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Renaissance Ashes Are Burning album cover
4.26 | 866 ratings | 69 reviews | 43% 5 stars

Essential: a masterpiece of
progressive rock music

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Studio Album, released in 1973

Songs / Tracks Listing

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)

Total Time: 40:42

Line-up / Musicians

- 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

- Andy Powell / guitar solo (6)
- Richard Hewson / strings arrangements (1,4)

Releases information

Artwork: Hipgnosis

LP Sovereign - SVNA 7261 (1973, UK)

CD One Way Records - CDL 57576 (1991, US & Canada)
CD Repertoire Records - REP 5078 (2006, Germany)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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RENAISSANCE Ashes Are Burning ratings distribution

(866 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(43%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(45%)
Good, but non-essential (10%)
Collectors/fans only (1%)
Poor. Only for completionists (1%)

RENAISSANCE Ashes Are Burning reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
3 stars 3.5 stars really. a good BBQ, than?

As the second line-up is now fully established, this one takes a solid turn towards folk-rock and succeeds in re-establishing a new kind of very instantly distinguishable Renaissance sound. A group picture graces the gatefold sleeve, but when seeing previous albums, it is a bit of a deception despite the use of the all-important logo used on many albums in the future. Still with McCarty overseeing things (or at least still writing songs, this album also sees the appearance of Wishbone Ash's Andy Powell for a splendid guitar solo.

As said above, the 11-mins+ title track comes with a rare and superb guitar solo coming from Wishbone Ash guitarist Andy Powell with Annie reaching some incredibly high notes without any distortion in the middle section; definitely the highlight of the album, even if the lengthy "Can You Understand?" has got its moments as well. Actually, the latter starts on with a Russian classical composers-inspired Tout piano solo, much in the line of what John Hawken did in the Mk I line-up, but the track slides imperceptibly into folk territory, but some of the twist in the vocal melody is a bit clumsy. Plenty of good stuff, but perfectible. Another rather interesting track is the almost 7-mins At The Harbour track, a bit different than the usual "piano-starting piece before the band kicks in" routine, with tout's piano indeed opening and Haslam's voice over an harmonium enchants, Tout returning to accompany her in the closing minutes. The rest of the album is typical numbers of theirs with symphonic passages but remaining close to folk territory.

Many Renaissance unconditional fans will regard this album as their "first true album", but this is of course only engaging their own opinions. As far as I'm concerned I could almost say that it is their last true one. If I could give it one word: Pastoral

Review by greenback
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars OH WOW! Another perfect Renaissance album. Maybe Annie Haslam has her best voice on this record: using headphones, the experience is more than pleasant! Other musicians' backing vocals support very well Annie's lead vocals. If one can describe what makes this album unique, then the answer resides in the bass performance! THIS RECORD HAS ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL & BOTTOM BASS IN THE ROCK HISTORY: an extreme Rickenbacker bass sound, like Geddy Lee used to play with, nevertheless making this man's sound dull, even on his best performance. So, play it loud, ground shaking guaranteed! The album, as usual, has tons of catchy piano melodies: THE PIANO SOUND IS EXTREMELY POWERFUL & BOTTOM TOO! The style is very baroque symphonic: there are many excellent orchestral arrangements, and there are some harpsichord parts too ; there are many rhythmic acoustic guitars and shaking tambourine sounds. All the tracks are at least very good. Everything is catchy, and IMO this music can be easily liked by many people, not necessarily prog fans, despite its obvious complexity.


Review by Chris S
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Ashes are Burning has that great keyboard influence. The title track a bit reminiscent of Deep Purple's Child in Time. It was a great follow up to Prologue and some argue that this was Renaissance at their summit. It is a consistently strong album throughout with Haslam vocally at her best.Listen to ' Carpet of the Sun', ' At the Harbour' and the epic title track if you need any convincing.
Review by Blacksword
4 stars I'm so glad I woke up to Renaissance after all these years. 'Ashes are buring' is a fine album. Renaissance strike the perfect balance between folk, rock and classical music on this album. It could have leant more towards folk, and that IMO would have been its downfall.

Annie Haslams voice is superb, enchanting and sensitive in parts, dramatic and strong in others. John Touts piano playing is flawless, and the overall feel of the album is of classic thoughtfull, 70's rock. The production is clean and natural sounding. Many artists benefited from this 'organic' production, so prevelant in the 70's, and sadly lacking in todays digital age.

'Can you understand' 'At the harbour' and 'Ashes are buring' are the best tracks on this album. Full of drama, and musical twists and turns that either take you surprise, or just make you smile knowing that you have made a very wise purchase!

There's not really a duff track in sight. The weakest is probably 'Let it grow' but even that is pleasant enough on the ears.

Review by Eetu Pellonpaa
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars On the second album of the Renaissance guided by Annie Haslam's voice and John Tout's powerful bass guitar, the symphonic folk fusion sound starts to get a firm grip of their artistic vision. The self-confidence possibly being revealed or at least offered through the gatefold album covers, portraying powerfully the musicians working with the compositions of Betty Thatcher and guitarist Michael Dunford.

