Imagine Jim Morrison fronting Led Zeppelin instead of Robert Plant, an impossible scenario to be sure, but if so, then they would probably have sounded a lot like The Tea Party. Originating from Toronto, Canada, this power trio developed a reputation as a formidable live act, whose first official debut, 1993’s Splendor Solis was promising as it was derivative of late ‘60’s early ‘70s blues-rock. But if bands like The Black Crowes could get away with stealing from the past, why not them, right?
Edges of Twilight is the group’s second album, and arguably their most inspired. Singer Jeff Martin’s voice does indeed bare an uncanny resemble to that of Morrison, so much so that I’m surprised the surviving members of The Doors didn’t pick up the phone and ask him if he wanted to help out at a few of their gigs. However Martin is also the lead guitarist, and a damn fine one at that.
First off is “Fire in the Head”, the sort of track Led Zeppelin might have recorded had they been around in the ‘90s, with its highly charged rhythm section and Moroccan overtones. The frantically executed “The Bazaar” is an exotic mix of styles and textures, and a sort of half Eastern half heavy metal hybrid. Definitely not something I’d be playing on my stereo late on a summer’s night with all the windows open, lest you want to wake up in the morning and find your car tyres were anonymously slashed. “Correspondences” is straight out of the Jimmy Page rock and roll cookbook, full of soaring, majestic guitar solos, pounding drums and atmospheric keyboards a la John Paul Jones. Speaking of which, “The Badger” could be an outtake from Led Zeppelin III, before we again revisit the streets of Morocco on “Silence”, albeit with a few hundred watt amps. One thing’s for sure, Martin has a commanding timbre which very few singers of his generation were able to match.
“Sister Awake” is perhaps the bands most perfect synthesis of blues, rock and world music, not that there is anything especially new or inventive going on here, yet who cares when this three-part mini epic is so damn good. However unlike Messrs Page and Plant, The Tea Party didn’t have to fly in an entire Moroccan orchestra to help out. No, because this triptych perform all the instruments themselves, whether that be sitar, sarod, or the goblet drums (you can add 12 string guitar, harmonium along with a few more instruments I’ve probably never heard of to the list).
The moody “Turn the Lamp Down Low” is another highlight, with more of those mystical verses by Jeff Martin this listener has come to enjoy over the years since I first heard them as a young man. Both “Shadows on the Mountain Side” and “Drawing Down the Moon” have Zeppelin etched all over them (especially the latter), so much so that any serious fan of Page and Co. could be excused for accusing The Tea Party of plagiarism. Likewise “Inanna”, which is a fusion of “Kashmir” and “In the Evening” all rolled into one.
“Coming Home” is a Houses of the Holy style country/rock/blues, while “Walk with Me” has a beginning reminiscent of “And the Gods Made Love”, before the band embark on a major hard-rock Calvary charge, slicing the heads off all those anaemic commercial pop acts in the process.
But don’t press the stop button just yet, because the CD contains one of those ‘hidden tracks’ so popular in the ’90s, a piece narrated by none other than eccentric folk artist Roy Harper, which I must say is an interesting and unexpected way to end what is indeed a most enjoyable listen, despite all the Page and Plant-isms littered throughout.
The Edges of Twilight is what might be described as a minor classic made by three superbly talented musicians who were no doubt born in the wrong era, like so many artists who prefer to express themselves through more traditional sounding instruments rather than via some computer program, which will likely become obsolete in a few years anyway. Though whether the album will ever find its way into one of those top 100 or even top 500 music polls I don’t know. But what I do know is that I’d prefer to listen to The Tea Party than anything by Taylor Swift. Whom we know always manages to make her way into the polls.