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The Starlit Jewel

JUST REPRINTED - Now available!

In 1996, the Bay Area's own Avalon Rising, a Mediaeval-Celtic fusion ensemble, produced The Starlit Jewel, a limited edition audio tape of the late Marion Zimmer Bradley's seven song "Rivendell Suite," plus nearly as many original compositions inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth poetry. The hope of the group, fronted by singer-songwriters Margaret Davis and Kristoph Klover, was to one day release this recording on compact disc. That day has arrived.

While the lineup of songs is the same, musically and personnel-wise much has changed. Brocelïande is the group's new name. Besides Davis and Klover, members now include Karl Franzen and Kris Yenney, and guest musicians include former members of Avalon Rising. As for the music, five of the songs have been re-recorded from scratch, another sports a freshly-minted lead vocal, and the rest of the tunes have been re-mixed and re-mastered, to great effect. The musicianship, it is gladly noted, remains first-rate.

The entire collection now has a more minstrel-like quality. Listening to it, it is easy to imagine one's self seated front and center in Elrond's Hall of Fire, while the singers and musicians fill the air with convivial merrymaking and heartfelt lament.

The five all-new versions of the tunes are best described as musical makeovers, transformed in the intervening years into even richer, more complex melodies. Standouts here include "Song of the Eldar in Exile," which has grown from choir-like and ethereal into a song of immediacy and presence. Davis, in a breath of anticipation, holds her notes just a touch longer than before, and her vocals are more resonant and full.

"Hobbit Walking Song," though polished up with a new guest vocal, preserves the sounds of the woodlands: the tramp of feet and the lilt of birdsong. This interpretation is even folksier than before, and the harmonies blend nicely, especially in the "round" near the end of the tune. The spirited fun of "Merry Old Inn" more than doubles in this recording, where sassy supporting vocals strike a spunky counterpoint to Klover's rollicking frontman revels. This wink-and-a-grin rendition truly makes one want to dance a jig on a tabletop beside a certain Mr. Frodo Baggins.

"When Spring Unfolds" holds on to its 19th Century American frontier flavor. But now it moves from winsome Western campfire-style ballad to an engaging Music Hall playlet, while preserving all the homey appeal of the original. The "Bath Song" is an upbeat romp, sung with lusty -- and almost drunken -- abandon. Each of the "hobbit" voices tries mightily to outdo the others in the sheer joy of his well-earned ablutions.

The six songs which are re-mixed and re-mastered, but not re-recorded, have also undergone quite a transformation. The re-mixing has had an almost uniform result: the placement of the lead vocals to the forefront of the music, whereas before they were set within the midst of the melodies. This forward placement of the voices adds to the overall "troubadour" sound of this CD, which produces a sort of "Middle-earth Unplugged" experience. This is particularly effective in the wistful "In Western Lands," where Klover's sweet, reflective tenor is gently complemented by Davis's superb harp work. The re-mix, however, costs "Galadriel's Lament" a measure of its dreamlike distinction and mythic power. But the resultant clarity of voice preserves in the song a venerable Lórien-like beauty and poignancy, so any perceived trade-off is negligible.

In one case only can it be said that the new version equals -- but does not surpass -- the original, and that is in the showpiece "Lay of Nimrodel." The original vocal emerged as if from the midst of a dream, the music swirling like a tossing Sea in a rarefied "wall of sound" so encompassing as to make Phil Spector puff up with pride. The brooding, reverberating cello played a pivotal part in the aural mystery and mythic nature of the song. But in the latest rendition the sonorous overtones of the strings recede into a much less prominent role. And due to an unforeseen caprice of the mix, the thrill of the trill in Davis's voice as she sings the penultimate Amroth is here subdued when heard through standard speakers (although it remains discernable through a pair of headphones).

