Verdun is the name of an interesting new troupe of musicians that mix Asian (Vietnamese) music with American rock for a sometimes very cool melange of styles. This band is led by Neal Barnard who plays guitars, keys and sings. He is joined on vocals by Martha Roebuck and Ngoc Hoang. They are completed by the drummer Mike Stetina. Neal also handles the majority of the song writing.
On this particular CD they have some additional players who handle bass-Jon Best and saxophone-Bob Gray. Sam Dorsey plays classical guitar and Carter Melin plays cello. Vietnamese instruments are played by Viet (Bau) Nguyen. He plays the dan tranh, the dan co and the dan nguyet.
The opening track is probably the one that gets the most notice among radio and media and its really nice driving beat mixed with SE Asian melodies. This track is called "Dream of the Black Horse" and is an excellent track.
The band does two cover versions of songs and to me what they do is interesting but done in ways that take some getting used to. "Purple Haze" by Hendrix is slowed way down using the song to emphasize dramatic shifts in the arrangement. The vocals are handled by Martha and she does a nice job on it. To me it seems funny that a female sings it and that the approach is radically different than the original. The other cover version is of the song by Tammy Wynette/N. Sherrill, "Stand by Your Man". This version is more or less similar to the original with the change being that Neal takes the lead vocals and again its certainly strange hearing it with a male lead vocal. I think they should have done one or two other original songs instead of doing the cover versions.
My fave songs are the opener, "Dream of the Black Horse" and the songs where Ngoc gets to add her Vietnamese lyrics/words to the music for that added little bit of coolness. "Nightfall" is kind of similar to the first song but its the mixing of American vocals and Vietnamese that makes it really an outstanding track. This track lasts about 3:18. Nice descending riff and driving beat.
Musically this is a very good band with some excellent ideas. I preferred the songs that feature more of the Vietnamese instruments and Ngoc's vocals. Martha has a voice that is almost too nice; its strong and pure without any characteristics that would make her voice unique.
The closing song "Fate" is similar to the opening song. It has a drum roll beat/accent that adds to the unique character of this music. The guitar player, Neal is pretty good but does seem to not overplay in any one instance. The songs second section changes to a Vietnamese harp driven melody with the vocals being done by Martha.
So the ideas are really good. The inclusion of the two cover versions were not needed and in my opinion they should have done one or two more original songs. Neal is the leader of this band and plays keys and guitars well but he is average as a singer.
Overall a commendable debut but I would emphasize the female vocals, maybe even having both sing on different sections within a song, and come up with some more SE Asian tunage with some less rock influences maybe even adding some jazzy interludes.