At Dawn at Rivendell is filled with the music and poetry of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, as performed by the Tolkien Ensemble.
This is the Denmark-based Tolkien Ensemble's third outing, and this time around they are aided in their endeavourer by Christopher Lee, who played the villainous Sauramon in the Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers movies (and allegedly will appear in the opening of the extended DVD edition of Return of the King).
Of Words and Music
The album is comprised of 20 music and spoken word tracks. Lee provides the voice-over work for compositions like "The Verse of the Rings" (i.e. "and one ring to in the darkness bind them" and "The Riddle of Strider" (i.e. "not all those who wander are lost") as well as all of Treebeard's parts.
I am not a diehard Tolkien fan -- sure I've read the books and loved the movies, but I haven't made it my life's work to know every intimate detail of the trilogy. I am, however, a diehard gamer and frequent dungeon master. As a result, I approached this album from the perspective of a casual fan of the trilogy that is looking for tracks that he can use in his weekly Greyhawk campaign.
That said, I found there's quite a lot that you can extract for an fantasy RPG campaign, although it will require some work on your part. This is not an album that you can just throw in your CD player and expect it to match the tone of your game. Further, those expecting something that matches the dramatic tone of the Lord of the Rings movie soundtracks are going to be disappointed -- this just isn't that sort of album. Yes, there are dramatic songs on this album, but they are not in the majority.
As a result, DMs will find that they'll need to sort through the songs and add them to custom playlists based on content. For example, "A Drinking Song" and its hobbit-inspired kin aren't anything you'd want showing up in the middle of an epic battle, but they'd be welcome contributions to a tavern playlist. Meanwhile, tracks like " Malbeth The Seer's Words" and "The Song of Lebennin" nicely complement the movie soundtracks and provide solid background themes.
There are tracks that DMs almost certainly won't use unless they're running a Middle-Earth campaign (like "The Riddle of Strider" or "Boromir's Riddle" which are too short and too LOTR-specific for generic use) but for the most part just about everything in this album is useable if you take the time to organize it in your MP3 player.
Following Tom Bombadil's Trackless Steps
Here's a track by track breakdown of the album, with role-playing notes for each:
Verse of the Rings: Christopher Lee is nicely menacing in this adaptation of the classic "One Ring" verse.
Song of Gondor: The instrumentals of this track don't quite match the singers voice -- the music is subdued and graceful, while the singer's voice is very deep and resounding. I'd have liked the track more if the singer's voice was toned down just a bit more but as is it's a nice background song for a throne room or royal chamber ... just be sure to keep the track subdued.
A Walking Song: A hobbit drinking song (but aren't all hobbit songs pretty much drinking songs?) Ok, ok, I don't know that it's a drinking song (I'm not a diehard LOTR fan) but that's how I envision it. I'm not much a big fan of hobbit songs -- give me swords and sorcery, not half-pints sloshing suds all over a bar -- but this cheery track could make for a good background track for a bar scene in your campaign (though clearly a more friendly, happy-shiny bar than one on the underside of your city).
Warning of Winter: Christopher Lee again in an extremely short, :35 second track. Pacing-wise, it acts as a good book mark for the CD, providing a transition from the upbeat "A Walking Song" into the more dramatic "Malbeth" track that follows
Malbeth: The Seer's Words: Most of the tracks on this CD aren't as intense or cinematic as those on the movie soundtracks, but this one is. It's a very somber, somewhat mournful piece broken up in the middle with a prophecy voiced by Lee. Naturally it would work well when the party's confronting an oracle, but it also has a nice "lost tomb" feel to it.
A Drinking Song: More ramblings by drunken small folk. As with the others it's a happy, upbeat song that mellows out in the middle before ending on a high note. As with "A Walking Song", it'd be a good bar background track.
The Long List of The Ents: Treebeard (Lee) lists dozens of living creatures -- sentient and animal -- residing in the world of Middle-Earth. Might make a good track for a bard college encounter, but not very useful beyond that.
Eomer's Song: Another somber song reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings soundtracks with a touch of vocals by the same singer as in "Song of Gondor". Here though, the combination is more successful, primarily because the singer's vocals don't compete with the music, which is more pronounced in this song. Good for a formal throne room scene or general background music.
Boromir's Riddle: A short song describing the re-forging of the Broken Sword, with voice acting by Christopher Lee. I can't see using it in the larger campaign, but as with "Warning of Winter" in the context of the CD it provides a good break between "Eomer's Song" and the hobbit-inspired "The Bath Song".
"The Bath Song":Is there anything that hobbits don't have a song for? I think not. In this case, it's a song that compares and contrasts the merits of bathing with drinking. Another good track for that happy-go-lucky bar that's frequented by Halflings.
The Song of Lebennin: A very solid song that calls to mind mist-shrouded valleys with wizards -- or maybe trolls -- lurking just out of sight. There are a few verses of singing mixed into the song, but it's the music that really grips you. Very good for overland travels or perhaps a dimly-lit, somber tavern.
Gandalf's Riddle of the Ents: Gandalf (Christopher Lee) describing the Ents. A useful lead in for the next track but not use in gaming.
Ho! Tom Bombadil: I didn't miss Tom Bombadil in movies, and I wouldn't have missed him here. Of course, not everyone agrees with me, so they might get a kick out of this short track (:57). Personally, I think the track should have been more bombastic -- I see Tom Bombadil as a larger-than-life personality with a huge, booming, friendly voice, and just doesn't seem to capture the essence of Tom.
The Riddle of Strider: The classic line "not all those who wander are lost" is found in this riddle. It sends chills down the spine to listen to it -- it so nicely sums up the character of Strider and offers a prophesy of the future.
Song of Nimrodel: Need a light, airy song for that in with the half-elf bard singing in the corner? Then use this track. It features a solo guitar (or some kind of string instrument) complemented by a male singer.
Treebeard's Song: A somber song by Treebeard (Lee again) discussing his travels and history. Perhaps good for an encounter with a conversational encounter with a druid.
Farewell Song of Merry and Pippen: Yeah, another drinking song, this time recounting the hobbit's adventures abroad.
Athelas: Another short (:35), transitional piece of verse.
A Walking Song (II): Even more hobbit verse. And yeah, you can use it in that happy-go-lucky tavern I keep talking about.
Elven Hymn to Elbereth Gilthoniel: A good, ethereal sounding song that's perfect for those fairy glens and elvish halls. The first six minutes are so are excellent background music for the role-playing intensive portions of the your gaming session. Unfortunately the last minute of the song is taken over by a different singer, and the difference is just jarring enough for the casual listener to notice. That transition also makes looping the track effective. A good song to end the CD on, and useful for DMs, but not quite as useful as it could be without that transition.
This album's a good buy for Lord of the Rings fans, particularly thouse who revel in the minutia of Tolkien's creation.
- by Tolkien Ensemble and Christopher Lee
- Dawn at Rivendell
- Label: Decca U.S.
- Buy from Amazon.com