I cannot begin to tell you the joy that I have had over the last couple of weeks listening to this double album since it arrived from Amazon. I consider myself to be a Mike Batt fan buying every album that I knew of when it was released (mostly on vinyl) yet both these albums managed to pass me by. I had been disappointed at Mike's album "Six Days In Berlin" but wonderfully excited by "Hunting of the Snark" yet regular checks in the Batt sections at HMV and Virgin Megastores had never brought "Songs of Love & War" or "Arabesque" to my attention. Maybe, as both albums were commissioned by Sony Germany, they were never even given a U.K. release.
In other words, receiving this double album from Amazon was like receiving two brand new albums from Mike Batt. I listened with trepidation but was not disappointed. One good song after another, is what I heard.
"Songs of Love & War" sounds to me a bit like a companion album to "Schizophonia" (despite being more than a decade apart) partly because they both share Magritte inspired album cover designs and partly as they even have one track in common!
Although "you can't judge a CD by its cover" the design made me think I was going to enjoy the album. In his new sleeve notes, Mike comments that he was not in the right frame of mind to write all new songs for this album and so he feels he cheated with using his back catalogue to provide two songs written for the Hollies and also the title track to the movie "Caravans" which is familiar to all Batt fans. I couldn't disagree more. There would only have been the Barbara Dixon version of the wonderful song "The Caravan Song" available when the album was released and Batt's vocals give it a different feel. As for the Hollies' songs, most listeners would not have heard either of them before (as was the case with me) so their inclusion is well justified. Particularly as they are such good songs. "Soldier's Song" is now familiar as it is on Mike's recent album "A Songwriter's Tale" but it is really one of his best so the thought of it remaining in Hollies' back catalogue is unthinkable. And the other, "Can't Lie No More", after a number of listenings, has become one of my favourite tracks on the album. "Railway Hotel" is a different matter, though. I was suprised to hear that on the album as it had been on the previously mentioned "Schizophonia" but this piano only backing is a refreshing change to the familiar fully orchestrated accompaniment. "Warsaw" and "Sailing Ships From Heaven" were both completely new songs to me and both have become favourite Batt compositions of mine already. It's a terrific album and alone worth the price of this double offering
Then there is the second disc. Both the sleeve design and title "Arabesque" made me think I was not going to enjoy this album so much. I thought perhaps it was going to be like the soundtrack to "Caravans". How wrong I was! I just LOVE the album. Before I read the sleeve notes I was immediately taken with "Amy Floats Downstream" but thought it was a song based on Arthurian legends in which the bodies of dead monarchs are put in a boat in a burial type ceremony to sail to Avalon (as supposedly happened to Arthur himself) but Mike's sleeve notes describe an all-the-more sad and real meaning. Nonetheless, it is a wonderful and moving composition. "Don't Trust The Angels" has quickly become another favourite of mine and "Battlefield Theme" one of my favourite Batt instrumentals. And "Who Was The Fool?" is a typical Batt composition which I have been enjoying as much as some of his most famous songs. Speaking of which, Batt's original own vocals on "The Closest Thing To Crazy" (made hugely well known by Katie Melua) give it a sound which I prefer to Melua's and have meant I have been singing along with the chorus at full lung capacity volume whilst driving my car!
I cannot express in summary just how much I am enjoying these albums. The arrival of not one but two new Mike Batt albums (at least new to me) was something which I did not believe I was likely to experience again but that is just what it feels like. What a real treat this has been.
A slight criticism. The sleeve design means whilst listening, you have to remove the booklet from the jewell box to have a track listing which is a little inconvenient - particularly when driving.
And all this for little more than the price of a single album! If I could give more than five stars I would. Highly recommended. Thank you Mike and Dramatico for making these recordings available to us.