The opener "Can You Understand" is a really beautiful dive to attractive synthesis of folk music and symphonic rock emulating classical music philosophies with very powerful emphasis. Some of the choir sections and Slavic instrumental passages here remind some idioms familiar from the works of Russian classical composers, and I have understood Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and others have been a certain target of adoration in the composers and musicians studies. The mellow acoustic main composition is wrapped around a sphere of dynamic circling powered by grand piano and swinging Rickenbacker bass. "Let it grow" is then a quite basic, sweet ballad focusing to classic "lied" configuration of singer and piano, accompanied by acoustic guitar and rhythm section. Hearing Annie sing about "making love" is true honey for a man's soul, and the sweet syrupy melodic themes take a black hearted person for being annoyed. Promising future is next beheld from the position "On the frontier", a lovely acoustic piece for multivocal harmonies, with some witty arrangements inside the simple song. Some of these maneuvers give again quite strong senses of déjā vu from "The Yes Album", molded however to this band's own classic music directed tonal language. "Carpet of the sun" has quite memorable melody verse, relying powerfully for Annie's vocals, and wrapping around orchestral tapestries as charming little song. "At the harbour" returns to more musically ambitious compositions, reaching fine atmosphere with intro's longing piano progressions, leading to the embrace of vocalist's wonderful performance for the webs of acoustic guitar. The song aims for ethereal moods, and lingers on the turntable calmly without bursting to dynamic tensions. The album concludes to masterful "Ashes are burning", climbing gently from hollow winds like cute little insects rising to the green shades of trees reaching for heaven. Melodies shift interestingly between major and minor keys, and the two themes from the beginning lead to ascending fireworks of instrumental virtuosic displays, creating a fine emotional passage from sophisticated entwining of piano, harpsichord and rhythm section instruments, and also dramatic synthesizer motive over shimmering layers of percussions. The return to fragile vocal lines and following explosion for the musical heights is also one of the most affecting musical sensations which I have yet found from the symphonic rock recordings. The electric guitar solo is also rare feature for this group, and is powerfully notable from the acoustic and classical instrumentations as on some older Procol Harum albums. The studio version fades out to the void, leaving arranged ending and yet more epic interpretation to the concert stages.

As I approach music created when I wasn't even born yet, my own judgment is affected by the perspective of whole discography history which I have reached to my attention. Especially the marvelous compositions "Ashes are Burning" and "Can You Understand" are in my opinion canonized to much greater heights on their forthcoming "Live at The Carnegie Hall" album, culminating their career for me. However this album is also very adorable, and required some maturing from myself to be able accept the warmness and kindness shimmers through its art.

Review by NetsNJFan
5 stars Renaissance, more than any other band in my opinion, is the essence of symphonic prog. Renaissance relied almost primarily on acoustic guitars, acoustic piano, bass, and operatic female vocals for their sound. Add to this their classical structure, direct classical quotations and a healthy dose of English, Russian and Indian folk. This gave them a romantic classical sound that no other symphonic prog band could duplicate. By 1973, Renaissance Mark II was firmly set in and ready to go. After their debut with 1972's so-so Prologue, the new lineup of Dunford/Haslam/Camp/Sullivan set to work on Ashes are Burning. This album, more than any other displays all the influences rolled into one that made Renaissance great.

The album begins in mighty fashion with the ultra-symphonic "Can You Understand". Driven by Jon Touts regal and classical piano work, this Russian tinged classical-rock blend is a pure delight to listen to. Like many Renaissance tracks, this one is driven by Tout, as well as Jon Camp's thunderous bass, (in the Renaissance setting a lead instrument), and one of the few electric aspects to their work. After a gorgeous melodic classical three minute piano intro, the song turns very folksy, with Annie Haslam's ever pleasant vocals. Unlike many of their contemporaries though, Renaissance drew much of their influence from Russian as well as Indian folk, not just English. "Can You Understand" is a really beautiful blending of the aforementioned Russian folk and classical music. The song also features a gorgeous string arrangement, characteristic of their work. Renaissance, unlike many of their progressive peers, never gets bogged down in the arrangement, and never loses sight of the great melody, which ultimately drives the song. After that tour-de-force comes "Let it Grow" an extremely pleasant excursion into folk. Once again, Annie's vocals are stunning in this romantic song, which is extremely melodic. The lyric-less vocal harmonies at the end of the track with the underlying piano drive are sheer beauty. Another folksy ballad comes with "On the Frontier", but this one is much more developed, and features some impressive acoustic guitar from Michael Dunford, who like Peter Hammill, rarely actually plays the guitar. This song is similar to "Let it Grow" but has a much more complex underlying rhythm and arrangement, with some excellent drum work as well.

