I love it when an album surprises me. From the first song on ENQ's debut recording, my critic's mind was trying to categorize them in order to make my job easier. First,
Tear Down the Barriers had an ambient sound like New Age, then the fiddle came onstage and I instantly thought bluegrass or Celtic, but then Brian Heywood's guitars are straight out of 1970s bands like Queen and Pink Floyd -- with a little Beatles thrown in -- and one line from "The Open Window" brought me in mind of Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train!"
Tear Down the Barriers is a mixed bag -- about half fair and half excellent -- and the good and bad can easily be defined: Good = Instrumentals, Bad = Songs. Instrumentals are where ENQ really fly. Vicky Brown's violin is transcendent; it takes you to another place where everything is good. The songs with lyrics, however, I generally did not enjoy. The words took away from the music instead of enhancing it. The one exception may be "The Wind is Howling," but only because the lyrics are so innocuous as to have little or no effect. Track 7, "Drunk on the Moon," should have been jettisoned entirely, which is unfortunate because it's the only song where violinist Brown's lilting voice is displayed.
But when Brown's violin is allowed to come to the fore,
Tear Down the Barriers could not be better. "The Open Window," "A Rabbit out of the Hat," "The Musical Priest," and especially "Vicky's Cup of Tea" showcase the virtuosity of a player in her prime. I expect even more wonderful things from her. Not to be forgotten is the solid rhythm base laid down by drummer Garry Munnelly and bassist Brian Jenking. The band as a cohesive unit is best showcased in "Youngest Daughter."
The penultimate track on
Tear Down the Barriers, "Vicky's Cup of Tea" would have been an excellent end to this album. Sadly, the band didn't ask me and chose to end on a low note -- the sentimental, hopeful song "The Glory Road" -- which, while not bad, should have been moved somewhere else in the mix in favor of its betters.
But even with these faults, ENQ's
Tear Down the Barriers is a brave and ambitious album with many varying influences, and though it isn't an entirely successful venture, I must applaud the band for having the nerve to take the chances they did. There are enough individual triumphs that it is absolutely worth the listen.
This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on
The Green Man Review. Copyright 2003. Reprinted with permission.
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