As a music journalist of years gone by I couldn't resist a cheeky album review of Thomas's new release "Beneath The Weissenborn". So these are my own personal thoughts and opinions. Be assured they are biased and they do come from a weissenborn players prospective but hey that's a given is it not? Thomas Oliver - "Beneath The Weissenborn "History in the making the worlds first ALL weissenborn instrumental album. Take that sentence in for a minute and ponder.....seems strange that this wonderful instrument with nearly 100 years provenance is only now enjoying such singular attention. For decades deemed only a backing Instrument it has been overshadowed by its younger cousin the resonator and left to fall into the abiss where only a handful of exponents have championed it's cause seemingly in vain over the pursuing years. Players like David Linley, Ben Harper, Ed Gerhard have given us glimpses at this instruments amazing potential but until now even those great musicians have fallen short of given it their undivided attention in the recording studio. Well that's where the youthful Thomas Oliver picks up the baton and has made that leap of faith to record the worlds first all weissenborn album. All this from a musician whom himself is better know for his rock band 'The Thomas Oliver Band' and ever increasing drum and bass musical excursions. It is however his prowess on the weissenborn that has captured most plaudits and hits on YouTube alike.
Fast approaching a combined quarter of a million views the attraction of the weissenborn is slowly dragging itself out of obscurity and hitting a wider demographic which in turn will produce more people turning to this amazing instrument. Thomas can be proud to take a big proportion of the credit for that new found attention and this album will only accelerate that process.The album is basically split into two non sequential halves. The first metaphorically consists of the tracks already aired on YouTube for sometime now. These include the YouTube sensations "The Moment" and newer epic "Jurassic Park Theme" which between them alone account for nearly 200,000 hits! The other three familiar tracks will be "Oxy", "These Streets Were Clean" and "Belfast" the later appearing as a bonus track. Its a given that these tracks are of the highest order and so I will move on and focus primarily on the newer material.So its the other half of this album which holds specific interest for all us weissenborn/Oliver fans, the new material. Well to these ears it is definitely sailing more ambient waters, and that is where the weissenborn really shines and will appeal to a younger generation. The use of feature effects such as reverse delay, drones, loops, volume swells, modulated reverbs, sound samples and echoes has been cleverly done, executed with a soft thoughtful hand. The overall 21st century technology treatment is essential in my opinion in making this instrument feel more current and less dated than a more traditional recording approach. The approach is indeed very noticeable in contrast to the clean, traditional edge of the older tracks which are for want of a better phrase "pure" in their methodical approach and execution. On a personal level I applaud this treatment and hope to hear it further expanded in future releases.
New tracks like the Pink Floyd cover "Coming Back To Life" for instance are may I say (without causing any discredited or offence), simpler. They have a loser languid feel, they ebb and flow and have a spatial ambient feel to them. They are allowed to breathe and offer the listener time to relax before the concentrated technical complexities of tracks like the stunning "Jurassic Park Theme". We'd already had a sneak preview of "Born" via the spectacular YouTube animated video, and this instrumental shines even brighter when watched and listened together. It has an ethereal, enchanted aura that to these ears ends far too soon (only 1:30) and I wish it had been further developed into a full blown feature track, gorgeous simply gorgeous! This leads straight into the second track "There May Be Hope Yet" full of rich sustaining sparsely strummed chords and sweet plucked harmonics it's builds up into a multilayered crescendo of weissenborn ear candy. Next up the are the two old friends "These Street Were Clean" & "The Moment" I thought Thomas might have rerecorded or remixed them them up slightly to give them a new lick of paint so to speak. They still sound fresh don't get me wrong, just a missed opportunity in my mind for us loyal fans to have heard a different version from the YouTube recordings. Possibly my favourite tune on the whole album is the cover "Coming Back To Life" very chilled out and spacious and about as close as it gets to the soaring lead guitar solo you'd expect from a massive power ballad intro being played by a your favourite guitar hero in the biggest arena you could imagine! Just as this masterpiece is coming back to earth it gently leads into "Oxy" another firm favourite amongst us longer term Oliver fans and one which I know know was written when Thomas was legally high on prescribed pain killers lol. "Land Of The White Cloud" is a new piece that once again ends far too soon for my liking acting almost as an extended intro for the epic "Jurassic Park Theme". Speaking of which this track is a masterpiece of truly epic proportions. To take an renowned orchestral theme known the world over with it hundreds of individual instruments and then to break it down to one lonely weissenborn WITHOUT! Losing any impact is simply amazing. Thomas will have to do something extraordinary to eclipse this piece of music from being his legacy tune. With real musical box sound effects and eerie back plucking behind the bar techniques "Let It Not Be Lost" lyrically i think is referring to our lost childhood, innocence, our sense of adventure and exploration. It's got a real Peter Pan feel to it with a beautiful returning melody that weaves it's through the whole piece like the afore mentioned fictional children's chapter flying and swooping across the musical soundscape in a playful yet very graceful style. "Belfast" is the bonus track. I can understand why this is a bonus track as I think it's plain to hear it doesn't fit the feel of the rest of the album. With its multi layered choral vocal effects it's very reflective, haunting and somber. I know this piece was written as a leaving present for a group of friends after his university days has come to an end and his roommates were going their separate ways into the big wide world.
And so that's it sadly, was it worth the wait? Hell yeah, was it up to the hype? Definitely will I still be playing it in 10 years time? The forecast is good Joking aside I don't know if this album is going to change much in the great scheme of things but what I am sure of is that it will inspire many young budding musicians out there to perhaps experiment with Weissenborns who wouldn't have normally. This in turn will collectively push this Instruments resurgence ever onwards and upwards. For now though us weissenborn fans in the 'here and now' can indulge ourselves in a feast of world class weissenborn music the like of which hasn't been (and won't be seen again) for years to come. Congratulations Thomas you did us all proud
Thomas Oliver - "Beneath The Weissenborn"
Review By Aron Radford
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