January 19, 2023

The band come out of the traps strongly with the outstanding title track which merits the cost of the album on its own. 

The Tirith may sound like the name of a Welsh village, but it is an abbreviation of Minas Tirith, the city in Tolkien’s tales. Minas Tirith was the name that this same group used in its first incarnation in the early 1970s. They were something of a cult band back in that period, perhaps more so because they never released any official albums. That changed in 2010 with the band reforming, still based around its core composing duo of Jim Cox, guitars and keyboards, and Richard Cory on bass, vocals, acoustic guitar and keyboards, but with this shorter name. They released a belated debut album in 2015 and original drummer, Paul Williams, returned to the fold too in time for this third album.

Musically, The Tirith can be comfortably pigeon-holed as a progressive rock band, although very much towards the soft prog end of the spectrum. They use no strange time signatures, have no prog metal guitar histrionics, and almost no flashy keyboard solos. You might wonder what is left! Well, what we have is serene British neo-prog, with lengthy thoughtful compositions and varied instrumentation (plenty of acoustic guitar and piano mixed in) and a very strong sense of melody. They frequently reminded me of that easy on the ears sound of Barclay James Harvest.  

The original Minas Tirith four-piece

The band come out of the traps strongly with the outstanding title track which merits the cost of the album on its own.  It’s a thirteen-minute opus, split into three parts. The first part (Return Of The Lydia Part 1) opens with Floydian atmospherics leading to a magical moment when the guitar theme emerges in its full glory at the same time as the entry of drums, bass and piano. The sung part tells something of a Sci-Fi story, apparently linked to an ongoing story that has been used on previous albums. The guitar theme returns in the third part (Return Of The Lydia, Part 2), and sandwiched between the two is What Do You Say To An Alien? which is a faster and more energetic section providing a neat contrast. Lyrically, this album is interesting although the answer to the question ‘What do you say to an alien if you’re lost for words?’ is apparently ‘Hello, my name is Mike, and I’m from planet Earth’. Not exactly Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke!

While the title track is the longest piece on the album, there are another four songs which hover around the ten-minute mark. Crystalwell is perhaps the strongest of these four longer efforts. It has something of a Gabriel-period Genesis story-telling feel to it as it bustles along initially with a quite sparse bass-driven sound and curiously jazzy notes on the electric piano. It builds up momentum and goes through a couple of lovely key changes before the catchy chorus. There’s a good solo from Cox and the eleven minutes shoot by in a flash. By stark contrast, My People makes the mistake of overstaying its welcome. Don’t get me wrong – this would have made a fine four-minute pop song in the style of Barclay James Harvest or maybe The Moody Blues (the vocal melody sounds very like something Justin Hayward might have written), but to these ears the song is stretched out too far, even if admittedly the piano solo from Anthony Hill (who is now joining the band) is a good way to close the song.  Dying To Live instead is an enjoyable piano-driven affair with a rhythmic guitar riff a little like Toto’s Hold The Line, while the closing The Meeting Of The Ways opens awash with acoustic guitar and something of a cheerful ‘60s feel to it before moving into an instrumental section mid-way. That instrumental segment cleverly builds up layers much in the way that Yes did in Wurm. The band might have missed an opportunity here because that could have grown into a monumental instrumental conclusion to the song and the whole album but instead the band chose to return to the cheerful ‘60s theme which to these ears was a little deflating.

There are also two relatively short tracks, but still five or six minutes long. The Uncertainty Principle is a pleasant popish piece, again with a bit of a Barclay James Harvest feel to it. Go The Drifter may be the shortest track but it packs a punch with its ponderous harmonised guitar riff, very much in the style of Mountain, and it emerges as one of the stronger tracks in this set.  

With The Return Of The Lydia, The Tirith demonstrate that they can write epic prog, as in the inspired title track, and shorter heavier pieces too. There’s melody throughout, and while a little judicious editing might have made for an even better album, there’s still plenty to enjoy here for prog fans.