elsewhere, this is chiefly notable for its excellent musicianship and recording, though Chrissy Mostyn’s girlish vocals (perhaps not unlike Nicks’s distinctly different voice) may not be to everyone’s taste. GRADE: C+.
Blackheart (UK): Invisible (Angel Air SJPCD307, CD, 2009)
Chrissy Mostyn
They must have chosen their name ironically: ‘Blackheart’ might lead you to expect a metal or gothic outfit, or at least a band with dark and brooding music. Instead, the songs here are either gentle and introspective (the ballads) or upbeat and catchy (the country-flavoured rockers), with more of an emphasis on the former this time around. The other irony is that Rick Pilkington takes the vocal lead on one song only, as he has an excellent and expressive voice that could have wider appeal than Chrissy Mostyn’s. GRADE: C+.
Blackheart (UK): Songs From A Satellite (Right Track RTRCD41, CD, 2013)
Chrissy Mostyn (lead vocals, guitar, omnichord)
Album number three marks a significant change of direction, towards lush folky symphonic pop with backing mainly from keyboards and acoustic guitar. Although I’m still not convinced by the rather coy vocals, it’s pleasant stuff throughout and shows the duo beginning to develop a distinctive style rather than synthesising influences from various strands of American rock. GRADE: C+.
Blackheart Orchestra (UK): Diving For Roses (Right Track RTR93CD, CD, with digipak and booklet,  2017)
Chrissy Mostyn (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards, omnichord)
They’ve slightly changed their name, but don’t be fooled: they’re still a duo and this isn’t orchestral in any way. In fact, it’s very similar to their last album, though with the addition of a few very minor progressive elements. As such, it’s lush, pleasant and pretty insubstantial. GRADE: C+.
Blackheart Orchestra (UK): Mesmeranto (Esoteric Antenna EATCD1079, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2019)
Chrissy Mostyn (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards, omnichord)
What’s really interesting about Blackheart Orchestra isn’t their music so much as how it’s perceived. They’ve been widely described as progressive rock, which they aren’t by any stretch of the imagination, whereas if their glossy electro-pop had been released in the eighties – the decade to which it belongs spiritually – no commentators would have been tempted to add them to the prog pantheon or even the rock pantheon. As such, whilst they’re by no means bad, though they’re certainly rather lightweight and fey, I can only advise caveat emptor to rock-oriented readers. GRADE: C+.

Blackheart Orchestra (UK): Mute – The Instrumental Variations (6 For Dead SFDRCD01, CD, with digipak, 2021)
Chrissy Mostyn
Since my biggest quibble with the Blackheart Orchestra has always been Chrissy Mostyn’s fey singing and since my biggest quibble with their media perception is that they’re never produced anything genuinely progressive, an instrumental album makes perfect sense for me. Nothing here is entirely new: this reworks songs from Songs From A SatelliteDiving For Roses and Mesmeranto, but it’s all been extensively overdubbed and remixed, giving the material a widescreen sheen. On the rare occasions I want to hear the Blackhearts, this is the album I’ll be playing, so let’s hope their selective mutism persists. GRADE: B–.

Blackheart Orchestra (UK): Hotel Utopia (Ceandar CEANCD84511, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2022)
Chrissy Mostyn
The only Blackheart Orchestra album I’ve really loved is the instrumental one, but this is certainly the best of their vocal LPs. It still has one foot (actually, one foot and a few toes) firmly planted in the pop camp, but this time round the atmosphere is dreamy enough and the arrangements are symphonic enough that this could have genuine appeal for people who like the more melodic end of prog. Well arranged, performed and produced, with plenty of hooks and lots of variety, this is an enjoyable album indeed. But even though they finally stretch out on the excellent nine-minute closer ‘The Flood’, I still love the instrumental one more. GRADE: C+.

