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

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