Shooting starts that fall beyond the night,
Whispers start again as darkness falls,
And the Shire comes to life."
One Word Review: Enchanting
With the recent completion of the movie version of the "The Hobbit" trilogy (Ok, still waiting for the real conclusion with the extended edition but close enough), what better way to celebrate than to dig deep into this captivating journey through Tolkien's world. It is the perfect setting for this very special kind of Epic Rock music. Bob Catley's collaboration with Ten singer/songwriter Gary Hughes here also remains his finest hour as a solo artist. There are several reasons for this. For one, there is not a bad moment on Middle earth. Though only a couple of songs stand out, every single one of them is essential and all together, they form an album that just feels whole. The music captures a grand atmosphere right from the start and keeps it through the album. Once you have put the album on, it is very hard to press stop, before it has ended. That is how a concept album should work.
The album slowly eases you into its enchanted setting with the foreboding The wraith of the rings. Guitar maestro Vinny Burns plays a major part right from the start, adding details to the music constantly and making sure that it never slows down to a bore. Overall he does a splendid job throughout. He especially shines on the three-part The fields that I recall with both great riffs and a most excellent solo spot. The warm keyboard sound gives this song a soothing beginning, before it picks up speed and heaviness, as Bob Catley goes into storyteller mode. I really love Bob Catley's voice on this album. He sings with a lot of emotion and manages to pull the listener very close to the action. He has a voice that is tinged with both sadness and hope at the same time, and he applies that to its full extent.
The songs on Middle Earth aren't as immediately catchy, as the ones on the two first Bob Catley solo albums (The Tower & Legends). They rely more on each other and the overall feel of the album. This is also what gives the album a strong longevity. There is a definite upbeat feeling in the air as you pass through City Walls. The keyboard leads the way but the song is carried by Bob's singing. Against the wind sees Tracy Hitchings adding a female touch to the music, and the harmonies work very well. There is a great mood in this song, but I would have like a little more variation.
One of my personal highlights is the huge, three part Where you lead I'll follow, which builds up slowly with a lot of emotion. Both the keyboard melody and Bob's voice bring a sadness to the opening moments. With a lesser singer this would have fallen completely flat. The song speeds up, as it enters its second part, with Stormcrow and Pilgrim, driven by sweeping keyboard and guitar melodies. The vocal harmonies are another plus and the guitar solo packs a nice punch too. Returning to the emotional beginning in the end brings the song full circle. I have a weakness for big epic songs like these.
Like "City Walls", Return of the mountain King has a positive vibe, again driven by a keyboard melody and very rhythmic drumming. The flow of this song just draws me in.
The end of summer begins in an almost dramatic way with just Bob and a piano and proves again what a fantastic voice he has. The song is a melodic wonder with a highly infectious chorus, that is bound to get you in a good mood. Vinny Burns' guitar glides in and out of the sound and complements the music perfectly. The piano bridge nicely continues into the hectic This gallant band of manic strangers. This is one of those songs that feels more like a passage through the album than an actual song. I love the way the song breaks into each verse, which are definite highlights.
The final The Fellowship is a grand and fitting end to the album, ending it on a relaxed and peaceful note, leaving me with a feeling of wanting to take this whole trip once again.
For some reason the lyrics to The wraith of the rings and Return of the mountain king have vanished from the booklet. My guess is that they have been replaced with the pictures of Bob Hatley.
Middle Earth was released back in 2001 and it is one of those albums I often get down from the shelf, just to experience a particular mood. As a whole, the album is magnificent and one of those, I can't compare to much else. It stands out and I don't think I will ever grow tired of it. The definite proof of a classic.
If you like music that oozes with atmosphere like most of Ten's albums, "Gary Hughes' Once and future king" or "Clive Nolan & Oliver Wakeman's The hound of the Baskerville", then I am sure that you will find this to be a completely mesmerizing musical work. Middle Earth compels me to bring out the three B's: Big, Bigger, Bob!
Written By Steen
Online: Friday, February 6, 2015
The Wraith Of The Rings