The Ringmaster (Part Two) – Robert Reed
The Ringmaster (Part Two) by Robert Reed is finally here and having already reviewed and listened many, many times to The Ringmaster (Part One) since last November I was eagerly awaiting to get my hands and ears on the second instalment. The first chapter or part of this MAGNIFICENT! album I was well impressed with and sonically Reed’s new “Reedaphonic Sound” with the 5.1 mix blew me away. The album left me with no other alternative but to make it my personal progrock album of the year and you can check out my review of this well and truly GREAT! album here: https://leespeaksoutaboutmusic.wordpress.com/2021/11/20/lee-speaks-about-music-197/
The Ringmaster continues the Sanctuary series which has very much been the strongest output from Reed’s solo career in which he visualises and puts his own stamp on the music of Mike Oldfield from many moons ago. Reed’s love of Oldfield’s music has been instilled into him as a child growing up with it and it very much reflects in the way he has crafted out the music for all 4 Sanctuary albums.
To be honest, even though part two of the Ringmaster could be seen as the 5th album in the Sanctuary series I see it more as a double album and have always counted them as a single album in my record collection. I see The Ringmaster as Sanctuary 4 even though it comes in two parts and that’s how I will always see it and refer to it for the purpose of my review.
Packaging & Artwork…
Just like The Ringmaster (Part One) the second part also comes with 3 Discs and are packaged very much the same way in a 3-panel cardboard Digisleeve with die-cut pockets to house the discs. Even if you opted to buy one of the more expensive packages where parts one and two had been bundled together they would still have been packaged the same way and came in a steel tin like Reed did with the Deluxe Edition of Tubular World’s Tubular Bells/From The Manor Born.
It does not come with any informative information and all the linear production notes and credits are printed on the inside of the Digisleeve alongside the completion 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 couple of days before its release. With the postage, it cost £16.99 which is a very respectable price for a package that comes with 2 CD’s and a DVD with a 5.1 mix.
With the second part of The Ringmaster, you can very much see from the example below that Anna Repp has continued along with the same theme with her artwork adding some slight variations for it all to match up with the first part.
It very much reflects upon Les Penning’s story of the travelling minstrel and all that bestows him on his enchanting journey and is well apt to it all and she really has done a FABULOUS! job of it all.
The Album In Review…
The Ringmaster (Part Two) by Robert Reed was officially released on the 4th of February 2022. The album contains 12 tracks and comes with an overall playing time of 47 minutes, 41 seconds and just like part one, it’s mainly built up with short tracks and also contains a couple of lengthier tracks. Once again he has the same musicians alongside him and was recorded at Reed’s home BIG Studios in South Wales apart from Simon Phillips drums which he recorded in his home Phantom Recording Studio in the USA.
One of the more recent things Reed has been doing lately is promoting a couple of albums that are due to be released on his sister record label White Knight Records that he set up way back with Will Mackie. It’s very much a record label that allows other PROGMATIC! bands and artists to tie their music with a label and they have quite a few on the label now along with growing new bands and artists.
The Way Back Home by Kite Parade is one of the newcomers to the label and is the brainchild of Andy Foster who like many multi-instrumentalists are one-man projects who like to associate a band name to them. The album also features guest appearances from the former Spock’s Beard drummer Nick D’Virgilio who now plays for Big Train and Joe Crabtree who is the present drummer to be playing with Wishbone Ash.
Likewise, the other album is also a one-man project by another talented multi-instrumentalist and one that I very much follow and it’s the latest album by Pete Jones of Tigermoth Tales entitled A Song Of Spring. This will most likely be the next album I shall review.
Due to catching the coronavirus at the end of last year, it prevented Reed from putting on a live show to promote his other project Cyan. However, it appears that the band will now be able to finally get out there as you can see by the event that is scheduled to go ahead towards the end of April this year.
As you can see they have an all-day event featuring many bands and even though the Robin 2 in Bilston, Wolverhampton is one of my regular jaunts to go and see live music. It’s unfortunate that it’s taking place on a Sunday otherwise I would have most likely have gone.
My only means of getting to the venue is via public transport by bus and a tram service that runs from the Birmingham city centre to Bilston. The good thing is that the bus runs an all-night service from my home which is some 23 miles away but unfortunately, the trams from Bilston to Birmingham do not operate that late on Sundays which would mean I would have to leave the venue before the concert finished to get home.
