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Renaissance - Ashes Are Burning CD (album) cover

ASHES ARE BURNING

Renaissance

 

Symphonic Prog

4.21 | 494 ratings

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Joolz
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Prologue was an aptly named taster. Now, with Ashes Are Burning, Renaissance - 'classic line-up', 'Annie Haslam's Renaissance' or 'Mark 2' as you prefer - have hit their stride. An orchestra adds colour and depth to a couple of songs, while returnee Michael Dunford's acoustic guitars are a potent force throughout, joining John Tout's piano as key to the band's signature sound, though still some way short of the full maturity displayed a couple of years later on Scheherazade And Other Stories. Here, the elements combine with an enchanting freshness, delivered with enthusiasm by performers who seem to relish the potential but haven't yet honed them to perfection.

The format of Prologue is here retained: beginning and ending with a pair of longish progressive tracks with four shorter songs in between. Can You Understand sets out their stall admirably, a Prog lover's dream with its cyclical arrangement and orchestral developments. Album closer Ashes Are Burning is the other Prog classic that turned into a long-term concert favourite. With an inventive arrangement, this song is always on the move, shifting and changing, always melodic and exciting, sometimes tripping along gaily with some lovely harmonies then suddenly slowing and changing tack. The sting is in the tail - a slow melody backed by statuesque organ chords gradually builds tension until finally Annie hits THAT high note and the band enter an extended coda with a simple 'descending' riff and some understated lead guitar work from Mr. Powell.

On this album, most of Betty Thatcher's lyrics and subject choices I find obscure and unsatisfying. Some are undeniably memorable, a good fit for songs which are unimaginable without them but deeper meanings remain tantalisingly elusive. With one exception .... At The Harbour is a stunning evocative sound-picture where words and music combine effortlessly and harmoniously to describe not only the physical aspects of fishermen's wives forlornly awaiting their loved ones' return after a devastating storm at sea, but also to convey, through subtlety and suggestion, the emotion and heartache felt at that time. Yet this is achieved, not by complex orchestration and over-dramatisation, but by simple under-stated musical motifs where menacing undertones lay behind a superficially pretty ballad. This song is a hidden gem!

Overall, Ashes Are Burning is a very good album indeed, but not faultless. Carpet Of The Sun, despite its status as a perennial concert favourite, is perhaps a little heavy handed in its orchestral arrangement, a sign that this aspect of their music will continue to improve. Also, the recorded quality is less than perfect, though I imagine a modern digital re-mastering program would work wonders. I can find little else to fault. Highly recommended!

Joolz | 4/5 |

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