Lee Speaks About Music… #197

The Ringmaster (Part One) – Robert Reed

Introduction…

Quite a busy year for Rob Reed releases and this is the second 2021 release we have seen from another one of his many projects, Speaking of projects we got to see him revive his very first one Cyan earlier this year to which I have only recently reviewed. Now he’s back with my personal favourite of his many projects and The Ringmaster (Part One) is his 5th studio album release from his solo career and is very much a welcoming return to his Sanctuary series. 

For those who have followed his solo career, you may very well recall that he took a break from his Sanctuary series to give us something a bit different in the way of an electronic album. Cursus 123 430 was an album that perhaps emulated 70’s electronic music with the likes of Vangelis, Jean Michel-Jarre and Tangerine Dream all of which was done with Reed’s own GREAT! way of reworking existing melodies and adding his own thing to it. This is something that he tends to do with all his projects and he is quite a GENIUS! at working this way too.

However, I personally think the GENIUS! side of his creative talent comes out the best when he’s emulating the works of Mike Oldfield which is something all his albums in the Sanctuary series have continuously done so well and this latest album is no exception. Although I have noticed with how Sanctuary I, II and III progressed less of Oldfield’s existing melodies were utilised and Reed was putting in more of his own input into the music, but keeping more or less the same vast instrumentation and unique sound of Oldfield to make it still sound like the man himself.

The Ringmaster (Part One) or Sanctuary IV (however you want to call it) is an album that utilises even less of Oldfield’s GREAT! melody lines and rather than rework existing melody lines Reed has pretty much injected over 90% of his own blood into the album. Not only that he has created what he calls “Reedaphonic Sound” and this also puts me in mind of one of the best mixes I have ever heard on this planet. But before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

Packaging & Artwork…

Well as you can see the new album comes with 3 discs to which are stored very neatly in a 3-panel cardboard Digisleeve with die-cut pockets to house the discs. It does not come with a booklet and all the linear production notes and credits are printed on the inside of the Digisleeve. It does not come with any informative information but it does have part of Les Penning’s original story that was the inspiration for the album.

I pre-ordered my copy from Tigemoth Records and it arrived a day before its official release. It cost £14.99 plus £1.90 p+p making a total of £16.89 which is a very respectable price for a package that comes with 2 CD’s and a DVD with a 5.1 mix of the album on. To be honest it’s quite a bargain and I normally find that Rob Reed’s own record store is the cheapest way to obtain his products and why I always use it.

Artwork.
The artwork was done by Anna Repp who is an illustrator and has a sense of beauty about her artwork in that she mainly does fantasy, comic book and even botanical illustrations and you can certainly see that by looking at the artwork for this album cover. Although I quite like the picture that Reed chose for the front cover, my favourite piece of artwork is the one on the inside seen here below.

I think it gives you more of an in-depth view of the kind of fantasy world that Les Penning wrote his story about. It’s quite picturesque and even reminds me a bit like the background the Medieval progrock band Gryphon had on their 3rd studio album Red Queen to Gryphon Three. I also personally think it’s the best out of all the covers done in the Sanctuary series so far.

Looking at the first 3 albums in the series I never did like the artwork for the first album and thought the third album was a bit on the Jean Michel-Jarre side of things with his debut album Oxygene. However, I do quite like the second album cover though I can assure you the music on all albums in this series contains quite a bit of BEAUTIFICATION! and speaks to me the most.

Release Editions…

The Ringmaster comes in the form of three different packages to suit your pocket and the cheapest option would be the Digital Download priced at £7 which can be purchased on Bandcamp. Next up the ladder, we have the 2 CD/DVD package priced at £14.99 (excluding p+p) which is the package I opted for. The most expensive package is The Complete Ringmaster as seen below.

The Complete Ringmaster comes with 4 CD’s & 3 DVD’s and basically, this package contains The Ringmaster Parts One & Two although the second part you will not receive until it’s officially released in January next year. I am pretty sure it will arrive in the same kind of package we have here with Part One and will contain 2 CD’s & 1 DVD which makes a total of 4 CD’s & 2 DVD’s over Parts One & Two.

Also included in this package is an extra DVD (which is exclusive to the package) that contains Rob Reed playing solo piano performances from The Ringmaster and the other 3 albums in the Sanctuary series. It also comes with The Ringmaster story booklet written by Les Penning and some artwork postcards and stickers. This particular package is priced at £45 exclusive of p+p which is a reasonable enough price.

