In Elven Lands: The Fellowship

Hopefully this is the first of what will be multiple CD reviews. Unfortunately, I buy new music so infrequently that this will not be a feature that appears often. However, I stumbled across this gem while looking for something else (I don’t even remember what), and had to share it.

The concept behind this project, written by Carvin Knowles and performed by a large cadre of artists headlined by Yes singer Jon Anderson, was to recreate music from the world of J.R.R. Tolkein as it might have actually sounded. Of the twelve artists appearing on this project, Knowles plays more than a dozen different instruments, including Oud, Crumhorn, and slide trumpet.

The music is all acoustic, which may surprise people seeing Jon Anderson associated with it. It is also rather rough when compared to the Howard Shore Lord of the Rings soundtrack. It probably isn’t too representative of actual  medieval music, even though it is played on period instruments, as it has a lot of modern arranging sensibilities. It’s sort of half-way to old Mannheim Steamroller (which is, most certainly, a compliment).

Clocking in at just over 1 hour of music, there are 16 tracks, 4 are instrumentals, 4 are modal/chants, 4 are fairly contemporary songs, two are haunting tragic melodies, and the last two are two versions of the same song, a round in elvish to Elbereth Gilthoniel.

Some of the songs are in english, some are in old english, and some are in Sindarin (elvish). With few exceptions, though, the songs have a modern polish to them. Other reviews have mentioned that without specifics. I think this polish comes down to two factors. First, the technical aspects of the production are very slick – especially the Jon Anderson tracks. Second, most of the arrangements are distinctly modern – they start simply and then build to a climax, adding instruments and voices. Except for the handful of evlish songs, the don’t really sound like what you would expect to hear in Middle Earth.

None of that, however, detracts from my enjoyment of the project. In fact, I think that if the songs stuck stricly to early music forms, I would find them boring and lose interest after a few listenings. As it is, I’ve listened through the project several dozen times and am still going strong.

One last Middle Earth note, most of the songs’ subject matter deals with the First Age. Durin, Carcharoth, and the beguiling of Nienor all find their way into the music.

In closing, I really enjoy this CD, and am glad that I stumbled across it.

CD Review

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