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Album Review : Dave Brons – ‘Not All Who Wander Are Lost

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Not since Jeff Wayne’s legendary opus ‘The War of the Worlds’ have the twin arts of music and literature been so perfectly and wonderfully intertwined as they are in this new release from Dave Brons.

Tackling one of the best known books in literature, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is going to be a mammoth task for anyone and it would take a level of skill and commitment that very few have but in ‘Not All Who Wander Are Lost’ Brons does this magnificently, his mix of rock guitar and Celtic instrumentation transporting the listener straight to the heart of Middle Earth. Even for those unfamiliar with Tolkien’s epic or those who really don’t like fantasy fiction cannot help but be drawn into this beautiful and dramatic musical world.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJklbEE3nig&w=560&h=315]

Using the perfect mix of his fluid guitar lines in a singsong duet with the Uilleann pipes of Catherine Ashcroft on the beautiful and ethereal ‘The Song of Illuvatar’ the album opens in the freshness of a new day and the joy of a first step on a journey of wonder and imagination. ‘Ea’ starts with a bit of heavy guitar attack, the riff barking, but quickly subsides into something much more lyrical and fluid as Brons shows off his dazzling fretboard skills accompanied by some lovely ethereal vocals from Sally Minnear.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmjK5GH5_Bo&w=560&h=315]

Things then take a truly epic turn as ‘Into the Perilous Realm’ goes all out to provide the sweeping landscape and breathtaking vision of the trilogy and this one track alone would have been declared a classic of Celtic Prog had it been released in the 70’s. As it stands, it is still a huge achievement regardless of the year and adds to the timeless quality of the album, too smart to be dated and too grand to be just something attempting to capture the zeitgeist.

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As the journey unfolds, stretching from the massive scope of ‘Awakened By Starlight’, the classical meets folk bombast of ‘Under the Same Sun’ and onto the joyous whirl of ‘The Shire and Long Expected Party’ the instrumentation grabs the mood of the high and lows, the trials and the triumphs of this quest to end them all. As with a lot of concept albums, narration links the pieces, which can be, at times, a little distracting from the flow of the music but helps pin and set the mood for the next movement, giving a sense of place.

The Pass of Caradhas’ is packed with its own drama, guitars and drums battle the elements in a display of courage and determination that puts you in the centre of the action, leaving you spent as the gentle piano piece ‘A Prayer for the Fallen’ washes over your soul.

So, it continues, ‘The Riders of Rohan’ is a masterpiece of light and shade and the orchestral ‘Minus Morgul’ has an otherworldly beauty that is counterpointed by the stabs of the guitar. The playing and arrangement is so intricate and multi-layered throughout but is done for a purpose, a perfectly stitched together suit that fits the subject exquisitely, skirting on the edge but never heading into a territory where everything but the studio kitchen sink is thrown into the mix.

The fact that this is so immersive an experience is down to Brons production and highly respected Celtic prog folk rockers Iona founder member Dave Bainbridge who not only played on the album but also mixed it. Together the pair have woven together a rich tapestry that cries out to be listened to on the best sound system money can buy.

‘The Ringbearers’, ‘The House of Healing’ drive the story ever onwards towards the climax and the album finishes with a huge flourish in the shape of ‘At the End of All Things’ and ‘White Shores and a Swift Sunrise’. Both tracks are spectacular in their vision and execution, the former a brilliant melding of guitar mastery and brass band which piles on character and huge weight, the latter joyous, hopeful and heartbreakingly gorgeous.

Whilst many consider ‘The Lord of the Rings’ as Tolkien’s masterpiece, Dave Brons can view his own musical interpretation of the saga similarly, the project a loving and momentous tribute to one of the greatest tales in the history of fiction writing. Astoundingly good

Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM

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