As with most of Reed’s albums, they are quite often bundled with either a bonus CD or DVD or as in this case both and they do offer excellent value for the buck. Being a surround FREAK! one of my main reasons for still buying music today is for multichannel recordings and when they come as good as this that means more to me than whatever extra bonus material you will find on the extra CD and DVD. So let’s now take a look at the extras that come bundled in the package starting with the Bonus CD.
The Bonus CD.
The bonus disc comes with 5 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 62 minutes, 58 seconds. As with The Ringmaster (Part One), the bonus disc is also available to purchase in the format of a Digital Download from Reed’s Bandcamp site for £3. One of the major reasons as to why the bonus disc is so long is that it also contains Tom Newman’s mix of the complete album that is contained on the first CD.
When it comes to extra bonus content my only real interest in the biggest majority of it is in new material that perhaps never made it onto the album and that is one of the things I particularly liked about the couple of bonus tracks that came on the bonus disc of The Ringmaster (Part One). Remixes have never really been my bag or cup of tea and I used to hate it when many artists would put out a CD single and it contained the original song plus three or four different mixes of the thing.
Honestly, those things were a complete waste of money and it was like spending more money just for one song. You got far more value with a vinyl single before the birth of a CD and at least you got a B’ Side with a different song on and quite often the B’ Side was just as good as the A’ Side.
The first couple of tracks on the bonus disc are remixes done by Reed and the first of those “Swan Feathered Girl” I could perhaps take with a pinch of salt. I still prefer the original in relation to it though it does offer you perhaps an alternative or modern twist way of listening to it like most remixes do though it does not light my fire or give me something to really talk about so to speak.
The second track “The Ringmaster (Orchestral)” is quite different and gives me plenty to talk about and is my favourite of all 5 tracks you get here. To be perfectly honest it’s quite unusual for me to like orchestral music but listening to this gives me more insight into how Reed is influenced and developed his music around themes from certain Oldfield albums.
For example apart from The Killing Fields which was more or less a complete orchestral work from Oldfield. There are two other albums of his that do sound more orchestrated in the way they are presented in relation to many of his other albums. Those are Hergest Ridge and Incantations.
In my review of The Ringmaster (Part One) I even noted that there were several parts dotted around the album that was quite reminiscent of Incantations, although there are several of Oldfield’s albums that can fly out of the woodwork in both parts of The Ringmaster. However, there is also quite a strong presence from Hergest Ridge I am hearing in The Ringmaster (Part Two) and listening to this 7-minute orchestral piece that combines the two parts together those two albums do jump out at me the most with the enchanting vocals and horn section.
I must admit the piece sounds quite GRANDEUR! and no doubt Reed has done the biggest majority of it on his keyboards with the use of soft synth orchestral sounds and they really have come on a long way in the development of orchestral sounds.
The third track “Nairn’s Jig” is the sort of thing I look for on a bonus disc because it is new material and it’s not a bad piece at all. Though I would not exactly say it was a jig or a reel for that matter that is perhaps more associated with traditional folk music. It does however have a jiggy feel about it as in “let’s get jiggy with it” sort of thing and uses the same sort of upbeat you would find on Oldfield’s Platinum album. I would even go as far as to say that it’s almost verging on the reggae side of things with its rhythmic approach as well.
The last couple of lengthy tracks are Newman’s mixes of The Ringmaster (Part Two) and unless I am mistaken I also think he used some of the stems from The Ringmaster (Part One) to make up what appears to be some sort of mishmash of the album. This is completely different to what he did with (Part One) where he did place a couple of the tracks in different places, only here it’s as if he’s taken stems from various parts of one and two and had his own field day with them sort of thing.
The one thing that was more notable about this mix for my ears is that he has used less reverb and I am wondering if he actually read my review of The Ringmaster (Part One) to prompt him to do that because reverb is one of the more common factors I have noted in his mixes.
I am going to be perfectly honest becuase I have not gave this mix the same attention that I gave to the mix he did on the previous album and only played it once. So I could be very much mistaken in my presumtion of him doing a mishmash sort of thing. But the one thing that does stick out to me like a sore thumb is that this mix does not give a true representation of the The Ringmaster (Part Two) and sounds completely different in many repects and it’s not really to my liking.