Please also take note that the album and packages are not only available in the UK only as the above picture might suggest. They are also available to purchase for European and International countries as seen in the packages below and you need to click on the appropriate package when placing your order on the website.

The Album In Review…

The Ringmaster (Part One) by Robert Reed was officially released on the 22nd of October 2021. The album itself contains 11 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 47 minutes, 35 seconds and the material that makes it up is mostly instrumental but does also contain vocals, chants and narration in certain parts. It’s perhaps a bit unusual in that it’s very much an album that contains a lot more smaller tracks than those with a considerate length that is more associated with progrock, and only really two of the tracks on the album are over the four and half minute mark.

Although the album does sort of flow along like a musical concept album with some of the tracks tail spinning into one another so it is perhaps not all that unusual after all and it works pretty well for it I have to say. I shall go more into the concept a bit later in the album tracks section of my review.

The Ringmaster (Part Two) has already been written but Reed chose to hold back the release till the new year basically because a hundred minutes of material might be too much to digest in one go and to give the listeners more of a chance to get into the first part. Personally, I think this is a wise decision and I do find that many progrock artists and bands can pile too much onto an album especially bands like The Flower Kings who would most likely put a hundred minutes on one CD if they could fit it on and even then give you another album at the same time 😊😊😊.

I think the double album these days has lost the plot and that is perhaps down to the birth of the CD back in the 80’s which is a format you could squeeze a lot more onto without losing any quality, unlike the vinyl album that had restrictions. To be honest I did not mind a double album many moons ago basically because back then the average single album was between 30 – 40 minutes and that was basically down to what you could fit onto a vinyl album.

The album time slot got well out of hand with the birth of the CD and some would cram as much information onto them as they could and use up the whole 80 minutes in some cases which were like having a double album’s worth of material with every release. I often think it is too much food for thought and an album like that will often give reviewers like myself a hard time especially if like me you need to give the album several spins before even putting pen to paper to write a review so to speak.

To be honest the way Reed is releasing this double album takes me back to 1991 when Guns N’ Roses released Use Your Illusion I & II. Only they did release both parts on the same day. If I remember rightly one of the reasons they released the album that way was to give people a cheaper alternative by having the choice to buy any one of the albums instead of buying the two. Though if like myself you brought the two it cost more money than a double album so you was not really onto a winner. That double album did do exceptionally well and was a good album and the only album I ever brought of the band.

You could say you are getting more or less a double album with this release because it does come with a bonus CD. Although it only really contains an extra couple of tracks and an alternative mix of the album which I will go into later in the album tracks section of my review.

Reed spent just over a year writing the new material for Parts One & Two of The Ringmaster and recorded it sometime between July 2020 to August 2021 at his home studios known as Big Studio in South Wales. Besides playing most of the instrumentation himself he roped in the familiar crew of musicians who featured on previous albums in the Sanctuary series including flautist Les Penning and drummer Simon Phillips who have both done session work for Mike Oldfield in the past.

No Sanctuary album would be complete without the angelic voices of Angharad Brinn and Micaela Haslam & Heather Cairncross who are collectively known as Synergy. Nightwish’s famous master of the Uilleann pipes Troy Donockley also makes another appearance along with Steve Bingham on violin and Karla Powell oboe and this is an album with a fine body of well-accomplished musicians. They have all been mixed with what Reed describes himself as “Reedaphonic Sound” and to find out what that is all about let’s take a look at the DVD that comes in the package.

DVD.

The DVD’s main menu is pretty much basic, simple and has everything on one screen making it easy to navigate your way through everything. Here you can get at not only the albums 11 tracks but the bonus content and the audio options. The highlighted blue cursor is your way of getting around the menu.

The DVD comes with 2 Audio Soundtracks both of which are 5.1 Surround mixes and here you have the choice of DTS 24/48k at 1.5Mbps and a standard Dolby Digital at 448Kbps. My prefered choice is DTS as you can see highlighted in the picture above.

Tracks 12-14 is the DVD’s bonus content and here you get a short 3-minute interview with Rob Reed and the couple of promotional videos that he posted on his Tube channel. All the bonus content is in stereo only and in total you get an extra 11 minutes, 47 seconds of content here.

As you can see in the picture above as you play each track on the main album feature it displays the name of the track along with the same segment of the picture from the back of the album cover that is also used for the DVD’s main menu. It would have been nice to see different pictures displayed for each track but at least they used a picture.

