Bo Hansson — Ur Trollkarlens Hatt (Magician's Hat) (1972)
Bo HANSSON is famous for his 1972 concept album "Lord of the Rings" which came out decades before Hollywood ever made any noise about Tolkien's trilogy. The music was taped on a remote island off Stockholm, on an 8-track recorder, in a summer house studio with the help of a few friends and musicians. It received Gold Record awards in England and Australia. Licenced by Tony Stratton-Smith's Charisma label in England and America, it was also the subject of an extensive TV ad campaign that turned it into a hit in progressive rock circles at the time.
"Lord of the Rings" is a beautiful, timeless album of instrumental psychedelia worth hearing, even if it does sound rather 70ish production-wise. It doesn't feature any "fantasy/medieval" themes à la AYREON but captures the otherworldly, pastoral feel of Tolkien's work, like a Nordic album should. HANSSON later pursued with the more jazzy album "Magician's Hat" in '73 and, then with a second winner in '75 entitled "Attic Thoughts", which features a much better sound than the "Lord" album. This time, violin and acoustic guitars are added to the mix while organs and synths swell in impressive solos. "Music Inspired by Watership Down" (1977), however, was quite a disappointment and signalled HANSSON's decline. He finally released "Mitt I Livet" in 1985 but the flame had already died long ago. Having turned 60 in April 2003, he is now rumoured to be incapacitated by illness and has ceased recording.
Both "Lord of the Rings" and "Attic Thoughts" are a must for any collector of early Swedish prog, even if you still can't tell Gandalf from Frodo.
The Snow Goose is an all instrumental release that is written around Paul Gallico's short story of the same name. To many, this was Camel's finest moment on record and I would be hard pressed to disagree. The music is superb, and it follows the mood of the book's sections well. The story is of Phillip Rhayader, a man who isolates himself due to his disfigurement (hunchback). His love of nature and his disfigurement leads him to live in a lighthouse in the great marsh isolated from society. He is a painter, and also constructs a bird sanctuary where he takes care of sick and injured animals. A little girl named Fritha brings to him an injured Canadian Snow Goose, which they both nurse back to health. They form a bond, and the girl returns to see Rhayader and the Snow Goose which they name La Princess Perdue (Lost Princess). Fritha only returns when The Snow Goose returns for winter. Rhayader feels lonliness and isolation which is well relayed in the music. Eventually, Rhayader goes off to help stranded British soldiers and The Snow Goose follows overhead; he rescues many soldiers at Dunkirk but is ultimately killed on one of his rescue missions. Stories are told of the bird that flew with him, and how it protected his dead body from any approaching ship. Fritha had stayed at the lighthouse to care for the sanctuary while Rhayader was gone, and The Snow Goose returned to signal to here Rhayader had passed. The lighthouse was destroyed by a German plane and the birds would never return. My favorite pieces are "Rhayader Goes to Town", the acoustic guitar and lead in "Sanctuary", "Friendship" which has an oboe and woodwinds that are very good, and the visual you get during "Migration" with the music driving, picturing the birds leaving for summer only to return again the following fall. Most of the pieces are short ranging from 1 to 5 minutes in length, which keeps the entire disc fresh. The disc seems much shorter than its 43 minutes and I find myself wanting to hear more. I highly recommend this disc; it is one of my all time favorites, and if you can find the book, it is only 58 pages which makes it an easy read along with the CD. Get this one!