The Morrigan - Spirit of the Soup. 1984 private (LP); 1999 English Garden (CD)
The Morrigan - Rides Out. 1990 private (LP); 1997 English Garden (CD)
The Morrigan - Wreckers. 1996 English Garden
The Morrigan - Masque. 1998 English Garden
The Morrigan - Hidden Agenda. 2002 English Garden
I haven't heard the debut, so we start with "Rides Out"...
On paper at least, England's The Morrigan doesn't sound like my cup of tea. In essence, The Morrigan play rocked out versions of English traditional folk songs. Or self-penned tracks that sound like English traditional folk songs. Fortunately I happened upon "Rides Out" not long after the CD release, and was captivated immediately. Not only are these spirited reproductions - or originals - but there is definitely a psychedelic/heavy rock slant to their approach (and guitar sound), reminding me of some of the early 70s greats like Mellow Candle or The Trees. The female vocals and recorders - heck the entire production - are crystal clear and one can be forgiven for breaking into a jig mid-song. It's apparent the band has roots in the UK Festival scene of the mid 80s, though by 1990 the band had honed their sound to a professional level. Not surprisingly I found myself enjoying the original material best, but if in a positive mood, the whole album works well together. A wonderful find, especially if you tire of the endless "Public Broadcasting Company" tepid vision of said sound.
Six years after everyone ignored "Rides Out" comes "Wreckers" which basically sounds like a re-recording of "Rides Out" - though the tunes are indeed different. There hasn't been much progression since, and it appears they are trying to re-energize or regain their old audience - or perhaps attain a new one with their first CD on the established English Garden label (which incidentally was an offshoot of the Background reissue label that was focused on some of the most obscure 1970s UK folk rock rarities). I also hear a timid try in a few places for a Dead Can Dance styled Darkwave sound, though they were a day late and a dollar short on that front. There are two odd tracks towards the end of the CD (both originals) that show that The Morrigan are looking to break out from their standard sound. 'Wheels Turning' is a good try at the 80's New Wave of British Progressive Rock sound as popularized by Marillion and Pallas. And 'When the Rain Comes Down' has a reggae base complete with Moog synthesizers, once again demonstrating their Festival Scene roots. So given this premise, I'd have to say "Wreckers" is the most superfluous album in their canon. Certainly it's a fine work, and if you haven't already heard "Rides Out" then the sound will be most revelatory on initial impact I'm sure. Worth owning, but consider picking it up after the others.
"Masque" continues in the same manner as The Morrigan's two previous releases. There is the usual blend of original material mixed with creative progressive rock arrangements of traditional medleys. Whereas "Wreckers" sounds like an extension of "Rides Out", "Masque" sees The Morrigan stretching out to new horizons - with more sophisticated arrangements and an overall heavier sound. Like "Wreckers", The Morrigan held back their more adventurous material until later in the disc. Highlights include the heavy and complex progressive rock track 'Moonghost', the Cathy Alexander dominated 'The Traveller' with its Hackett-esque guitar, the jazzy variation of the traditional 'Dribbles of Brandy', and the Ozric Tentacles (with vocals) inspired 'The Demon Lover'. A very fine album.
And The Morrigan's recording career appears to have concluded with "Hidden Agenda". Featuring a capture-the-imagination medieval city center painting, and with a title hinting at a possible byzantine hidden agenda, perhaps we can expect this to be The Morrigan's most progressive and thought provoking album to date? The answer is no, it's more of the same: A solid mix of progressive rock originals and unique rocked out interpretations of English folk traditional music. Which is hardly a bad thing. I've always appreciated The Morrigan more for their handwritten material, and tracks like 'In the End', 'The Other', and the 10 minute 'A Night to Remember' do not disappoint. In fact the latter track is arguably The Morrigan's finest moment. If this is indeed their swan song - though the band is still active as I write this (2014) - then they went out on a good note. Here's to hoping they will reconsider, and release an album of entirely original material and recognize their immense talent in full.