Overall even though the DVD Authoring is pretty much basic it’s sufficient enough and the bonus content is also quite good. Though I would have liked to have seen a longer interview with Reed discussing the album though you might get that with the second part that gets released in the new year. So now let’s take a look at the 5.1 mix.

5.1 Mix.

Listening to the 5.1 mix of this album I can see why Reed decided to showcase this mix with what’s known as “Reedaphonic Sound” and this is certainly a surround mix that excels any 5.1 mix he has done in the past. I have always given praise to Reed’s work in the past for his work on surround mixes and as you will notice in all my reviews of albums that come with multichannel surround mixes I always point out how hard it is to work in this field and how there are only a fine minute number of mixing engineers who have the right ears to be able to do them right.

To be perfectly honest I don’t know why working with a 5.1 mix presents many sound engineers with a problem especially when I listen to how the engineers back in the 70’s never had a problem doing such a GREAT! job with a Quadrophonic mix. When it comes to 5.1 the most successful engineers are those who specialise in sound effects for films and it’s very rare to come across a bad 5.1 mix in a movie apart from the dialogue being low in the mix in some cases which can easily be fixed by turning up the centre channel on your AV Reciever or some even have an EQ button you can press that rectifies it. You will find that multichannel surround sound is better suited for movies and that is what the AV Reciever was originally made for.

However, multichannel surround can be just as effective for music and where it works better over conventional stereo is in the separation department by offering you more channels allows the engineer to free up far more space for the instruments to breath in and if placed right across all 6 channels in a 5.1 system it gives you a more lifelike representation of what the instruments are supposed to sound like. In some cases, you would think you were in the same room as they were playing them. It will also bring out far more clarity and dynamics. Just as much as the speaker placement on your AV setup is an important factor to get the best out of your system so is the placement of all the instruments and vocals in a 5.1 mix and if done right it will give you the best results.

In theory, it does not sound like a difficult thing to do but where many engineers go wrong is by relying on reflections rather than placing certain instruments across the channels. Quite a lot of thought and attention needs to be applied to what instruments to place in the rear channels as well and this will give you the chance to hear them more clearly and hear all their individual characteristics to give you more of an accurate lifelike sound of what they should sound like.

Things like percussion, saxophones, mandolins, acoustic guitars and backing vocals are better placed in the rear but what you don’t want to be doing is taking too much out of the original stereo mix (or front channels) otherwise you will end up with something completely different to the stereo mix and will not be happy with the result.

One of the most exciting surround mixes to come out this year is what Steve Wilson did with the reissue of Gentle Giant’s 1975 album Free Hand. Not only was the 5.1 mix outstanding but he also gave you the choice of DTS and PCM and completely done away with the low-end format Dolby Digital. I’ve noticed other engineers doing away with that weaker format and to be honest, I am all for it. He even gave you an Atmos mix and done a superb job on all the mixes including stereo.

The Blu Ray even included Ray Shulman’s original Quadrophinic mix and even that was outstanding and the only mix that never came with a sample rate of 24/96 was the Atmos mix. I’ve never known any album to come with so many different mixes and they all offered you something sonically different. In all honesty, it has to be the major contender for the Surround mix of the year and I could not see it being beaten.

There is no doubt in my mind that Wilson has exceptional ears and a solid head on his shoulders to work with surround mixes in the way he does. He is very much one of my personal favourite engineers although other engineers such as Elliot Scheiner, Bob Clearmountain and Chuck Ainsley are also outstanding engineers that can work in this field and are just as good.

To be perfectly honest I would not put Rob Reed on a pedestal in relation to the engineers I have just mentioned but he is capable of doing a good 5.1 mix and the mixes he did for Sanctuary I, II & III are all very satisfactory and well-pleasing to listen to. One particular engineer who is also very good is the man who Reed likes to emulate Mike Oldfield and his 2003 remix of Tubular Bells is one of my personal favourite 5.1 mixes. I would even go as far as to say that I have played that 5.1 mix more than any other surround mix I have in my collection.

