This album is as surprising as it is short. It signaled a brief return to progressive rock form for Tom Newman. Allegedly started in the late '80s, but released only in 1997, The Hound of Ulster is a half-hour suite of instrumental music drawing inspiration from Celtic myths. Certain flute and guitar melodies evoke something medieval, but only fleetingly, and their simplicity offers a nice contrast to the dense arrangements and the occasionally daring guitar solos. Yes, behind those harmless tunes hide surprising harmonic progressions, plus themes and solos that would fit somewhere between Mike Oldfield and Fred Frith, especially in "The Sojourn to the Dun of Culann the Smith," the pièce de résistance of the album at close to seven minutes. After the first three pieces, which account for half of the album, the mood shifts from the intense to the pastoral with sections like "Erin," "The Field of Muirthemne," and "The Eejit," which are closer to new age than prog (Gandalf comes to mind). But taken as a whole, the album strikes a nice balance. This being a producer's album, the production adds value to the material, but some bad choices in rapidly aging keyboard sounds lessen its impact. Newman handles all instruments; Claire Hammill provided multi-tracked vocals for "The Tain." People who have been disappointed by Newman's output as a composer since his mid-'70s Faerie Symphony should give this one a fair try.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture