A Simple Refrain Review

Album cover for A Simple Refrain

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Name: A Simple Refrain
  • Label: Robert Holmes / Annabelle Lee Records
  • Composer(s): Robert Holmes and Roger Hooper
  • Number of Tracks: 12
I tend to frequent the Sierra fan Facebook group and last year read some news about a new album that was being worked on; producing this album was the composer for the Gabriel Knight games, Robert Holmes, as well as a pianist/composer called Roger Hooper. The album was to contain solo piano reinterpretations of themes from the Gabriel Knight series, Gray Matter and Moebius: Empire Rising performed by Hooper. I've played quite a few of these games and I'm quite familiar with the music: this is what prompted me to purchase the soundtrack as soon as it was available on CD.

"Wait, CD you say?" Yes, you heard me right. You can get this soundtrack on a physical CD off CD Baby. Sure, you can get the music from the usual digital channels but I decided to get my copy of this soundtrack through the mail. If you're purchasing the game from CD Baby it's $15 USD for the soundtrack and then an additional $5 - $60 for shipping (options range from having the CD shipped without a plastic jewel case, in a plastic jewel case or express post with a tracking number).

Back of the CD cover for A Simple Refrain
Back of the CD cover

The soundtrack contains 12 tracks: 2 tracks are based off music from Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, 4 tracks are based off music from Gabriel Knight 2, 1 track is based off the Gabriel Knight 3 theme, 2 tracks are based off music from Gray Matter and 3 are based off music from Moebius: Empire Rising. As you can see, the Gabriel Knight series gets the lion's share with 7 tracks based off music in the franchise (Gabriel Knight 2 in particular).

All the tracks tend to be based off source material that were originally played on a piano (or at least a MIDI instrument sounding like a piano) which makes sense, that would be the safe option right?

However, I believe Roger Hooper may have been a bit too safe in refraining to create reinterpretations of tracks such as the Moebius: Empire Rising theme or another choice track from that soundtrack called "The Wheel". Hey, I would've been happy if he had expanded upon some other tracks on the original Gabriel Knight soundtrack such as the Ending theme, "Lake Pontchartrain", "The Inner Wheel", "New Orleans City Map" or "Dixieland Drug Store". Heck, even a version of "Detective Mosely" would've been amusing to hear 😊.

Anyway, there are a few good tracks on this album including the slow, meandering take on the classic "Grandma Knight" from the first Gabriel Knight, to Hooper's version of "Rector's Antiques" which I think is better than the original due to its simplicity and lack of overpowering synths. I even appreciated a couple of pieces based on source material I've never heard of before, such as the glorious "Epilogue" and "Super" (which has a lot of Moebius: Empire Rising vibes). Of course, the best track on this album is the one you'd expect, which is the original Gabriel Knight Main Theme: it's dreamy and epic, and even includes some improvisations that make it stand out from the original.

The rest of the music on this album are all beautiful in their own way and are great as far as piano solos go, but that will be the major stumbling block for anyone appreciating this album: whether they really get a buzz out of listening to piano solos or not. For me, I can appreciate good piano solos if they offer something different but there are a few tracks here that sound like slow, live instrumental versions of tracks from the games, and nothing more. Again, that might be enough for most people, but not for me.

Score – 7/10

This is definitely a recommended album for those who like piano solos and the Gabriel Knight 2 soundtrack in particular. It's probably of some interest to fans of Jane Jensen's games in general and the music from these games (composed by Jensen's husband Robert Holmes). Roger Hooper does a perfect job in performing these pieces so there's no complaints in terms of technical aptitude but I wish a few of the tracks could've been swapped with some of Holmes's other music just to add a bit of diversity to the album's mood.

If you're interested in purchasing the soundtrack, it's available for $15 USD on CD Baby for a physical CD version. It's also available digitally on CD Baby as well as iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google Play and Bandcamp.