What’s so good about Oldfield’s 2003 remix of Tubular Bells is not just the clarity, depth and dynamics but the acoustic elements and those are the things that bring out the BEAUTIFICATION! and makes you want to play it more than anything else. Listening to the 5.1 mix of The Ringmaster it’s quite evident how this mix stands out that he has got his hands on some new software to do the mix. This surround mix really excels over anything he has done before and the fact that he uses more acoustic elements than Tubular Bells brings out even more BEAUTIFICATION! That more so that I personally think he has even beat Oldfield’s mix and like the 2003 version of Tubular Bells I simply cannot stop playing the 5.1 mix.

Musicians & Credits…

Produced by Tom Newman & Robert Reed. Written, Performed & Mixed by Robert Reed. Concept Story by Les Penning. Recorded between July 2020 – August 2021 @ Big Studio in South Wales. Drums recorded @ Phantom Recording Studio in the USA. Additional Mix on Bonus Disc by Tom Newman. All Artwork by Anna Repp

Musicians.
Robert Reed: All Instruments (Except those played by other musicians).
Les Penning: Recorders – Whistles – Narration.
Simon Phillips: Drums.
Troy Donockley: Uilleann Pipes – Whistles.
Angharad Brinn: Lead Vocals.
Micaela Haslam & Heather Cairncross – Synergy Vocals.
Steve Bingham: violin.
Karla Powell: Oboe.
Tom Newman: Sleigh Bells.

The Album Tracks In Review…

The inspiration for the music came from Les Penning’s fantasising story although it is of course also inspired by Mike Oldfield. I have to say I do find the names of the tracks quite BIZARRE! and that is the word I would also use for Penning’s story. I would also say that the story is perhaps not so much integral to the music and is more separated in that there is barely any narration at all. For example, it’s not like Jeff Wayne’s musical version of War of the Worlds where the music was written around the story sort of thing.

One of the other rather strange things is how many short tracks have been used to make it all up and it’s a bit like Oldfield using some of his shorter pieces such as “In Dulci Jubilo” and “Portsmouth” (that were written as singles) to make up one of his longer masterpieces. You do however get the feeling that we are dealing with a concept album in the way that some of the tracks tailspin into one another and with how it all flows. So let’s now see how it all flows as I go through the individual tracks.

Track 1. The Farewell.

The album opens up its first few seconds solely at first with Les Penning’s voice who plays the role of the ringmaster. Although the title might suggest that he’s saying farewell before the story started though he does describe the day’s events before doing so. Musically this opening track has all the right acoustics to portray the BEAUTIFICATION! that it beholds. Acoustic piano and guitar, uilleann pipes and the chanting choral sweet voices of Micaela Haslam & Heather Cairncross aka Synergy really play their role here and bring out the dynamic and so does Troy Donockley‘s uilleann pipes which are played to perfection.

Whilst listening to it in surround it’s gonna be like sitting in the same room with the musicians and you will feel and hear the instrumentation breathe. The recording really does capture all the resonance and you immediately feel at home with its warmth. It’s also been very thoughtfully and skillfully arranged and all these qualities are what draw you straight into it.

It’s very much the perfect way to kick off the album and even though these are all Reed’s own melody lines it is the skilful arrangement and the instrumentation that give it the OLDFIELD ESC! feel. This opening track really brings out tears of joy with how perfectly it’s been constructed and arranged it also shows just how a few notes on the piano can be so effective and even enough to include them further down the line to bring you back here so to speak. But it is perhaps the acoustic guitar, uilleann pipes and ancestral choral voices that give justification to the BEAUTY! it beholds.

Track 2. The First Guardians Of Everywhere.

Although the opening track does not exactly tailspin into this piece it does feel like it was meant to and is connected. “The First Guardians Of Everywhere” is the longest track on the album weighing in at 13 minutes, 37 seconds. It’s also certainly the most PROGMATIC! track on the album and quite a few of Oldfield’s melody lines from various albums are scattered throughout the piece. All skillfully reworked by Reed.

There are parts of Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge, Ommadawn, Incantations and Platinum in here and oddly enough there is even a touch of Kraftwerk’sAutobahn” and even the Wild West. It’s a very powerful track and certainly more electric in comparison to the opening track and Simon Phillips drums are very well utilised throughout. Steve Bingham’s violin is another wonderful addition along with the recorder and whistles and the voices of Synergy and Brinn. It’s as if Reed has thrown everything including the kitchen sink into this masterful piece of work.

It’s very much a piece that goes through quite a few transitions and has bags of progression along its path. In some respects, if I was to combine what we have here with the final track on the album “Arcadia In Ruins” and the BEAUTIFICATION! of the opening track you could say this is Reed’s own Amarok.

