On their new album, Going Home, Tempest has expanded their Celtodelic style to incorporate songs and styles from Sweden and Norway. That may surprise people who think of Celtic music as primarily Irish, but it’s had an international flavor from its origin.
“There are Celtic minorities in Northern France and Spain,” said Lief Sorbye, the band’s founder and main songwriter. “The music has always been an amalgamation of the British Isles, Ireland, Scandinavia and other places. The symbol of Ireland is a Celtic harp, but there was no harp in Ireland before the Vikings raided. They brought the harp with them. There are folk songs from Norway, Sweden and Ireland that sound similar, and there’s a new generation of European musicians exploring the way those traditions overlap. Since I’m Norwegian, it was natural to bring those influences into our music. I didn’t invent the word ‘Celtodelic,’ but it fit our style. I’ve always had one foot in traditional music and one foot in rock ’n’ roll. I loved the psychedelic sounds of the ’60s, so the play on words was fitting.”
Going Home was written and recorded during the Covid lockdown. It features Cuban-born drummer Adolfo Lazo; Sorbye on double-necked electric mandolin and vocals; fiddler Lee Corbie, who also sings in English, Swedish and Norwegian; Bulgarian-born lead-guitarist Nikolay Georgiev and bass-player Hugh Caley.
The album opens with a medley of fiddle tunes, one English, one Irish and one Scottish—“Mrs. Preston’s Favorite, Major Malley, Tolka Polka.” The band jumps in with Sorbye’s mandolin, Corbie’s fiddle and Lazo’s drumming laying down a rhythm that combines elements of funk, rock and polka. Sorbye and Corbie trade impressive solos. “The Optimist” is a Norwegian folk dance, played with a hint of ska in its rhythm. A solid guitar solo by Georgiev is followed by playful interplay between Corbie’s fiddle and Sorbye’s mandolin.
“The Devil And The Farmer’s Wife” is a folk “hit” that’s been recorded by many artists since the early 1950s. Corbie sings the lead on an arrangement combining Irish and Scotch influences with a rock backbeat. “Hjemreise” is a Sorbye original, sung in Norwegian, with a hint of Ireland in its lilting melody. Corbie’s melancholy fiddle gives the song a poignant aura, intensified by the close harmonies she sings with Sorbye. The translation of the title is “going home,” and its despondent mood pervades much of the album’s music. “It’s a song I wrote to honor my mom; I usually visit her every year,” Sorbye said. “Because of the pandemic, I couldn’t go last year. She passed away last November. Lee’s harmonies on the song intensify the longing of the words I wrote.”
Since the band makes its living playing music and touring, the two-year-long shutdown had a major impact on them. “We went through a lot of changes as a result of Covid, but it did not stop our creativity,” Sorbye said. “We’re a live band first, a studio band second. During the lockdown, we became a studio band for a couple of years. I revived the mail-order business on our website and put together a compilation album with some of the best live-radio performances we’ve done over the past 25 or 30 years. It’s mostly acoustic, and it took a while to go through the archives and compile. We sold it on limited-edition CDs, signed by the band.”
He added, “When livestreams started happening, I was hesitant because we’re a big, live, loud band, and I don’t like to turn it down too much. Luckily, our longtime producer, Robert Berry, let us have his studio, Soundtek, for two livestreams in a sonically good environment. It was a donation-only audience. I was impressed by the support we got. We made another CD of the livestreams to sell, and that helped us through the most difficult period of Covid.”
“In November and December, we took the songs we worked up into Soundtek to make Going Home. We played the basic tracks live, everyone in the studio at the same time, for the live feel,” he continued. “We kept the bass, drums and rhythm guitar, and layered other things on top of that. Everybody was fully vaxxed and boosted, and the studio is spacious, so we didn’t worry too much. Nobody got sick, and we were able to be fully creative in the studio. As things get back to normal, we’re ready to make a strong comeback. The album comes out on St. Patrick’s Day, and our spring tour is fully booked. We’re going out to play the new album live, see the old friends and fans, and make some new ones along the way.”