Although I can see that old Tom had quite a bit of fun doing it and fair play to him. I will have to give it another spin or two later on and see if it starts to speak to me a bit more and that could be the case because you can never really judge any mix on a single spin alone. Now let’s take a look at the blu ray that comes with the package.
The Blu Ray.
Apart from the tracklisting the DVD’s main menu is identical to The Ringmaster (Part One) and 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 album’s 12 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 13 – 15 is the bonus content and the first couple of tracks “Swan Feathered Girl” and “Sendlinger’s Song” are the promotional videos that Reed has also uploaded to his own Tube channel. You do get a total of 26 minutes with the bonus content and the biggest majority of it is taken up by the Simon Phillips drum session which has been allocated 16 minutes, 31 seconds of the extra content you get here.
This drum session features Phillips playing parts from both parts of The Ringmaster and I am pretty sure the biggest majority of this session was not uploaded on Reed’s Youtube channel. As always all of the bonus content is in stereo only and overall it’s quite good extra content to have.
As I mentioned in my review of The Ringmaster (Part One) I was well impressed with that 5.1 mix. Rob Reed had certainly upped his game working in the surround field and he must have known as he was now calling it “Reedaphonic Sound”. The same outstanding job continues on this release and the surround mix easily merits a 10 out of 10 and sounds AMAZING!
Musicians & Credits…
Produced by Tom Newman & Robert Reed. Written, Performed & Mixed by Robert Reed. Concept Story by Les Penning. Recorded between July 2020 – January 2022 @ 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.
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…
Although The Ringmaster was recorded in two parts and not put out like a double album, there is no doubt the material that was written for both parts was intended as a double album. For example, part two of The Ringmaster contains reoccurring themes from the first part. One of the other things you will also notice is that a couple of the titles of a couple of the tracks from part one also get revisited here.
Oddly enough even though part two has one extra track. I’m not really sure it does (or should have had) and that track almost never made it on the 5.1 mix at all. So let’s now delve into the album’s tracks and take a closer look at them.
Track 1. Song Of Healing Light.
The album opens up with its longest track which is a good 4-minutes shorter than “The First Guardian Of Everywhere” which was the longest track on The Ringmaster (Part One). I do find the longer tracks on both parts of The Ringmaster have a lot more scope and time to go off in other directions which is what I personally love about PROGMATIC! music. They are also my favourite tracks on the album for that very reason although that’s not to say that all lengthy tracks are more PROG! and some artists such as Neal Morse for example does have the ability to cram just as much diversity and information into a 4-minute song than what you will find in some epic 20-minute pieces.
There is most certainly plenty of diversity and progression here over the 9 minutes, 29 seconds you get though I will say in relation to how well “The First Guardian Of Everywhere” was perfectly stitched together it is my favourite track over the two parts. The “Song Of Healing Light” is perhaps constructed out of 4 or 5 pieces that have been nicely stitched or woven together and although the first couple of parts is structured around the acoustic piano I would say that both this and “The First Guardian Of Everywhere” have been given the same amount of acoustic and electric presence to a degree with how everything has been constructed.
The opening section features a short narration by Les Penning and reoccurring chants from Synergy from part one to perhaps refresh your mind that this is a double album and one that continues to flow in the same way. I have to admit it does it very well too. The second and final sections have me thinking of Oldfield’s Hergest Ridge and I do feel that most of this piece as a whole has more of that influence perhaps.
The third section also features the reoccurring theme with its vocoder “cookie Jar” sort of vocals and it has an interesting little short section that puts me in mind of the second part of Amarok with the percussion, and although Margret Thatcher’s voice is not here the percussive fireworks sound does a fine job along with the running percussion that plays the same beat.
The same musicians are all present again and Steve Bingham’s violin plays a lovely role whilst the drums of Simon Phillips provides the right energy to raise the game towards the end. There is not a dull moment here and everything keeps you alert and attentive throughout its entirety. It is, without doubt, one of my favourite tracks on part two but jointly merits my personal fave spot with the second longest track on part two.
Track 2. Swan Feathered Girl.
This next piece is one of the two singles that Reed put out to promote part two and I have to say that this particular piece is more uplifting and uptempo in relation to the couple of singles that were put out for part one. There is a bit more go in this and it’s perhaps more reminiscent of the later material that Oldfield himself put out from albums such as Discovery and Islands in the 80’s. Though I could even add the 1979 album Platinum to that list in some respects, especially with the synth sound from the keyboard and with the upbeat of the music we have wonderfully presented here.
What I like a lot about this track is Reed’s bass work and he really does have the touch and feel of a propper bass player with the lines he is playing. I am also quite fond of the mandolin and once again his work on that instrument also lends very well to the rest of the instrumentation and it was nice that he even threw in a bit of banjo.
Track 3. The Hat.
The second-longest track on the album is up next and this jointly merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! along with the opening track. The seven and half minutes you get here allows for the piece to develop into something else and I must admit it’s a bit like crossing the styles of Oldfield with the GREAT! western theme composer Ennio Morricone. The arrangement is quite STUNNING! even if the idea of crossing these two styles might very well appear to be quite odd. There is even a Gothic presence with the pipe organ that also might be quite odd. However, it all fits into place in quite a dynamic and harmonic way.
Once again the way the piece is built up and progresses along it really is to die for with how everything comes out of the woodwork so to speak. There is some delightful flute work and once again the bass and mandolin are utilised SUPERBLY! There is even a nice bit of nylon guitar that comes into play around the 4:55 – 5:15 mark. Listening to this in 5.1 is even more of a pleasure and is music to my ears.
Track 4. The Talking Ducks.
Reed really has gone to town on the arrangement of these tracks and even though this is a relatively short track over its three and half minutes there is bags of progression here along with the wonderful array of instrumentation. This could have easily been put out as another single from the album and it even has a bit of a reggae vibe thrown in to boot and features once again some excellent bass work for Phillps to play around with on the Drums.
Tracks 5 & 6. Sendlinger’s Song / Arthur.
The “Sendlinger’s Song” is an extended version of “A Sign Of Sendlinger” from The Ringmaster (Part One) and features the golden voice of Angharad Brinn accompanied by Reed’s piano this time instead of the acoustic guitar. It is perhaps more of a song here over its 3 minutes, 14 seconds in relation to the rather shorter version that was only 1 minute, 43 seconds on part one as you can see from the first video single that Reed put out to promote the album.
This video unlike the album also includes track 6 “Arthur” and to be honest I have no idea why he chose to give the ending a different title or even make it an extra track. To be perfectly honest I think Reed was confused himself with what “Arthur” actually was when he did the 5.1 mix because on the DVD the track is only 4 seconds long instead of the 1 minute, 37 seconds that has been allocated for it on the CD. The actual 4 seconds of it on the 5.1 mix is the bit that tailspins into the next track.
Track 7. Forever.
This is another piece that allows Penning to do a bit more narration and apart from the narration being different the music is almost the same, and what you have here musically is a snippet of the opening track on part one entitled “The Farewell” only with another title. It’s obviously been done like this to keep in line with part one and its reoccurring theme and was also used for the reoccurring theme of the opening track on part two with the vocal chants from Synergy. There is a slight variation in the arrangement at the end though.
Track 8. Dancing Master.
Once again Synergy is called into action for this next delightful piece that is something like an enchanting medieval piece of dance music. I am not really sure if the Dance Master was written as early as medieval times which was a dance manual containing the music and instructions for English country dances published by John Playford back in 1651. Although this delightful piece also gets REGGAEFIED! perhaps to bring it more up to modern times and once again all the musicians are firing on all cylinders here and it really is a beauty. Unlike some of the other little ditties scattered around the album you also get a good 4 plus minutes here too.
Track 9. Landmarks.
Like the previous track, “Landmarks” is another piece that has been allocated a good 4 minutes, 38 seconds and this is another GREAT! track that has bags of progression and diversity. It also has plenty of transitions throughout its build and towards the end touches on snippets of reoccurring ditties from part one. One of the other things I noted was that this is the only new track on part two to feature Troy Donockley’s Uilleann Pipes and they really do sound GORGEOUS! on the opening of this fine piece.
This is a piece where you can sort of get the feeling that everything is building up to the climax for the final few tracks with the power that’s been injected into it and there is plenty thrown into its pot so to speak. Despite all it’s MAJESTIC! power it also contains a lovely acoustic section between the 2:17 – 3:05 mark and at the very end to lead you into the next track.