This is very much my personal favourite track on the album along with the opening track and all 3 tracks I have just mentioned are certainly amongst my personal highlights of the album. Though there is more to come yet and this one does actually tailspin into the next track which is something completely different.

Track 3. The Defeated Army.

It’s at this point of the album that the Oldfield influence is swept aside and this has more of a Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac feel about it and his well-known instrumental hit from the late sixties “Albatross” springs to mind. Though there are also touches of Oldfield with the electric guitar too and one must not forget his Killing Fields album which could also be an inspiration besides Penning’s story of course.

In many respects although “The Defeated Army” is another skillfully arranged piece the fact that it is one of two tracks to be accompanied by a video in the way of promoting the album. I personally think it’s a bit misleading because it is totally different to anything on the album and I also don’t think it’s the best way to promote the album simply because many of the other tracks speak a lot better to me and have much more going for them.

Though I should also stress that my own observation in that last paragraph does not in any way mean I don’t like this piece and it does also fit in very well with the rest of the tracks on the album and has been very well placed.

Track 4. A Touch Of The Song.

This next song features the BEAUTIFULL! angelic voice of Angharad Brinn and as its title suggests it literally is a touch of a song and is the shortest track on the album at 1 minute 17 seconds. For any song to be a song in the first place it has to have words and a voice and that is where so many people go wrong and will often describe an instrumental piece as a song. Here she is backed up by Reed himself on keys and guitar and this is rather short and sweet.

Track 5. Storytown.

This is quite a spirited energetic piece that lifts the album back up very much in classic Oldfield style and it does it extremely well. It’s another of my personal highlights on the album and once again both Phillips drums and Bingham’s violin are very well utilised here and Reed throws an array of goodies in the instrumentation department including banjo, pipe organ and bells. His guitar work on this one is exceptional and you would think Oldfield was playing himself and it really is a GREAT! track.

Track 6. The Gatekeeper.

It’s time for another wonderful acoustic track and once again the beautiful voice of Brinn features on this track and it also features Karla Powell on oboe which works wonders with all the other bag of goodies Reed has thrown in the instrumental department once again. The arrangement is TOP NOTCH! and I love how everything embellishes a simple melody played on the acoustic guitar which is how the piece was so well constructed. It’s also another piece that is joined to the next track and it tailspins very nicely into the next track.

Track 7. The First Large Water.

It’s time for another uptempo track and this is another of my personal highlights on the album. As strange as the title suggests and some of the others they are all mentioned in Penning’s story. On this one, it’s the few notes on the piano along with the vocoder that affectively draws you in at the beginning. Strangely enough, the vocoder is utilised quite a lot on this album though very well placed throughout. Other cracking instruments that get utilised during the GREAT! build the piece has are the mandolin and vibes and the vibes, in particular, have that Oldfield Incantations feel about them.

Both Penning and Donockley are also doing a super exemplary job on the flutes and whistles throughout the album and they almost feature on every track. Reed does a SUPER! long OLDFIELD ESC! guitar solo and he really does have the Oldfield touch. Oddly enough the way it all ends up with the melody line on the synth for some reason it has me singing the French nursery rhyming song “Frere Jacques” and it really is quite a MAGICAL! album track.

Track 8. Mr Penning Standing Blue.

Time to simmer things back down a bit with another delightful acoustic folk track and it’s perhaps not a surprise to see old Les’s name in the title with the amount of work both he and Reed have done together over the past few years. Once again the arrangement is quite stellar and the instruments come out of the woodwork with how it all so well builds up. Donockley’s uilleann pipes are once again put to good use and Tom Newman’s Sleigh Bells even nicely jingle their way in here too.

Reed hired a boat to make the promotional video has you can see above and this is the sort of tune that would perhaps also be suited for a television series sort of thing. Certainly, a lot more went into the piece than the afternoon tea and scones and it’s another GREAT! piece of work and album track.

Track 9. A Sign Of Sendlinger.

The word “Sendlinger” is more associated with Germany and perhaps the city of Munich, in particular, where back in the early 14th Century a wall with four town gates was built, of which Sendlinger Tor was one. The Sendlinger Tor was first mentioned as a starting point for the road to Italy but probably existed earlier. However, in Mr Penning’s fantasy world “Sendlinger” is referred to as an invisible girl and this is another of the really short songs that features the golden voice of Angharad Brinn who gets to sing a few more words and is wonderfully acoustically accompanied by Reed’s acoustic guitar and a touch of Penning on flute.

