Björn Johansson / Pär Lindh

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Bilbo Review

by François Couture

This collaboration between keyboardist/drummer Pär Lindh and guitarist Björn Johansson predates by a few years the renewed interest in J.R.R. Tolkien's books triggered by the motion picture trilogy The Lord of the Rings. In 1996, Bilbo the Hobbit was still exclusive territory for fans of fantasy fiction and Bilbo (the album) is therefore a symphonic prog rock affair in the purest tradition. Loosely based around the narrative development of Tolkien's story, the album consists mostly of instrumental tunes performed on an assortment of vintage keyboards and guitars, plus drums, zither, bassoon, and a bunch of sound effects and nature samples. Singer Magdalena Hagberg (of the Pär Lindh Project) adds her classically trained voice to four songs. The album opens on pastoral landscapes. Flute, oboe (by guest Anna Schmidtz), harpsichord, and acoustic guitar form the backbone of the music early on, giving it a light medieval flavor that hints at the music of Gryphon or the softer side of Gentle Giant. Heavier keyboards (Hammond organ, clavinet), electric guitars, and drum tracks gradually appear to push the intensity a few notches. By the "Mirkwood" suite, listeners are in pompous prog rock territory and remain there until the end of "The Battle of the Five Armies." The last three pieces return to more modest arrangements and a Baroque feel. Bilbo never turns into a virtuosity showcase; the writing is tight and prevails throughout, although the structure of "Mirkwood" is a bit clumsy. Despite its occasional flares of grandeur and a somewhat predictable treatment, it is a well-controlled album, elegantly produced and pleasant to listen to.

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