Now & Then / Frontiers FRCD 071
Produced by: Gary Hughes

Released: March 26 / Website
Relatives: Ten,Magnum,Meatloaf,Queen

  1. The Wraith Of The Rings (7.07)
  2. The Fields That I Recall (8.04)
  3. City Walls (6.13)
  4. Against The Wind (5.17)
  5. Where You Lead I'll Follow (8.50)
  6. Return Of The Mountain King (6.41)
  7. The End Of Summer (5.54)
  8. This Gallant Band Of Manic Strangers (3.47)
  9. The Fellowship (4.21)

This is Bob Catley's third solo album since his departure from long time writing partner Tony Clarkin. In the hands of songwriter Gary Hughes, Bob released two great solo albums, heavily influenced by their writer with a mix of classic Catley and Ten.
On Middle Earth, both gentlemen have made strides to break out of any stereotypes to deliver an album that both conforms to what fans hope and expect for and also deliver some great new aspects of their partnership.
This in essence is Bob Catley's best solo album to date and his best work since Magnum.
it is also some of Gary Hughes most intellectual, varied and entertaining songs he has written.
Being a concept album, detailing the story of the Lord Of The Rings, it was bound to be complicated in places and that it is. But it is also musically stripped back and simplistic in other areas, giving a unique and clever blend.
As expected, it takes several listens to get to know the album, but once these hooks get in your head, there is no letting up.
After a nice long two minute intro, the opening number The Wraith Of The Rings kicks in, with Bob thus far in a relatively laid back and restrained mood.
Being a conceptual story, this track is the building block of what is to come. The track itself is a mid temp smoldering rock song, with a catchy chorus and a sound reminiscent of the previous two solo albums.
The Fields That I Recall is split into three parts to better tell the story, but musically, the gap is seamless. I love the intro to the song and the musical intenseness that builds. Bob cuts through the tension with his seasoned vocals and it all makes sense. The second part of the song sees things get heavy, with some good guitar work. Commendations for the use of the keyboards in this track, the moody intro wouldn't have been complete without it and to hear the familiar hook throughout the song gives it life.
City Walls is the surprise track of the album and by far the most commercial thing I have heard Gary Hughes write and certainly is the catchiest tune of Bob Catley's solo career thus far. It's a great rocking anthem, with a commercial edge and dare I say it, a real Meatloaf anthem rocker feel to it.
It's also one of the finest pure and honest Catley vocals I have heard since Mangum.
In an album of pleasant surprises, Against The Wind caught me again. After the raucous stadium anthem of City Walls, Against The Wind is a revelation in style for Bob.
This much stripped back track brings two things to mind. The Celtic track uses keyboards, acoustic and electric guitar and Bob's vocal to re-create that medieval feel that fits the story perfectly. What's more, the female co-lead from Tracy Hitchings is so in place it seems as if they have been singing duets together forever.
It is a far more fitting mix than the female co-lead employed by Hard Rain and bugger me if she doesn't sound dead on for Geddy Lee of Rush.
Where You Lead I'll Follow is more familiar to the Bob we know and love. Another long epic track, winding through mid and up tempo phases, it again flows perfectly and doesn't feel like the length it is.
Return Of The Mountain King is as instant as the track it replicates slightly. To me, this has the same epic anthem feel to that of City Walls. Not quite back into Meatloaf territory, but the unmistakable chorus and the feel good tempo gets the foot tapping every time.
The End Of Summer is almost into ballad territory. The sentiment is certainly there, along with some heartfelt vocals and soft melody, yet the music remains bombastic, even if it is in mid tempo form.
This Gallant Band Of Manic Strangers is in the form familiar to fans of Bob's first two solo albums, big brash, lots of guitars and lots of keyboards and a couple of really heavy musical bursts.
The Fellowship rounds out the story, the album and this epic adventure called Middle Earth. The song itself is endearing in that it sees Bob's vocal accompanied only by keyboards. allowing him to take the responsibility of carrying the melody and completing the story.
BOTTOM LINE: Easy. Bob Catley's best solo album to date and his (and Gary Hughes) most musically versatile and challenging.
An excellent batch of songs that push both gentleman's boundaries, therefore delivering a rewarding result to the listeners of the album. Excellent.
ESSENTIAL FOR: All Bob Catley, Magnum and Gary Hughes fans. Fans of those pompous big epic releases!
DISCOGRAPHY:The Tower . Live - Official Bootleg . Legends . Middle Earth

18/12/02: Hanuk Baac - temporarily unavailable
Rating: 72
Not as good as the previous 2 masterpieces. You expect a lot from this man and every Bob Catley work always has a potential to increase your chance of getting disappointed because the expectations are high. This is not a bad melodic rock album at all, but I hear too many mid-tempo songs. I'm not saying they aren't good, in general they are all written well and Bob's vocals thrive on them but up-tempo rockers like "The Tower", "The Light" and "Shelter From The Night" would add depth.