Track 10. A Dream Of Home.

It’s time to get the vibes out with the marimba and vibraphone and this SPLENDID! piece is very much like a cross between Oldfield’s 3rd and 4th studio albums Ommadawn and Incantations. Besides the vibes, Reed also contributes some fine bass and electric guitar and most likely percussion to accompany the GREAT! job Simon Phillips is doing on the drums. Steve Bingham’s violin, Penning’s flute and the voices of Synergy also work very well and this is a piece that nicely builds itself away along to the final climax.

Track 11. Arcadia In Ruins.

The second-longest track on the album and this is another of my highlights on the album as I mentioned earlier. In Greek mythology, Arcadia was the home of the god Pan and is part of the administrative region of Peloponnese in the southern region of Greece. Although in this story it’s in a valley of dreams and even though it’s the perfect home it’s in ruins so to speak.

The music is constructed around an acoustic guitar riff that is sort of verging on some of the acoustic work that Oldfield did on his 1990 album Amarok which is one of my personal favourite albums of his. I also think that album contains some of Oldfield’s best guitar work as well and would love him to do a 5.1 mix of the album. Amarok is also what I consider to be his most sophisticated album and it’s very complex.

Even though I mentioned the guitar is sort of verging on a guitar riff from Amarok I would not associate anything you hear here from that album and if there are any Oldfield influences here they are from the same two albums of the previous track Ommadawn and Incantations especially with how it all builds up.

Reed really throws everything into this track including a Melodica to which he might have caught onto with Pete Jones utilising it quite a lot on his Tiger Moth Tales project. His guitar work is once again exceptional and spot-on to Oldfield’s. Simon Phillips, Les Penning and Synergy are also doing the bizzo and Steve Bingham’s violin might be one of the key factors that make this album sound so different. It even gives it more of a folk presence than Oldfield ever did.

It’s quite a MAGICAL! way to end off the album and will leave you wanting more and the good thing is that more is to come with The Ringmaster Part Two. There is also a bit more with the bonus CD so let’s now take a look at that.

The Bonus CD.

The bonus CD contains 4 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 53 minutes, 36 seconds. It’s also worth noting that it is also available to purchase separately in the form of a Digital Download on Bandcamp for £3. Although there are 4 tracks here only 2 of them are new and different in relation to the material that’s on the first CD. They are also short like many of the tracks contained in The Ringmaster (Part One) and I am beginning to wonder if both of these tracks will make up part of The Ringmaster (Part Two) or if they are just extra pieces that were written at the same time and left off the album.

The bonus disc opens up with the shorter of the two pieces entitled “Glamarocko” which the title alone might suggest something along the lines of T-Rex, Gary Glitter and other Glamrockers from the 70’s. To be honest this track is certainly rock driven and the way it opens up does not even have me thinking of Oldfield until it progresses along and all the other instrumentation comes out of the woodwork.

The second track “Glencoe” has more of a Scottish or Celtic ring about its title and although it starts off acoustically it also does become more rock-driven as it progresses along. Both of these tracks are OLDFIELD ESC! and are a bit more like the shorter material that Oldfield wrote for his 1980 album QE2.

The final two tracks on the bonus disc are Tom Newman’s mix of The Ringmaster and rather than use titles for each track like Reed did they have simply titled it The Ringmaster Part A & B. In the interview Reed does explain that whilst making the album he would send Newman all the stems for each track and let him do his own mix and quite often when he got the result back there was quite a difference with how he had placed the stems hence the different mix we have here of the album.

This particular mix is 24 seconds shorter than Reed’s mix although I am pretty sure nothing is missing here and the reason it is slightly shorter is really down to how Newman unlike Reed has tailspin most of the tracks to blend into one another without any pauses or gaps. You will find that he has also added in some of his own additions to blend some of the tracks into one another as well as mixing a couple of tracks around.

For example, Part A All the tracks run in the same order and what I often find with Newman’s mixes is that he tends to use a lot more reverb in relation to Reed and that would be perhaps the biggest differential differences regarding the first 4 tracks of the album. Part B however tells a slightly different story and although it starts off with “Storytown” instead of going into “The Gatekeeper” he’s mixed it into “Mr Penning Standing Blue” and some of his own additions of how he’s done things here are quite evident and stand out a lot more. For example, he’s added the sound of thunder and rain to blend it in and it works very well. You will also hear more of the shaker he played on the track.

