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Verdun biography
Dr. Neal Barnard is the head of the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), an organization that focuses on nutritional education and higher standards on quality-control in medical research. That should keep him busy enough, but he has also found time to be the founder, primary composer, guitarist, keyboardist, and vocalist for Verdun. Barnard was also a founding member of the jazz/fusion group Pop Maru, and played on the lone album from the jazz group Quartet.

This band is a difficult-to-classify quartet with Barnard, drummer Mike Stetina, and two female vocalists. One is Martha Roebuck of the neo-blues band Falstaff, and the other is Vietnam-born Ngọc Hoàng, daughter of 60's film director Hoàng Vinh Loc ("Year of the Tiger") and veteran of several multilingual and multimedia musical story works developed for handicapped children. The group has a truly unique sound that is based on dissonant rock-based rhythms in odd meters, overlaid with delicate, rich, and lush world sounds using both traditional American and Vietnamese instruments (mostly acoustic), and topped with lilting Vietnamese vocals as well as operatic English. Their recordings range from original works to rock covers to transformed pop classics.

To-date the band has a sole recording, the self-titled debut VERDUN. The odd-numbered tracks can be downloaded whole from their website. The catch is that some of the better tracks on their first album are the even-numbered ones.

A supremely original and creative band that has definite promise should they continue to develop new material.

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VERDUN discography

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3.92 | 6 ratings

VERDUN Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

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VERDUN Reviews

Showing last 10 reviews only
 Verdun by VERDUN album cover Studio Album, 2004
3.92 | 6 ratings

Verdun Crossover Prog

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

4 stars Verdun offers a sound like nothing else in progressive music today by mixing traditional far-eastern and classical instrumentation with operatic and Vietnamese vocals, all set to a rock-like rhythm in unusual time meters and just the right touch of electric guitar and keyboards. It’s a unique and interesting mix that promises to deliver a fascinating musical experience and plenty of great listens.

The band is the brainchild of nutrition expert and ethical biomedical research advocate Dr. Neal Barnard, who plays guitars and keyboards, provides a few vocal tracks, wrote the handful of original compositions on the album, and arranged all the songs. Mike Stetina adds drums, with Jon Best on bass and big-band veteran Bob Gray on saxophone. Andres Segovia understudy Sam Dorsey adds a classical touch on acoustic guitar and is augmented by Carter Melin on tenor saxophone. Adding a unique far- eastern flair is Saigon-born Việt (Bầu) Nguyễn on traditional far-eastern instruments such as the đàn tranh, đàn bầu, đàn c̣, and đàn nguyệt (look them up – these are some very interesting acoustic instruments). The final touch comes from blues-band veteran Martha Roebuck and Vietnamese-born Ngọc Hoàng on vocals. The two combine to provide a totally unique blend of lyrical sounds that range from operatic to bluesy to traditional Vietnamese folk.

The tracks themselves are a mix of traditional Vietnamese to reworked 60s popular music standards to original compositions. The song selection seems to be somewhat haphazard, but the overall effect is quite engaging.

Opening the album is one of a traditional far-eastern work set to Barnard’s arrangement. The thudding drum beat and odd-tempo bass are overlaid with Nguyễn’s string-based native instrumentation, giving the work a lilting far-eastern feel that is accentuated by Ms. Hoàng’s thin and delicate Vietnamese vocals. Ms. Roebuck weaves in and out of these with an English interpretation and Barnard adds a few power riffs on guitar to keep things lively. The final touch comes from a faint male vocal backing that borders on chanting, barely perceptible but giving a soft-earth base to the hypnotic vocals.

For “Page of Swords” Gray lays down a wispy saxophone thread alongside Nguyễn’s percussion and Ms. Roebuck offers a few haunting lyrics on top of the faint and snare- heavy drum beat. This is a short work but shows Dr. Barnard’s skill in drawing maximum effect from a minimal arrangement.

The group slowly works their way into “Purple Haze” like you’ve never heard it before. On first listen I almost did a double-take on this haphazard and plodding version of the acid classic, especially the comparatively simple guitar tracks and almost halting drum work. But after a few listens this one kind of grows on you, and Ms. Roebuck’s lounge- like vocals remind me faintly of Margo Timmins’ (Cowboy Junkies) version of “Sweet Jane”. This is more of a loving tribute than it is a cover recording, and it becomes apparent fairly quickly that Barnard has no aspirations of trying to emulate the great Jimi Hendrix, but rather to simply work his sound into a more world-centric arrangement. A nice touch.

The next track is built on a similar concept, with Dr. Barnard serving up the vocals on the Tammy Wynette American country standard “Stand by Your Man”. The guitar is slightly blues-influenced, but the percussion move this nearer The Doors territory than to Hank Williams and his ilk. Again the drum and bass are sporadic and complimentary, and Gray’s saxophone and Nguyễn’s percussion wrap around the guitar with a sound that is just too different to classify. This turns out wonderfully, bleak and edgy at the same time.

On “Song to a Sparrow” the vocals sound like a Vietnamese-operatic version of Carol King, if that’s possible. The song sounds like an exotic far-eastern rendition of “You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore”, complete with a heart-wrenching cello and virtually no percussion or electric instrumentation. A beautiful, classically arranged track.

“April” is another song that combines English and Vietnamese lyrics that complement each other amidst a plethora of percussive and reedy acoustic sounds and an almost funky beat. I’m not sure there’s a real point to the lyrics, but the arrangement is light and airy and seems to rise above a heavy, almost dirge-like bass.

On “Nightfall” the emphasis is on jazzy piano and a tight, fuzzy guitar riff with Ms. Hoàng chanting Vietnamese lyrics over the top and an extended improvisational bridge leading to an abrupt finish. This could almost be a dance tune.

“Forty-Seven” is a Barnard instrumental with an almost militant rhythm and a minimalist keyboard foray with very little other instrumentation. A nice sound, but short and probably the weakest track on the album.

All the eastern instrumentation, odd percussion, complex beat, and classical strings come together on the finale “Fate”. Roebuck provides most of the vocals, with a evocative tone and an almost eerie fading finish to a fascinating forty minutes of music.

Verdun appear to be largely unknown outside of a select group of slightly metrocentric avant-garde artsy types on the extreme coasts of the States, but the sound (American cover tunes aside) is purely world music. But this is a class of world music that embraces all kinds of popular, far-eastern and classical sounds, and arranges them in a way that emphasizes the best of each, rather than an awkward fusion of the disparate styles. The overall effect is excellent, and I highly recommend this album to just about anyone, with the possible exception of those who lean only toward metal. Four stars.


Thanks to CLEMOFNAZARETH - USA for the artist addition.

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