Yet even with these shifts in musical emphasis, this version of the "Lay of Nimrodel" is still a feast for the ears, due to the fresh distinction of the secondary vocals. Davis's heart-piercing lead entwines with the stirring support of Klover's passionate back-up, as well as with her own sublime soprano harmonies. There are bracing thrills and breath-catching beauties to be found here, thanks to the multifarious miracles of Davis's ardent interpretation. In its new incarnation, The Starlit Jewel continues to delight and astound. This dazzling re-release was well worth the wait. It should find an honored place in many a Tolkien-lover's CD collection. Most highly recommended.

--Paula DiSante, Mythopoeic Society

(Some of the members of Avalon Rising appear on SLJ, among them Margaret and Kristoph. All of the members of Brocelïande appear on SLJ, so it is currently marketed as a Brocelïande production. The first issue of SLJ was not. -kf)

I am a huge fan of Tolkien, and have always wished to hear the
songs in the books set to music. Although I dabbled with this myself for a while, I do not have the skill needed to do this. Brocelïande has captured the soul and spirit of these poems, like no one else. If you could only own one CD of Tolkien's works, this would be the one. I have listened to it almost non-stop since it was purchased. Bravo Brocelïande, and thank you for creating such a wonderful CD.

--- Reviewed by Curucahm

Hello Dear Margaret,
WOW, I heard the songs available on your website WOW. Amazing, the songs, the melody and the flavor of the entire music makes me travel in the history of the books! Excellent work,

---Daniel Cossi, Chairman of the Brazilian Tolkien Society

The Starlit Jewel was a recording that I was eager to listen to as soon as I heard about it. It consists entirely of songs taken from J.R. R. Tolkien's books The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit. Most of the arrangements are by Marion Zimmer Bradley, with additional arrangements by either Kristoph Klover or Margaret Davis. As on the previous recording, the singing and playing are exceptional. The quartet settings, however, are absent. This release features Klover and Davis primarily, although Karl Franzen and Kris Yenney are present on several cuts. Other musicians contribute their talents as well. Two in particular that stand out are Aodh Og O'Tuama, who plays some driving spoons, and percussionist Deidre McCarthy, who sings a lovely lead part on "Lament For Boromir". This album, too, is great listening, with nary a lame track. Thirteen songs, though, barely scratches the surface of Tolkien's poetry. Is there a Volume Two in the planning stages? By the way, if you are wondering exactly how to pronounce Brocelïande, there is a handy guide on their web site.

---Tim Hoke, Greenman Review

OK I have to jump in here -- has anyone here heard of Brocelïande? They've set many of Tolkien's poems from the Hobbit and LOTR to the most beautiful melodies. There is an album called The Starlit Jewel which I aspire to own -- it is incredible! If you go to the website ( one can listen to 20 sec soundbytes. It is hard to choose a favorite among them, all, but I will say that the reproduction of the "Lay of Nimrodel" is just how I imagined it -- hauntingly sweet and sad at once. There is the famous hobbit walking song, "The Merry Old Inn", which caused Frodo to put his foot in it -- or should I say your finger?! One can also find "The Children's Song from Dale" -- remember it in the Hobbit? They sing of gold flowing from the Lonely Mountain when the Mountain King returns ... Check it, out, you'll love it!

(and then a few weeks later by email)

The CD came around two pm today, and I was thrilled to get it.
My youngest sister and I spent the afternoon alternating between listening to The Starlit Jewel and reading aloud from my new copy of LOTR. We were enchanted! The music belongs with Tolkien's poetry, is all that I can say... and this will be a treasure of the House of Shelton for years to come... LOL!
By the way, Emly (my sister) and I laughed ourselves silly over "Merry Old Inn", picturing the broken fiddle and and the chaos which insued. Again, my thanks, and Emily's also, for a wonderful afternoon.

---Laural Shelton

The special sixth Brocelïande CD I spoke of above is entitled The Starlit Jewel. It is a collection of poems from J.R.R. Tolkien set to music composed by Marion Zimmer Bradley (yes, that Marion Zimmer Bradley) and friends. You can still listen to song samples at the group's Web site and hear how wonderful this work is. Brocelïande contracted with the Tolkien estate to produce and market only a certain number of these CDs.

--Bob Sunde, CUUPS



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