Overall, I quite like Newman’s mix though I still prefer Reed’s own mix and that would be down to the way that Newman can at times go a bit too heavy on the reverb. It does give you an alternative way of hearing the album and it’s good that it is included and along with the other couple of bonus tracks I would say the Bonus CD is a fine addition to the package.

Summary & Conclusion…

To sum up The Ringmaster (Part One) by Robert Reed. BEAUTIFICATION! is the best way to describe this album and even though there are very few words to hold up the concept it is the music that carries the concept. One of the best musical concept albums that possesses this much beauty is Camel’s 1975 album The Snow Goose. It’s an album that is perhaps not as PROGMATIC! as their previous album Mirage or even the album that came after it Moonmadness. However, in terms of the concept behind it, it has the strength to hold itself up as well as any concept album with words.

What makes The Snow Goose so special is really how the orchestration and vibes drive it along even though more of its power is driven by the guitars and synths. Vibes and orchestral percussion have always been key elements of how Mike Oldfield makes up his music and they have always played an integral role in the way his music is structured.

The Ringmaster is an album that does not need Reed to rework existing Oldfield melody lines like he has done in the past, simply because he is still using some of the key elements of the instrumentation Oldfield used to make his music up with in the first place. This is why this album sounds more like an Oldfield album more so than his own.

Though I will stress that this album is also more of Reed’s own melody lines than any other previous album in the Sanctuary series of his and because it is more adventurous I often think of it as Reed’s own Amarok even though it’s nothing like that album in terms of its structure. Though I have always seen that as Oldfield’s most adventurous album which is my reason for thinking that.

Although being as this is a double album I could also see it as his own Incantations and there are several parts dotted around this album that can be quite reminiscent of it. Though in terms of how he’s structured the music you could even say it was inspired by many of Oldfield’s shorter pieces that he put out as singles or on albums like QE2 for example. Whatever it is, I certainly think this is the best album he has done so far and knowing Reed’s consistency I would also expect The Ringmaster (Part Two) to follow suit so to speak.

In conclusion, there is no doubt in my mind that Reed has come up with yet another MASTERPIECE! and done it a different way by combining more English Folk and Celtic genres into the melting pot along with STELLER! arrangments and excellent musicianship from everybody who played their parts. The production and sound quality are TOP NOTCH! and he may very well have succeeded in making one of the best 5.1 mixes on this planet because this is an album I can play to death and get so much out of it every time I do so. If this is what “Reedaphonic Sound” sounds like I certainly want more and I cannot wait for the next part to come out in the New Year.

Back in 2014 when Reed released Sanctuary. It was my personal prog album of the year. What we have here is only one part of The Ringmaster and I very much would choose this as my prog album of this year and there is a good chance that part two might even be the prog album of next year.

This album is as good as anything Mike Oldfield has done himself. It’s far from plagiarism and is the work of a pure GENIUS! and one who has GREAT! passion and love for Oldfield’s works. For surround FREAKS! this is a must and is pure SURROUND HEAVEN! It’s very much an album that has brought nothing but tears of joy at the most heartbreaking situation I have ever had to encounter in my life.

It’s very hard for me to focus on anything right now even music as my wife and soul partner with whom I have lived with for the past 42 years is lying on her death bed and only a stone’s throw away from leaving this world. Yet the BEAUTIFICATION! that is contained within this album makes you think of all the joyful things about life and not all the hurt and pain that it can throw at us from time to time.

The Ringmaster (Part One) is excellent value for the buck and comes with a very respective price point that will not break your pocket. The bonus disc is also very good and I highly recommend it. You can find out more details of Rob Reed’s music and much more at his own web store below.

https://www.tigermothshop.co.uk/store/

BEAUTIFICATION! Beholds The Listener…

The CD Tracklisting is as follows:

CD 1 (Main Album).
01. The Farewell. 2:45.
02. The First Guardian Of Everywhere. 13:37.
03. The Defeated Army. 4:34.
04. A Touch Of The Song. 1:17.
05. Storytown. 3:05.
06. The Gatekeeper. 2:10.
07. The First Large Water. 4:09.
08. Mr Penning Standing Blue. 3:10.
09. A Sign Of Sendlinger. 1:43.
10. A Dream Of Home. 4:09.
11. Arcadia In Ruins. 6:56.

