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Oldfield's masterpiece - in three versions, never before on CD!
on 17 June 2010
Ommadawn is the first album where Oldfield made the transition from multi-instumentalist noodling away in his bedroom to fully fledged composer / producer / genius - and we can only really judge this from this reissue. Back in 1976, Oldfield replaced the original mixes of Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn with the remixes from "Boxed". In the case of Hergest Ridge this was a radical change, resulting in a much subtler and less involving piece. In Ommadawn the changes he made were less brutal, but they can nevertheless be heard, especially in the first five to ten minutes. The second disc here presents the 1975 for the first time on CD - and is worth the purchase price on its own.
Oldfield's remix sounds crystal clear and is interesting to fans in that it reveals layers of the texture, consisting of a myriad overdubs that were Oldfield's trademark at the time. Ommadawn utilized many overdubbed guitars, often fed through harmonising effects units, to create scintillating textures, rendering each instrument almost unrecognisable within the texture. These days all you need is a decent synth patch to produce the same effect, so in the new mix Oldfield has chosen to focus on details within textures. Sometimes I found this disruptive, but never at a loss to my enjoyment. It is like hearing a very good live interpretation of a well known classic. In general, Oldfield opts here for a warmer, more three dimensional sound.
The liner notes are excellent, although I was disappointed by the occasional error -"In dulci jubilo" and "Througham Slad" are misspelt throughout. However, the inclusion of the lost version of Ommadawn more than makes up for this. The notes explain that as Oldfield worked on the first draft, the tape began to wear out, resulting in him having to re-record the whole of side one. Up to now, the only record of this original version had been a few tantelising snippets from Tony Palmer's film "All You Need Is Love". Here though, the abandoned recording is presented in full, ammounting to approximately 18 minutes of original Oldfield, never before released in any audio format. It explains so much - for example, why was Herbie credited on the Northumbrian pipes, when the only pipes to appear on the final recording are Uilleann, played by Paddy Moloney from The Chieftans. Why was Pierre Moerlin credited with playing Timpani - no hint of which mad it through to the final version. All is revealed when you listen to this lost recording. I must admit that with a few exceptions I felt that this work benefitted hugely from the tape wearing out. The ideas presented here have an unfinished feel to them.
Obviously, had the tape held together, Oldfield would have revised certain features and reworked some of what is presented here, but I can't help feeling that being forced to rethink the whole piece produced a more mature, satisfying recording.
Every Oldfield fan should buy this - even if they own the original on CD. It also serves as a perfect introduction to new enthusiasts, either for Oldfield or for the genre of "World Music", of which this is one of the absolute pioneers.