Long-term readers will know of my love for game music and I always dive into the arrangement scene with a particular fondness for piano collections and folk arrangements – but I’d not thought of a RPG – the Bluegrass arrangement album. That’s exactly what we’ve got with The Hit Points and their self-titled debut release. Taking plenty of well-known themes from mostly RPG’s, we are treated to a fiddle and banjo explosion as Matt Menefee and Eli Bishop show off their bluegrass prowess to perfection.
Opening up with a bang is “Those Who Fight Further” from Final Fantasy VII that’s absolutely rip-roaring and shows just how well a great melody can be rearranged into something completely different and still have power. More powerful still is the party atmosphere of “Guile’s Theme” from Street Fighter. The sheer finger skills of this duo are mesmerising as they adlib on the banjo’s to the point that it’s just ridiculous – I have no idea how fast they are going – but it genuinely wowed me. I also love the interplay that then lets the fiddle have its own moment in the sun at half way too – these aren’t play for play covers – there’s so much individual interpretation thrown in here too that these tracks have a life of their own. “Presentiment/Chrono Trigger” from Chrono Trigger calms us down with a more delicate finger plucking arrangement to pause for breath before sweeping off into a majestic rendition of that theme. “Rocket Hideout” from Pokemon Red and Blue is perfectly quirky and sassy too – like Michael Jackson’s Thriller went to a barn dance in an anime. Yes, I said that.
More barn dance joys come from “Athletic Theme” from Super Mario World and the excellently layered “Green Hill Zone” from Sonic the Hedgehog. You can almost see the Smooth McGroove like video playing out with all the layers of both tracks. It’s also really amazing how a little swing in the groove can utterly transform a well-loved, but well-covered track, into something more alive. “Ballad of the Goddess” from Zelda Skyward Sword is a much-needed rest and reminds me of Ico and The Hobbit’s game soundtracks. It has a certain olde style to it and even though its a ballad, it’s supremely complex in its makeup. “Pales of Pales” from Castlevania Symphony of the Night takes on a gothic waltz bluegrass style and it works a dream. The banjo and fiddle merge themselves over from a French patter to something more exotic and Latin as the track increases its complexity and speed.
“Nascence / Road of Trials” from Journey works an absolute dream too. The old otherworldly motifs from the originals carry over beautifully with the fiddle working that main theme like a pro. “Taliyah, the Stoneweaver” from League of Legends works perfectly as the antidote to the previous tracks more ambient closing minute as it feels like a forest fable being told as the track slowly builds and builds into a really epic finale. As someone that hasn’t played the game, I am now interested in the soundtrack! Double Dragon’s Theme follows with plenty of pizazz and groove to the bass riffs before the only slow track “Streets of Whiterun” from Skyrim closes the album out with with a regal and quite solemn and downbeat rendition. It’s pensive, lamenting and a complete contrast to everything else on the album but an excellent way to close out the album.
The Hit Points gave me an arrangement album of bluegrass that I never knew I wanted. From the first track to the last I was absolutely enthralled not just by how great these tracks have been arranged for the instruments, but the level of skill that both Eli and Matt have for their instruments. The Hit Points is superb and I challenge you to not be slapping your knees or tapping your feet to these tracks. Biggest surprise of 2018 to date.
Recommended track: Guile’s Theme
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