CD 2 (Bonus Disc).
01. Glamarocko. 2:23.
02. Glencoe. 4:02.
03. The Ringmaster Part One A (Tom Newman Mix). 20:48.
04. The Ringmaster Part One B (Tom Newman Mix). 26:23.

The Packaging Rating Score. 10/10.
The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.
The Stereo Mix Rating Score. 10/10.
The 5.1 Mix Rating Score. 10/10.
The Bonus Material Rating Score. 8/10.
The Album Rating Score. 10/10.

2 thoughts on “Lee Speaks About Music… #197

  1. As usual I have listened to the Youtube-examples and I think you have named the right references like Oldfield and maybe early Fleetwood Mac. I also hear a lot of Folk inside this music and it’s specific English or Scottish for my ears. On Reed’s band camp-profile you can see, that around 200 people have bought this album so far, which is quite impressive. And maybe he is even selling more from his website. But nevertheless I wonder how much money and effort he can put into his projects. I doubt, that there is a major record company behind him and a professionally made video alone like the one with him and the two knights, which is filmed as good as any Hollywood-production, will cost a shock full of money. Because I don’t know Rob Reed that well I can not judge how famous he is, but if he gets Simon Philips to play drums on his record he must be a good friend of him, or he is able to hire him. I follow the YT-account of Marco Minnemann (I am sure you know him) and he does a lot of session work for (for me) unknown progressive rock artists. Maybe the rates of these famous musicians are not as high as I think? Regarding the 5.1. mix you say, that only a few engineers worldwide are able to do this and that many do it wrong. You know I don’t know much about 5.1. mixing, but I remember an article in a serious recording-magazine and they stated, that a 5.1.-mix would be easier than a stereo-mix, because you can spread the signals across a wider field and in this way you can avoid many of the typical frequency-clashes, which appear in a normal stereo-mix. Of course you must decide, what you place on the rear-monitors, and you have to make good use of it to make it interesting, but as a newbie it sounds not that hard to me. I would suggest, that the low quality of many 5.1. mixes in commercial productions is not caused by limited skills of the mixing-engineer. I would suggest, that the companies are cutting costs and don’t allow the engineer to mix it properly for 5.1. in favor of automated upscaling and sloppy and fast works.

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  2. Regarding Reed’s popularity, he does not do too bad and Magenta have quite a good following. He runs his own record company and a subdivision of it and I am sure he has a partnership in both Tigermoth Records and White Knight Records and other bands also use his label.

    Regarding Simon Phillips, he was just as surprised as you are that he managed to get hold of him to play the drums on his albums. His love for Mike Oldfield goes back a long, long way and he used to be heavily involved in an Oldfield club that was originally set up by Oldfield. It was a club that invited many musicians to play his music and I think a lot of his reputation regarding that side of things was passed on by word of mouth. So it’s not surprising that people like Tom Newman, Les Penning and Simon Phillips who have all been involved with Oldfield would want to do something on his Sanctuary project. He does pay them and even though Phillips plays on his albums they have never actually met face to face.

    I think your observation regarding 5.1 is far from the case. There are thousands of well-known engineers who have mixed in stereo and Quad who are capable of doing one hell of a job and I know hundreds of them who have tried their hand at doing 5.1 mixes and they failed miserably.

    The thing is with a 5.1 mix you cannot go over the rails and have to cater for the original; stereo mix which is what governs what an album should sound like. If you start to remove too much from the original stereo field to place into other speakers you will wind up losing the sound of the original mix that people are accustomed to in the first place and take it from me not many people would not live with that and would prefer the original stereo mix. It’s a different ball game where obviously some reflections have to be used but not done over the top.

    The element of a good 5.1 mix is what I would call the element of surprise especially if you take one single instrument and place it one of the rear speakers like a sax for example. By separating it from the original stereo field it gives more focus to that particular instrument and it will even make you say WOW! with how well it stands out and how good you can hear the resonance of it. This is why you need to pay particular attention to what sounds good separated from the rest and works and what does not.

    You simply cannot place anything there and get that effect you need to be articulate in how you approach the mix. It’s not like mixing stereo in the front and rears. If you take too much from the stereo field you will cause a gap just like you would if you moved the speakers on your stereo set up too far apart. Whatever magazine said that that a 5.1 mix would be easier than a stereo-mix? I would say were off their head 😊😊😊.

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