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With Friends From The Orchestra

Review by Greg Olma

Marillion has been on a roll recently releasing albums, both studio and live, and with each one, they put forth something different for their fans.  This is one that may not get them new fans but will certainly find its way into their hardcore fans’ collection.  For this album, the band took tracks from the Hogarth era and re-imagined them a little with the help of In Praise Of Folly String Quartet.  The song selection is based more on whether the track could benefit from having additional orchestration and not the “hit single” status of the piece.  That’s not to say that these are all obscure tunes as many of them are fan favorites and are frequently found in their set lists.  As mentioned previously, I don’t think this record would garner Marillion any new fans but I feel that even if you are a casual listener of their latter day material, I suggest purchasing With Friends From The Orchestra.

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Track by Track Review

The disc starts off with an epic track from This Strange Engine.  It revolves around the sinking of the ship Estonia in 1994.  For such a tragic event, the song has a very uplifting mood about it.  The original studio version has a bit more bombast, while this take is a bit more subdued.  The string quartet also makes their presence felt especially as the song progresses.  

A Collection
I love when bands throw us fans a curve ball every once in a while.  This track does not appear on any of their proper studio albums.  It is a song that was recorded during the Holidays In Eden session but was only released later on the deluxe edition as part of their outtakes disc.  The string quartet is definitely more predominant on this version, which makes sense, but it also adds a whimsical feeling to this odd release.
Fantastic Place
Marbles was almost a rebirth for Marillion after a few records where the band had seemed to lose their way.  This rendition stays very close to the original with the string quartet filling much of the sound that was provided by the keyboards on the original.  Steve Hogarth and Steve Rothery both provide immaculate performances that, while slightly different, still match the other studio version.
Beyond You

Here is where I feel the original song gets a little bit re-imagined, and we are presented something different.  The original, while still being a mellower tune, get an even more melancholy approach on this version.  The drums on the original helps move the music along while on this recording, the drums are almost absent leaving the song to meander a bit.  I like the new take but feel that it is not as good as the original.

This Strange Engine
The other epic from This Strange Engine was the title track, and where the previous piece was kind of a different version, this one stays close to the original but more orchestral and less rock.  I feel that this is what Marillion were going after and they managed to achieve that to full effect.  The guitar riffing is a little less prominent giving room to the string quartet who take that opening to really shine.  Also, Hogarth’s vocal performance towards the end really highlights the greatness of this track.
The Hollow Man

I feel that Marillion will forever be performing pieces from Brave.  This mostly piano number gets some much needed orchestration.  While it is mostly a somber track, the orchestration adds a bit of drama following along to the original.

The Sky Above the Rain
Listening to the original tune from the Sounds That Can't Be Made and this version right after, I am going on a limb here, but I think I like this version better.  The orchestration adds a cinematic feel to the track.  Musically, it sticks close to the version I have been familiar with for almost a decade, but here it comes alive. Hogarth, Rothery and the string quartet play off of one another making this the highlight for me.
Seasons End

There are places on this disc that I feel the orchestration added a lot to the rendition but on this one from the album of the same name, the orchestration did not make that much of a difference.  Sure, the performance was spot on, but I didn’t feel the orchestration added anything really new and just took the place of some of the other instruments yet still sounding very, very similar.

Ocean Cloud
The disc ends with another epic, this time from the Marbles album.  Even though the string quartet is very much up front in many parts, this version still has all of the bombast of the original.  It also adds the addition of the cinematic feel making this collaboration another winner.
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