BLACKMORE'S NIGHT

"Ghost of a Rose"

SPV

"Beyond the Sunset"

SPV

Has British rock guitar hero Ritchie Blackmore been reading his mail lately? Have complaints from diehard Deep Purple and Rainbow fans who've never forgiven Blackmore for going medieval on them finally begun to register?

Maybe. He's still cranking the hurdy-gurdy and contentedly playing Renaissance man on the latest release by Blackmore's Night. But midway through "Ghost of a Rose," when Blackmore recharges Ian Anderson's "Rainbow Blues" with some amped-up fretwork and introduces "All for One" with a soaring, blues-streaked guitar solo, it certainly sounds like he's reaching out to old fans who find his collaborations with singer-songwriter Candice Night a tad sedate and musty.

Mostly, though, "Ghost" is in keeping with Blackmore Night's studio output over the past seven years. Save for the Anderson tune and a faithful cover of Joan Baez's "Diamonds and Rust," the disc is devoted to original tunes that make use of a colorful variety of modern, medieval and Renaissance instruments -- guitars, mandola, chanters, shawms, penny whistles, among others.

Night's fascination with fables and mysticism is evident from the outset, inspiring "Way to the Mandalay," which concerns an encounter with "a raggle taggle gypsy with a toothless smile," and "Loreley," a siren song of sorts. Still, the comparatively simple musings "3 Black Crows" and "Where Are We Going From Here" hold up better than anything else here. The latter tune, in fact, perfectly suits Night's plaintive soprano and Blackmore's sparkling acoustic guitar work.

Subtitled "The Romantic Collection," "Beyond the Sunset" is one big bouquet of ballads, drawn mostly from the duo's four studio albums. "Ghost of a Rose" is represented by "Diamonds and Rust" and a lush, rerecording of the album's title track.

For all their early music influences, Blackmore and Night frequently flirt with bland contemporary pop. So much so, in fact, that some of the orchestrations here, beginning with the previously unreleased ode "Once in a Million Years," sound as if they were written with Celine Dion in mind.

Again, Night shines brightest when the lyrics aren't overwrought and the music doesn't aspire to Harlequin romance heights. That's true of "I Still Remember," which finds Blackmore playing exotic electric guitar against a percussive backdrop, and "Again Someday," an intimate showcase for Night's soft vocal allure. When unplugged, Blackmore's guitar adds some subtle and courtly touches along the way.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Tuesday at the Birchmere. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Blackmore's Night's "Ghost of a Rose," call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8122; to hear "Beyond the Sunset," press 8123. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)