Goblets and Gauntlets Review: A Musical Amuse-Bouche
You somehow find yourself in a raucous, dimly-lit tavern, and you don’t quite know how you got there. A small crowd has gathered at the bar, waiting for something…or someone. Suddenly, a lever harp rings out, and then a violin joins in. The lively crowd falls silent, entranced by the magic of the violinist and a harpist playing in the corner of the tavern. For the next seven minutes, the world ceases to exist beyond the confines of these four walls.
The first track, “Enchanters”, finishes, and now another violinist joins the group for a stirring song called “Nightingale’s Eyes”. Your eyes start to mist as you reminisce about lost loves and broken promises. For the last song in the set, the whole crowd is on their feet, dancing to the revelrous “Sera”. And just like that the spell is broken, and you find yourself in a raucous, dimly-lit tavern.
Despite the relatively short album length, Goblets and Gauntlets: Tavern Songs from Dragon Age: Inquisition does an exceedingly good job of creating a sense of place, in this case, a tavern. The simple arrangements are perfectly produced, giving this album an organic feel. Each track tells it own story, and the storytellers, Patti Rudisill and Paula Bressman, are at the top of their craft.
For those who don’t know, Patti Rudisill is an accomplished violinist with several video game cover albums, and has worked in the film, TV, and video game industry. Paula Bressman “plays regularly as substitute principal harpists and second harpist in the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, is principal harpist of Gateway Chamber Orchestra and Orchestra Kentucky Bowling Green, and was a finalist in Miami's New World Symphony (2011-2012)” according to her website. To put it bluntly, these two musicians are the cream of the crop, and not just in the VGM scene.
In a scene crowded with large, multi-disc albums, Goblets and Gauntlets is an amuse-bouche, a delicious single-bite that will have you begging for more. Listening to this album, brought back many fond memories of Dragon Age: Inquisition, chatting with my party members as a bard regaled a tavern crowd. I’m always fascinated with the care and detail that is shown for in-game lore and atmosphere, especially music. That same care and attention is on full display with this album, and over the dozen or so times that I’ve listened to the album, I’ve found new details, flourishes, or moments that I enjoy. This is a truly special album that everyone should experience for themselves.
Also, I was fortunate enough to speak with Patti about the album, and gather her thoughts about the creation of Goblets and Gauntlets.
Have you played Dragon Age: Inquisition? If so, what was your impression of the game?
I have actually not played the game myself, but I felt drawn to it since I was in the orchestra that recorded for the soundtrack - I really enjoyed the music!
What inspired you to cover these particular tracks?
This is a bit of a roundabout story—so I did some work for EA transcribing all of the Tavern songs for their cover song contest when the game was first released, which was so fun, and I really fell in love with the songs while working on them. I always thought it would be fun to do my own versions for future YouTube videos or whatnot, but I wasn’t sure how to approach the style and instrumentation at the time.
Quite some time later, my good friend and collaborator, Paula, mentioned that she had a smaller lever harp available for recording, and that’s when I realized it would be perfect for covering some of the Tavern songs! I think the brighter sound really helps add to the bard-like feel of these pieces.
Describe your collaboration process with Paula Bressman? This isn't your first collab so clearly you two work well together.
We have been collaborating together for 5 years now, and she is so incredible to work with! Harp can be challenging to write for so we often work things out together, especially when arranging video game music that isn’t the most harp friendly to begin with! For these songs, since I knew we were using a lever harp, I specifically chose tracks that wouldn’t require pedal changes since it wouldn’t be possible. Sometimes you can get away with impossible pedals with studio editing magic (haha!) but especially for these songs we wanted to keep the performance simple and true to the original style.
How did you achieve the "tavern" sound on the album?
I think having a folksy lever harp really adds a lot to the vibe—it’s a more authentic sound for the era than a full concert harp would be. How I interpreted this with my performance was a balance between mimicking the human voice, and the fiddle. I tried to keep the melodic lines singing, adding in some fiddle ornamentation or improvised solos where appropriate. For “Sera”, I was definitely aiming for a more traditional Irish fiddle sound since it lent itself very well for that! Lots of fun trills, chops, and slides, stuff that you would definitely expect in a live tavern performance!
Are there any other Dragon Age tavern covers that you've been drawn to in the community? I remember that Kain White put out a few that I enjoyed.
Oh, I haven’t heard of his, I’ll have to look them up! I’ve been a huge fan of the ones that Erutan was putting out (under the name The Menagerie). They really are so incredibly creative and beautiful, and just transport you to another world!
Do you have any upcoming projects that you'd like to discuss?
Actually, yes! Paula and I are finishing up a full album to release in the early Fall - it’s all ethereal game music for harp and strings, from franchises including Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy, Zelda, and Kingdom Hearts!