05/07/01: bigmike -
Rating: 70
yeah what can I say.....I don't think the songs are as good
as the review suggests here....I thought "legends" was a catchier album.
The production is different...probably best described as not as sharp sounding...more dark if you like. There are nonetheless some good songs here but the mix spoils it for me to a large extent.
I think that legends had some brillants songs were as middle earth has songs I would best describe at good. There is nothing
hear that is likely to make my compilation tapes.

23/05/01: cris -
Rating: 95
I agree with Mike Matney´s review. I couldn´t wait hearing "Middle Earth" after i bought it. But after i heard it the first time, i thought "What is this??". Really, i love it now, after several hearings. And i´m glad Bob Catley signed a new contract for another 3 albums. Now i´m curious how the new Magnum album will sound like. Conclution: "Middle Earth" is one of the best albums of the year.

01/04/01: Mike Matney -
Rating: 99
Let me start off by saying that in my opinion, this is the best of the 3 studio CDs that Bob Catley has done, and maybe the best thing that Gary Hughes has written to date. Musically and lyrically everything clicks. Did I think it was the best of the 3 after the first listen? No; it didn't grab me right away as The Tower did. This CD is going to take a few listens to really hit you, but boy does it pack a punch when it does! I hear new things everytime I listen. Bob's vocals are in fine form and the music is superb. I can hear traces of Magnum in the songs, both pre and post OASTN. Gary Hughes has done a superb job of not making it sound like "Ten" with Bob singing the lyrics, which has always been a complaint of many people about his writing. Part of this is due to the varied sounds (especially the keys) and the medieval feel to the whole thing. The whole musical cast does an outstanding job. The bass playing of Steve McKenna really stands out to me and is mixed much differently from what a Ten album sounds like. The lyrics do an outstanding job of presenting the story, but if you aren't familiar with Tolkien you may have to work at following the story line. I could keep going on and on but bottom line is: The best solo outing so far from Bob Catley, now for the songs...

Track 1 - The Wraith of the Rings. Wasn't quite what I was expecting when I first put it on. Left me really wondering what to expect from the rest of the CD, which is a good thing, it peaked my curiousity. A mid tempo song with some great guitar work from Vinny Burns.

Track 2 - (i)The Fields That I Recall (ii)Emissary(iii)The Fields That I Recall (Reprise). Some great atmospheric keys to open up the song. Starts out slowly then begins to really rock with the Emissary, some great vocal harmonies and traces of classic Magnum. Then it slows back down to prepare you for the next chapter...

Track 3 - City Walls. Most everyone has probably heard this one from the Totalrock show. Sounds even better on CD. Majestic sounding keys and vocals.

Track 4 - Against The Wind. This reminded me of the Jabberwocky CD. Probably for the fact that the Tracy Hitchins (who sang on Jabberwocky) adds some really cool vocal work into the song. A more medieval feel to the music here. Some great bass work from Steve McKenna here.

Track 5 - (i)Where You Lead I'll Follow (ii)Stormcrow and Pilgrim (iii)Where You Lead I'll Follow (Reprise). Starts out with a really nice piano intro, then Bob comes in and the momentum starts to build. When it seques into Stormcrow and Pilgrim and the rest of the band kicks in you can't but help to love this song. Probably my favourite song on the whole CD. I absolutely love the vocal harmonies on this one.

Track 6 - Return of the Mountain King. Big bombastic keys and guitars. The music itself really helps set the mood for what the lyrics are saying. Hard to describe but you will know what I mean when you listen to it.

Track 7 - The End Of Summer (Galadriel's Theme). I love the intro to this song. A slower song and some more great sounding guitar work from Vinny Burns. The song would have fit in on the Tower with no problem.

Track 8 - This Gallant Band Of Manic Strangers. My other favourite track on the CD. Another great intro with the keys and the most rockin' song on the whole CD. A song once again where the music and lyrics work really well to tell the tale. More bombastic music and vocals!

Track 9 - The Fellowship. The end of the tale (unfortunately). A hymn like song where sings a song of triumph and sadness for our weary band of adventurers.

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