Music written by Michael Massey
Release Party: June 2 at the High Noon Saloon
Buy after June 2 at CD Baby and at www.madisonballet.org
The March run of this very ambitious project at the Capitol Theater in March was a big hit. The shows were very well attended, the patrons lining up at the Overture Center box office afterward to buy more tickets for future performances. The soundtrack of one of the Dracula performances is now being released as a two-disc set on June 2 at the High Noon Saloon. Artistic Director W. Earle Smith teamed up with the Madison Ballet while the music was composed by our own Michael Massey, best known for his stints in two highly successful local rock outfits, Chaser and Boys in White. Massey, a keyboardist and vocalist, has also done work in composing for advertising as well as a long-running engagement at the Ivory Room. He’s also released solo albums. Currently Massey is a member of a new group called Stop the Clock that also includes singer Briana Hardyman and The Playground of Sound’s guitarist Joel Pingatore and bassist Frank Queram.
The seven-piece rock ensemble, which performed the music for Dracula on an impressive raised stage scaffolding, is a veritable local-music supergroup. Massey is joined by two guitar powerhouses, Mike Ripp and Jay Moran. Ripp was in Chaser, Boys in White, John Masino Band, and numerous other groups. Recently he was with Kyle Henderson’s Blue-Eyed Soul. Moran was a member of the O’Bros, Emmetville, Funnel Head and the Know-it-all-Boyfriends, and is also a fixture on Madison’s music scene. Three members of the Gomers, Biff Blumfumgagnge (violin), Dave Adler (keys) and Gordon Ranney (bass) are also part of the ensemble. On drums is another veteran, Tony Cerniglia, also with Chaser, Boys and White and the Minneapolis-based Seventeen Rhinos. Cerniglia’s poise and authority in the timekeeping department cannot be overstated here nor can Ranney’s solid and inventive bass playing.
The sound, captured from the Capitol Theater soundboard, is stunning with total clarity and punch. I actually forgot this was a live recording until the audience applauded after the opening “Act One Overture.”
The band frequently rocks out on all cylinders but there are also dramatic interludes, usually built around Blumfumgagnge’s melodic violin or minor-key piano variations. Being a ballet, this is all-instrumental fare with thematic statements weaving in and around each other, identified with the characters in the story. The compositions don’t break new stylistic ground but are a modern take on classic rock. There are lots of blazing guitar solos, some played as dual leads between the two guitarists. Adler gets his moments in the sun as well, particularly heated workouts on synthesized organ. There are lots of Zeppelin-esque riffing and Pink Floyd-like blues workouts as well. “Travelling to the Castle / Harker’s Variation” is reminiscent of a heavier-riffing Kansas while “Brides of Dracula” brought back memories of Camel’s The Snow Goose album. The theme for “Dracula’s Variation” is memorable, shifting between 15/8 time and a waltz feel. Renfield’s Variation” takes a carnival/camp turn with Adler ably imitating trombone on keys. Blumfumgange shines on “Lucy’s Nightmares” while the piano is central to the romantic “Mina and Dracula Pas de Deux.”
And that’s just act one. Disc/Act two rocks just as hard but is not as derivative of the classic rock canon once things get past the Floyd-y, acoustic guitar-driven “Mina Looking for Harker” and Mina and Harker Pas de Deux.” The intensity starts to build with the hard-driving “Minions” and carries on into “Battle / Dracula’s Requiem,” the latter complete with Hendrix-like dive-bombing guitar. “Mina and Harker Pax de Deux Finale” closes the ballet in elegant style while the “Curtain Call” goes all out.
Ballet, be damned! This album is truly crank-worthy. Bravo!