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While this website has become known for its in-depth album and concert reviews, the digest contains concise comments on new music our audience has either recommended or might enjoy. Click on album covers or label names for links to further information. Click on the title to view the article.

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The Middle Earth Album CD Cover
Image © Sound Resources/BMI 2001
first half—Tolkienesque
second half—progressive

(30 December 2001) Glass Hammer were one of the first progressive bands this year to release an album inspired by one J. R. R. Tolkien. Indeed, the author's material has been an inspiration for music and film for some years but 2001 has seen the first major budget motion picture Lord Of The Rings--The Fellowship Of The Ring (original soundtrack review). Glass Hammer's most recent release departs from their ELP-styled earlier work (review) in this folky collection of thirteen tracks inspired by Tolkien's characters. Indeed, these themes snuck into their earlier albums and similar sounding tracks appear on Journey Into The Dunadan.

The collection of material is sung in a story-telling style against the background of what sounds like an English pub. The instrumentals are well-played and produced but are not heavily arranged. Lyrics are by Steve Babb and the music is by Fred Schendel. Babb contributes vocal, bass, additional keys and percussion while Schendel does vocals, main keys, guitars, mandolin, percussion and wind instruments. A vast array of guests contribute additional vocals.

When enjoying the album the listener will be surrounded by halflings and other inhabitants of the Shire who come to the pub to have a pleasant and feastfull evening. The first six songs are folk-songs straight from Tolkien's Middle Earth. The others are tales that take place in the same fantasy, except for the closing song, where the story returns to the Inn.

Our readers will especially enjoy the second half of the album where the tracks featuring female lead vocals can be found. Babb and Schendel have found three wonderful singers. Susie Bogdanowicz does an outstanding job on "Mirkwood," is supported by a lovely acoustic guitar and Celtic whistle arrangement. We were reminded of Michelle Young's (review) work with Glass Hammer.

"As I Walk" is delicately sung by Felicia Sorensen supported by bodrhain, mandolin and whistle. "The Last Ship" is performed as a multi-part male and female harmony; Sarah Snyder's and Susie Bogdanowicz' parts add a lovely contrast to the male vocals. A true standout is "Mithrandir" featuring Susie on vocals and a more typically Glass Hammer orchestrally lush arrangement. Equally superb is the progressive ballad "Sweet Goldberry" sung by Walter Moore.

While The Middle Earth Album is a clear departure from Glass Hammer's earlier work, some have described it openly as a 'work of genius.' It is an album that will grow on you with repeated listens. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Certainly worth a journey, this one is a nice listen!

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