Audio and Music

Music Inspired by Middle Earth

Nowadays I rarely listen to an album in its entirety. Save for classical music, albums usually get shuffled by a myriad of genres or playlists depending on my mood at the time. The same goes for pretty much all albums added to my collection. This leads to a strange phenomenon where I can tell what album my older tracks came from (pre-iTunes) and cannot tell what album my newer tracks come from (iTunes and onwards). A sign of the times, I suppose.

Not so with a new album I purchased, called "Music Inspired by Middle Earth". It is with some surprise that I find myself repeatedly listening to this new album in its entirety, and not on random.

The album is created by a variety of artists, most significantly for me headed by David Arkenstone. I have followed his music as he has moved from one record label to another, and generally enjoy most of what he writes. He tends to fall into the New Age category of music but occasionally wanders into Celtic or other genres. There are far too many artists in the New Age category that skirt the dark line into mind numbing elevator music, giving the genre a bad name. Arkenstone is happily not one of these artists.

This album caught my eye because it is a musical interpretation of the Lord of the Rings books, similar in fashion to the enjoyable “In The Wake of the Wind” where Arkenstone did a musical interpretation of a story written by Mercedes Lackey.

Although the album is done well overall, I will only highlight certain tracks that have caught my ear.

"Music Inspired by Middle Earth" follows the Lord of the Rings trilogy rather closely, starting with "Prelude: Hobbits from the Shire", which is a fun folk piece that evokes the free spiried Hobbits at their happiest.

"The Quest" is a strong piece expressing the agressive optimism of the fellowship at their outset. The track moves from a slightly introspective melody of hobbits into a modified march of The Fellowship of the Ring.

"Lothlorien" is filled with light woodsy tones that brings out strong images of the forest and the Elvish folk. I almost consider it to be a little too light, given some of the darkness that the Elves are struggling with. Nevertheless, a solid track.

Speaking of solidity "The Riders of Rohan" takes you on a full gallop. I felt my blood pounding in beat to the horses of the Rohirrim surrounding me as they undertook a campaign.

"The Grey Havens" is a suitable end to the disc. It is both sad and hopeful, expressing the conclusion of the story and the beginning of another journey into the unknown.

I am sure that people will compare this album to the great work done by Howard Shore for the movies, or possibly even to the “Lord of the Rings Symphony No. 1” by Johan De Meij. Such comparisons are natural, I suppose, as I found myself doing them for certain tracks: one, where they meshed so well "Prelude: Hobbits from the Shire" (Arkenstone) and "Concerning Hobbits" (Shore) and a second where they were vastly different yet both very good (and same titled) "The Riders of Rohan" by Arkenstone and Shore.

Nevertheless, I feel such comparisons might be ultimately unfair because the pieces are trying to tell different aspects of the story through two different media. "Music Inspired by Middle Earth" is unaccompanied by dialogue or cinematics where the Shore trilogy of soundtracks are built around them. It’s impossible to not hear Shore’s music and also see the movie in your head.

Comparisons aside, "Music Inspired by Middle Earth" is a solid album that does a great job of telling the Lord of the Rings story. Perhaps that is why I am listening to this album in its entirety; the story clearly shines through. It would be a shame to put such a story on random and shuffle it about.

Let's go find that dingus, sweetheart, and don't forget my gat!

I've always been a big fan of radio plays and black and white movies. My favourite, of course, is Humphrey Bogart. I mean really, who can top him for sheer guile? I love Casablanca, but I also am a big fan of the Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe characters. I find it sad that radio drama is a bit of a dying art due to TV and movies.

Or so I thought...

The irony of the era of the podcast is that it has revived the audio drama. People are tired of hearing their music and the news in podcast form and, like me, need some adventure for the ugly drive or walk to work. This is why I was very happy to come across the Black Jack Justice podcast radio plays from Decoder Ring Theatre.

Jack Justice and his partner Trixie Dixen (girl detective) are an updated form of the Sam/Philip stories. The dialogue is fresh, smart and funny, but classic enough to have a wonderful Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler charm to them. Best of all, it's recorded right here in Canada!

Go give Jack and Trixie a listen. If you like them let others know about this little Canadian secret.

Your shamus will be glad you did!