Blackmore’s Night (UK/USA): Shadow Of The Moon (Whatever… 0099022 WHE, CD, Germany, 1997)
Candice Night (lead vocals)
Formed by Deep Purple and Rainbow leader Ritchie Blackmore and his American wife Candice Night, Blackmore’s Night specialised in folk/rock with a renaissance flavour. Talking of Renaissance (the band rather than the era this time), they cover ‘Ocean Gypsy’, which serves to illustrate the two bands’ superficial similarity and fundamental differences. Lacking the ambition and scope of seventies Renaissance, Blackmore’s Night offer pleasant and sometimes beautiful, if slightly twee, music that has occasional unwelcome MOR edges (notably on a rather undistinguished rendition of ‘Greensleeves’). Overall it’s an enjoyable set, but not a very varied or dynamic one, making their decision to include sixteen songs and instrumentals totalling over an hour rather questionable. GRADE: C+.
Blackmore’s Night (UK/USA): Under A Violet Moon (Cold Harbour Recording Co. PCCY 01377, CD, UK, 1999)
Candice Night (principal vocals, whistle)
LP number two is in the same vein as their first, although it’s considerably more accomplished, with more electric instrumentation and a lower cheese factor. The band’s first two albums were beautifully repackaged along with DVDs from their respective tours (combining onstage and backstage performances and interviews) as The Beginning (UDR 0220 BOX, Germany, 2012) complete with individual digipaks and booklets, with the whole thing being held in a purple velvet box with silver foil lettering inside a printed clear plastic slipcase.