Track 10. In Sight Of Home.
This next piece is quite racy and is driving its way home so to speak. The sound of the keyboard used on the intro puts me in mind of The Who and the vamping of the piano later on in the piece has me thinking of “Delilah” by Tom Jones for some reason. The whole piece is driven along by the vamping and the bass line whilst the drums are sort of a step behind it all. Both Karla Powell’s oboe and Steve Bingham’s violin also help to orchestrate its way along and are very well utilised.
Track 11. The Last Guardians Of Everywhere.
The final four tracks have all been very well woven together and tailspin into one another and this is perhaps the most reoccurring theme throughout the entire double album. Here you can see there is a slight change to its title and this is the last and not first as in my favourite track of the double album. This is a good 10 minutes shorter as well and this snippet works very well for the climax of the album.
Track 12. Song Of Waiting Dreams.
The final piece is very much the calm after the storm and sort of reminds me of how Mike Oldfield put an end to the first side of Tubular Bells with a lovely acoustic melodic piece played on a nylon-stringed guitar. Only here the acoustic guitar strings are made of steel and we have a few more bells and whistles so to speak. It really does end off the album quite BEAUTIFULLY! and it ends off what can only be described as a MASTERFUL! piece of work by Robert Reed.
Summary & Conclusion…
To sum up and conclude my review of The Ringmaster (Part Two) by Robert Reed. I would say that the second part of this MASTERPIECE! of work is on equal terms with the first part and will give you the same amount of enjoyment, pleasure and beauty. What you have here is 95 minutes, 16 seconds of sheer joy spread over its two parts and it certainly will not give you a problem listening to both parts in one sitting with how enjoyable it really is.
As double albums go this is up there with the very best in my book. Although it would obviously present some difficulty trying to squeeze this amount of time onto a double vinyl album and you certainly would have some deterioration by doing so due to its limitations with its restrictions.
I did mention in my review of part one how I saw that has the PROG! album of last year and that the second part just might be this year’s PROG! album of the year. Though I think it would be unfair to say that the second part is this year’s progrock album of the year simply because it belongs to one body of work and The Ringmaster is really Sanctuary 4, not Sanctuary 4 & 5 and that is how I see it.
I would say that both parts are Reed’s strongest output of his solo works although when it comes to all 4 Sanctuary albums I can take tremendous pleasure from them all. The beauty is that they all come with a 5.1 mix though I will say the new “Reedaphonic Sound” mixes on parts one and two of The Ringmaster are to die for and superior to the predecessors. They literally are Surround Heaven and a paradise for all surround FREAKS!
Overall The Ringmaster (Part Two) is the perfect partner for (Part One) and not only does the story fit but the music also works as a double concept album with its reoccurring themes. There is nothing remotely bad over the two parts and it scores exactly the same points across the board as part one even down to the extra bonus content that comes with the extra CD and DVD.
What Rob Reed has created here is a MAGNIFICENT! double album of sheer BEAUTY! and it gets my 100% recommendation and I highly recommend it for all lovers of Mike Oldfield and PROG! alike. The Ringmaster (Parts One & Two) is available from the following link https://www.tigermothshop.co.uk/store/The-Ringmaster-c119027017 and all good record stores including Bandcamp.
BEAUTIFICATION! Continues To Behold The Listener…
The CD Tracklisting is as follows:
CD 1 (Main Album).
01. Song Of Healing Light. 9:29.
02. Swan Feathered Girl. 3:59.
03. The Hat. 7:30.
04. The Talking Ducks. 3:32.
05. Sendlinger’s Song. 3:14.
06. Arthur. 1:37.
07. Forever. 1:41.
08. Dancing Master. 4:26.
09. Landmarks. 4:38.
10. In Sight Of Home. 3:19.
11. The Last Guardians Of Everywhere. 1:32.
12. Song Of Waiting Dreams. 2:44.
CD 2 (Bonus Disc).
01. Swan Feathered Girl (Remix). 5:26.
02. The Ringmaster (Orchestral). 7:18.
03. Nairn’s Jig. 3:13.
04. The Ringmaster Part Two A (Tom Newman Mix). 24:27.
05. The Ringmaster Part Two B (Tom Newman Mix). 22:34.