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Jon Anderson - The Fellowship: In Elven Lands CD (album) cover


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4 stars Guest-Star Jon Anderson lights up this unusual work that attempts to "reconstruct" the ancient music of J.R.R. Tolkien's "Middle Earth."

Strange as it sounds, that's what they really did. But beyond all the early-music practices and original instruments, this album is unmistakeably progressive in its approach. Interspersing lyrics with intricate instrumental passages, using the human voice as a kind of instrument, "The Fellowship" (which seems to be some kind of loose collection of international recording artists, musicologists and "world" musicians) has actually pulled off what may be the first Prog-Early-Music hybrid.

Guest vocalist Jon Anderson (of Yes fame) only appears on four of the 16 tracks (of which he wrote two), but those tracks are some of his best work in recent years. Two of his tracks are in Elvish and two in English (the two that he wrote). For Yes fans, the most "yes-like" of Jons songs is "The Sacred Stones" wherein he sings about the Silmarils of Tolkien's mythology. The song feels strongly celtic but quickly builds as the arrangement grows in size to what might be called a full mediaeval orchestra.

But Jons most interesting songs are the two in Elvish, the artificial language of author J.R.R. Tolkien. The first, "Elechoi" has Jon singing a repeated phrase, vaguely reminiscent of "We Have Heaven" in it's varied repetition. But the song doesn't really resemble anything he has done before. It is entirely mediaeval in its performance and Jon seems fully committed to the concept. He truly becomes the part as if he is playing a character from Tolkien's books.

Jon's second Elvish song, "Verses to Elbereth Gilthoniel" is a complete hymn to the Elves' goddess with beautiful instrumental interludes. In both of his Elvish songs and in "The Sacred Stones" Jon is joined by punk- rock legend Ethan James on hurdy-gurdy. If that sounds strange to you, it's only because it is! The sound is truly hypnotic.

The rest of the music on "In Elven Lands" carries through on the Tolkien theme, the ancient style and the progressive approach. Of special note is "Beware The Wolf" sung by Caitlin Elizabeth. That song a mediaeval sort of way. Other epic works include the instrumental "When Durin Woke" which features another full orchestra of ancient sounds and it gets truly large. While many Prog albums explore rock's classical roots, this is the first to carry it to a rediculous extreme of making it really ancient. It seems impossible that such a mad project could succeed but it does with flying colours.

Overall, the album takes you on a journey, just as all good Prog should. But don't expect rock. This thing blazes a new trail through ancient, celtic and world music from a progressive point of view. Produced by film composer Carvin Knowles and Adam Pike (of The Syrups), this album is for all of us who have always associated Jon Anderson's voice with Tolkien's stories.

Report this review (#72368)
Posted Monday, March 20, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars "In Elven Lands... a musicological reconstruction inspired by the myths, poetry, and linguistic works of Professor J.R.R. Tolkien," reads the first page of the liner notes, after opening the case past mediaeval-style elvish poems.

In Elven Lands accomplishes it's goal more fully than many similar attempts do- to re-create the spirit of Middle-Earth. Some adaptions, like Blind Guardian's Nightfall in Middle Earth are excellent albums, but they don't seem to naturally flow with the true mood of Arda. To successfully transport the listener into another world, the musicians in The Fellowship (all 12 of them) use both modern and ancient instruments in a very traditional, non-prog rock manner.

Although every track does construct the Middle-Earth spirit, many of them fluctuate drastically in scope and mood. For example, the second track, Dan Barliman's Jig, is a humorous ditty while the next track, The Silver Bowl, is much more somber and bare. Several of the tracks are sung in elvish, ranging from the celestial Verse to Elbereth Gilthoniel to the warm Elechoi. The Liner notes are phenomenal because they not only present the lyrics in Elvish and English, but also an explanation of why each track is included on the album.

Other tracks like Oromë: Lord Of The Hunt, featuring a slow climax of brass instruments, are instrumental compositions. The absolute highlight, however, is The Sacred Stones sung by Jon Anderson. The lyrics, in true Jon fashion, paint a picture; they manifest the whole mood of the album delicately and beautifully. The golden peacefulness, yet limitless power, that ripples beneath the surface is simply incredible. "We're given heaven each and every day," Jon proclaims. He uses the powerful story of Morgoth's banishment and the recovery of the Silmarils to meditate on pure universal truth...

Next on the album is a haunting re-arrangement of Led Zeppelin's Battle of Evermore, and then a few other tracks that continue to show variance and originality between themselves.

In Elven Lands is essential for any fan of Tolkien. Even if the listener isn't a die-hard fan, though, he can still draw incredible enjoyment from this journey and experience a remarkable album, seemingly pulled from another age.

Rating: 9/10

Report this review (#308831)
Posted Sunday, November 7, 2010 | Review Permalink

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