Blackmore’s Night (UK/USA): Fires At Midnight (SPV SPV 085-72432 CD, CD, Germany, 2001)
Candice Night (lead vocals, harp, recorder, bagpipes, whistle, shawm)
Superbly produced and very dynamic, this is even more effective than its predecessor. However, much as I like what they do, it’s all a little too polished and a little too soulless to stick in the mind. GRADE: C+.
Blackmore’s Night (UK/USA): Past Times With Good Company (SPV 095-74490 DCD, double CD, with book sleeve, 2002)
Candice Night (lead vocals, tambourine, bagpipes, whistle, shawm, rauschpfeife)
This attractively packaged live double album showcases most facets (and admittedly, there aren’t that many) of the band’s sound. With excellent performances and fine recording quality, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable overview of their early years. GRADE: C+.
Blackmore’s Night (UK/USA): Ghost Of A Rose (SPV 089-74990 CD, CD, with digibook, 2003)
Candice Night (lead vocals, bagpipes, whistle, shawm, chanter, rauschpfeife)
With a more varied musical palette incorporating some ethnic influences plus a few harder rock touches, this is easily their best album to date. However, accomplished and enjoyable as it is, it’s still a little too polished for my tastes, although there’s no denying Night and Blackmore’s talent. As a footnote, the disc is beautifully packaged, with an elaborate multi-foldout digipak incorporating a stapled booklet. GRADE: B–.
Blackmore’s Night (UK/USA): Castles And Dreams (SPV 556-99157 2DVD, double DVD, with digipak, booklet and slipcase, 2005)
Candice Night
This lavish package features a live set, several acoustic performances, a number of fairly low-budget music videos, TV appearances and a selection of documentaries, with a total running time of nearly four hours. Whilst beautifully filmed, the concert showcases the singalong, hey-nonny-nonny end of their repertoire, and the other material is fairly extraneous, so this is a competent rather than compelling set. GRADE: C+.
Blackmore’s Night (UK/USA): The Village Lanterne (SPV 99700 2CD-E, double CD, with book sleeve, 2006)
Candice Night (principal vocals, recorder, shawm, rauschpfeife, chanter)
Whilst broadly in the band’s normal style, this is a little more progressive and harder rocking than their previous albums, with a well-judged mix of songs and instrumentals, both originals and covers (including a fine take on Deep Purple’s ‘Child In Time’ and a decent version of the old chestnut ‘Streets Of London’). The second disc is essentially a CD single, featuring two additional songs plus some multimedia content including a 20-minute interview. As with its predecessor, the album is beautifully packaged, with a cloth-bound book sleeve. GRADE: B–.
Blackmore’s Night (UK/USA): Winter Carols (Soul Food PRE 08, CD, EU, 2006)
Candice Night (lead vocals, recorder, whistle, shawm)
Blackmore’s Night’s Christmas album focuses on familiar hymns like ‘Hark! The Herald Angels’, ‘Come All Ye Faithful’, ‘I Saw Three Ships’, ‘Ding Dong Merrily On High’ and ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’. Given varied folk and rock backing, they make for a solid addition to an inevitably cheesy canon. GRADE: C+.
Blackmore’s Night (UK/USA): Paris Moon (SPV 98617, DVD plus CD, with digipak, booklet and slipcase, 2007)
Candice Night (principal vocals, tambourine, woodwind, whistle)
Nicely packaged in an unusually broad digipak and diecut slipcase, this set features a DVD of a complete concert in Paris (plus bonus documentary and slide show) and a CD of about half the material. The proggier and more rocking moments work very well, as do the gentler folk tunes, but inevitably they throw in a fair few of their more singalong numbers. GRADE: C+.
Blackmore’s Night (UK/USA): Secret Voyage (SPV 91782 CD-E, Germany, 2008)
Candice Night (lead vocals, recorder, shawm)
The set opens brilliantly, with the segue of ‘God Save The Keg’ and ‘Locked Within The Crystal Ball’ taking the duo firmly into the realms of progressive rock. Thereafter it’s a little more variable: some fine ethnic-tinged folk, a good adaptation of ‘Lovely Joan’ with new lyrics (‘The Peasant’s Promise’) and a few overly slick ballads. As always, it’s a bit glossy and commercial for my tastes, but it’s certainly one of their best. GRADE: B–.
Blackmore’s Night (UK/USA): Autumn Sky (Spinefarm UICO-1192, SHM-CD, with booklet and obi, Japan, 2010)
Candice Night (principal vocals, recorder, whistle, shawm, gemshorn, chanter, bombarde, rauschpfeife)
With a very bright sound, even by the band’s usual standard, this is a solid but fairly unexciting set that adds little to their repertoire. Oddly, two of the cover versions are of fairly obscure Swedish songs (one co-written by Py Bäckman). GRADE: C+.
Blackmore’s Night (UK/USA): A Knight In York (UDR UDR 0204 CD, CD, 2012)
Candice Night (principal vocals, tambourine, woodwind, shawm)
This excellently recorded live set contains a number of heavier rock tracks as well as some lovely acoustic folk, sensibly downplaying the singalong end of the band’s repertoire. There are also a few musical jokes thrown in, which work reasonably well, making for a satisfying outing. GRADE: B–.
Blackmore’s Night (UK/USA): A Knight In York (UDR UDR 0206 BR, Blu-ray, 2012)
Candice Night (principal vocals, tambourine, woodwind, shawm)
Being a Blu-ray, the DVD version of the set (including additional between-songs banter and pauses) unsurprisingly has outstanding video and audio quality. Like the CD, it’s pretty enjoyable, although it does help to confirm that Blackmore’s Night are essentially one-trick ponies, demonstrating little in the way of artistic progression. GRADE: B–.
Blackmore’s Night (UK/USA): Dancer And The Moon (Avalon MIZP-300006, SHM-CD plus DVD, with digipak, booklet, poster booklet and obi, Japan, 2013)
Candice Night (lead vocals, woodwind)
Slightly more acoustic than their earlier albums, this is another solid if predictable set with a few beautiful numbers. Oddly, they include ‘The Moon Is Shining (Somewhere Over The Sea)’ twice – once as an acoustic ballad, then immediately reprised as an electric rocker. The accompanying DVD comprises a lengthy interview with Blackmore and Night, including short acoustic performances of a few of the album’s songs. GRADE: C+.
See also Candice Night

