Renaissance – Ashes Are Burning (1973/2006)

Renaissance - Ashes Are Burning (1973/2006)
Artist: Renaissance
Album: Ashes Are Burning
Genre: Symphonic Prog
Label: Repertoire Records
Year Of Release: 1973/2006
Quality: FLAC (tracks+.cue)

Tracklist:
1. Can you understand (9:49)
2. Let it grow (4:15)
3. On the frontier (4:53)
4. Carpet of the sun (3:31)
5. At the harbour (6:50)
6. Ashes are burning (11:24)

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Personnel:
– Annie Haslam / lead & backing vocals
– Michael Dunford / acoustic guitars
– John Tout / keyboards, backing vocals
– Jon Camp / bass, co-lead (3) & backing vocals
– Terence Sullivan / drums, percussion, backing vocals

With:
– Andy Powell / guitar solo (6)
– Richard Hewson / strings arrangements (1,4)

he history of Renaissance is so complicated that Ashes Are Burning no longer has any of the original band members remaining. The band’s most beloved core line-up was first assembled on the previous album, Prologue, and the same four-piece of Annie Haslam (vocals), Jon Camp (bass, acoustic guitar), John Tout (keyboards) and Terrence Sullivan (drums) also play on Ashes Are Burning.

Somewhat unusually, the longest history with the band is with two outside members, composer Michael Dunford and poet Betty Thatcher, who together are responsible for the music and lyrics on all but one track of the album. Both were involved in the making of the 1970 Illusion album, but are not actual members of the band. Dunford officially joined the band with the next album. The only song Dunford was not on Ashes Are Burning to compose is ”On The Frontier”, written by Renaissance founding member Jim McCarty. Who was no longer a member of the band at this point. Confusing? A bit! Thus, Ashes Are Burning is a very rare prog album where all the material is written by someone other than the band members.

Ashes Are Burning is by far the most successful album of Renaissance’s career so far and started a three-album golden era for the band.

The album smoothly blends influences from both folk and classical music (no direct quotes are spared). The semi-acoustic sound was an important part of how Renaissance distinguished themselves from other progressive bands. And the acoustic aspect was especially emphasized on this Ashes Are Burning album. Instead of electric guitars and synthesizers, it is John Tout’s classical-style piano that takes centre stage, and the impressive, gentle yet powerful, five-octave vocals of Annie Haslam, who had studied opera singing. Tout also makes restrained use of synthesizers but, pleasingly, sticks mostly to piano, which was rare for early 70s rock bands. And well, for rock bands of any era really.

Although Renaissance draws much of its influence from folk, the grand symphonic nature of the band’s music also clearly distinguishes it from the core of the folk scene. A rock-like kick to the sound is added by Jon Camp’s very Chris Squire-like bass playing and of course Sullivan’s relatively straightforward drumming. Camp and his bass are given plenty of space, as the only electric guitar on the album is on the closing title track, where guesting Wishbone Ash guitarist Andy Powell gets to squeeze in a long guitar solo.

The album’s opening track, the powerful ”Can You Understand?” and the album’s highlight, the delightful prog-folk anthem celebrating nature, ”Carpet Of The Sun”, also features a 22-piece string and woodwind orchestra. This was the first time Renaissance had used an orchestra. On the next two albums, the combination of rock band and symphony orchestra became a trademark of the band.

In addition to the above mentioned songs, the 12 minute title track with Powell’s guitars is also quite impressive, but on the other hand it is also the most typical prog rock song on the album and therefore doesn’t feel as original as the rest of the material on the album. However, the song became an important part of Renaissance concerts and often stretched to more than 20 minutes live, with various band members having long solo parts.

Ashes Are Burning was the band’s most successful album to date, but the band still remained mainly a cult name, even though at their best they could perform to concert audiences of thousands of people.

Ashes Are Burning is an enjoyable listen from start to finish, but it never quite reaches the level of a masterpiece.
JANNE YLIRUUSI

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