Blackout (Poland): Blackout (Muza XL 0437, 1966)
Mira Kubasinska (joint lead vocals)
This enjoyable beat album already shows the strong blues influences the band would display in its next incarnation as Breakout. Whilst it’s obviously more primitive than their late sixties and early seventies work, there is some fine musicianship on display, including plenty of period guitar and trebly organ. GRADE: C+.
Blackout (Poland): Blackout 2 (Digiton DIG 131, CD, 1994, recorded 1966-1967)
Mira Kubasinska (joint lead vocals)
The provenance of the material on this CD isn’t clear, but these appear to be studio recordings, so most likely comprise non-LP singles and radio sessions. Similar in style and quality to their 1966 album, this is a worthwhile and enjoyable listen. GRADE: C+.
See also Breakout, Mira Kubasinska

Blackthorn (UK): Blackthorn (WHM 1921, 1977)
Nina Szifris (principal vocals, guitar)
The sleeve notes claim that ‘the group have here achieved an unprecedented level of musicianship and professionalism’, but whilst this is several notches above typical folk club fare I don’t hear anything ‘unprecedented’. Mixing traditional English folk songs with numbers from American singer/songwriters, Blackthorn cover quite a range of ground and offer well-judged arrangements ranging from acapella settings to semi-electric backing. A fair comparison for their sound might be Faraway Folk without the cabaret tendencies. GRADE: C+.
Blackthorn (UK): Blackthorn II – Electric Folk (WHM 1922, 1979)
Nina Szifris (principal vocals, bodhrán)
Their second and final album, recorded by an almost entirely different line-up, adds quite a bit of synthesiser to their sound, but despite a few progressive touches remains much closer to folk than rock. Nonetheless this is an interesting and creative LP, with some very unusual arrangements, and their decision to concentrate mainly on traditional English material was a good one. The highlight is probably the closing medley of ‘A Man’s A Man’ and ‘I’ll Keep It With Mine’, driven by heavy phased electric guitar. GRADE: B–.
See also Hand On Heart

Lavinia Blackwall (UK): Muggington Lane End (No label STLTN01CD, black CD, with minisleeve and insert, 2020)
Lavinia Blackwall (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards)
Blackwall’s solo album is nothing like Trembling Bells or (even more so) Directing Hand. Instead, this is melodic and upbeat singer/songwriter music that’s occasionally quite delightful – notably the trippy, sixties-styled ‘Waiting For Tomorrow’ and the Beatles-esque ‘John’s Gone’. Meanwhile, a few more introspective cuts have a slight Sandy Denny feel and everything benefits from her truly beautiful singing. GRADE: B–.

Lavinia Blackwall & Stilton (UK): Lavinia Blackwall And Stilton At The Glad Café (Glorious Traces, download, 2020)
Lavinia Blackwall (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards)
This fairly slight (ten songs) live set confirms Lavinia Blackwall’s exceptional voice and songwriting ability. For sure, I doubt I’ll play this in preference to her studio set, especially as the sound quality, whilst more than decent, isn’t exceptional. However, I can’t grade anything containing songs the calibre of ‘Troublemakers’, ‘Keep Warm’ and ‘Waiting For Tomorrow’ less than a B–. GRADE: B–.

See also Crying Lion, Directing Hand, Trembling Bells

Tia Blake & Her Folk Group (France/USA): Folksongs And Ballads (SFP 52.998, France, 1971)
Tia Blake (lead vocals, guitar)
Sung entirely in English, this is a lovely collection of traditional folk songs performed with a slightly bluesy edge. Blake has a charmingly sultry voice, and the performances are very atmospheric, so it’s no surprise that this is a sought-after and expensive LP. Whilst Blake was from Columbus, Georgia, the remaining musicians were French, and the album was only released there. GRADE: C+.

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