The next song, "Carpet of the Sun", is a bit poppy, but is a pure vocal showcase for Annie Haslam. Once again, one feels blown away by the pure beauty of her voice. This song was a popular concert piece, and features a rock solid melody. "At the Harbour" is a classic dark ballad. It begins with some dramatic piano courtesy of Tout. The first few minutes are actually an adaptation of a Debussy piece, and the foreboding mood fits perfectly. The song tells the tale of a ship lost at sea, and the women waiting at the harbor for it's return. This is one of the darkest pieces the usually up-beat Renaissance would record, and it is haunting to the max. A true classic. The ending, which features only sparse piano and some haunting vocals from Annie is perfect. The album ends in with Renaissance's concert classic, "Ashes are Burning". Beginning with the sound of the wind, Annie eventually goes on to give one of her best vocal performances with some excellent lyrics in this eastern tinged symphonic epic. (For all those metal singers, this is the track to show them what a real soprano should sound like.) The song's begging is rather normal, with an extremely beautiful piano and guitar melody, before shifting into one of their most energetic instrumental workouts, in which each member is given adequate room to show his talent. One important thing in Renaissance song structure is that showing off isn't important, unless it benefits the song, so their solos are extremely melodic and pleasant, while not uber-complex. This song flows along effortlessly for twelve minutes before returning to its initial theme with Annie on Vocals. After this Dunford (or Andy Powell who sat in on the track) gives one of the best guitar solos of his career. The song just sort of spirals out into the distance, on of the few examples where a fade out is truly majestic. I sincerely urge you to download this track here.

it is one of Prog's greatest achievements.

Along with 1975's stunning Scheherazade, Ashes are Burning stands as Renaissance's classic work. A true masterpiece on the strength of "At the Harbour", "Can You Understand", and "Ashes are Burning"

Recommended to fans of ultra melodic and beautiful acoustic prog, with strong classical and folk influences. (They share more in common with Italian than English symphonic, if that helps). Enjoy. I sure do --- 5 Stars

Review by Zitro
4 stars 4 1/3 stars

This is Renaissance at their peak. The band mixes perfectly rock, classical music, folk, and a soprano female vocalist. The guitars are usually acoustic in this record, the piano is prominent as well as the amazing Annie Haslem's vocals. The drumming is usually simple, except for the title track with its excellent percussion. The Bass Guitar has a similar sound to Yes' bass.

"Can You Understand" begins with a classical piano solo that reminds me of 'Firth of Fifth', the rest of the song is a symphonic rock-folk with classical piano work. Brilliant!!. 'Let it Grow' is a piano folk ballad with nice melodies and a piano driven finale with wordless vocals.'On the Frontier' is a highly melodic and easy listening folk ballad in which a male vocalist sings along with Annie. There are two nice piano solos in this track. 'Carpet of the Sun' is a poppy and happy symphonic song with nice melodies. 'At The Harbour' is a dark track with brilliant musical arrangements and melodies.

The title track is a masterpiece and I am glad it is here in Progarchives so that people unfamiliar to the band can listen to this. It begins with a folk ballad with nice melodies. Later, Annie hits incredibly high notes with her voice and the song gets a bit heavier after Annie sings those wordless vocals. That next section is an instrumental workout in which all members can be allowed to shine (especially the keyboardist). After the short section in which Annie sings, Powell plays a highly melodic electric guitar that fits perfectly for the song.

This album is almost essential ... it is very melodic, it has the best female vocalist I have ever heard, good mixtures of genres, and pleasant easy music.

Highlights : Ashes are Burning

Let Downs : None

My Grade : B+

Review by memowakeman
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Angelīs voice?

In Progressive Rock, when you hear the word "Renaissance", probaby you will think in that wonderful Annie Haslamīs voice, i do that, despite thereīs a bad mexican band called Renaissance too, and despite maybe you should remind Keith and Jane Relfīs Renaissance,the first thing in your mind will be i dont know, Ashes are Burning, Mother Russia or Northern Lights for example.

Ashes are Burning, besides Turn of the Cards and Scherezade are IMO "The Big 3 albums", i also love A Song for all seasons for example, but i think this big 3 was their best period, their most creative and fine period, this time im going to review "Ashes are Burning".

If you havenīt heard to them, this could be a nice abum to start, you will find immediately symphonic sound, great piano trhoughout the album, and the mentioned beautiful , peaceful, superb Annie Haslamīs voice.

"Can You Understand" is a perfect first song, here we can find and appreciate that great melodic and representative piano work, it is one of the best Renaissanceīs things besides the vocals though, this is a 9 minute song which could be a preamble of the whole album, in my opinion this song is a clear example of the highest Rennaissance sound, creative and envolving sound, it has some soft passages, some changes, excellent overall.

"Let it Grow" is that kind of low tempo song, i canīt describe it with other adjetive, that song is really nice, here among other songs we can notice that high tones that Haslam can reach , again we can notice that melodic piano sound, also the bass is great.

"On the frontier" is my less favorite song here, anyway is a pretty good song, but i think it doesnt have anything new to show us , te same beautiful voice, and the same soft slow tempo song, with some vocal harmonies, in fact is similar to other songs, but if i have to choose my less favorite, it would be.

"Carpet of the Sun", i like this song too much because it was one of the first Renaissanceīs songs that i ever listened , it is the shortest song here, but is beautiful, and again with their particular style.

"At the harbour" is a beautiful composition, it has all the time a nice and well place acoustic guitar sound, making the rythm of the song, this i one of the best guitar moments here, is like a duo between acoustic guitar and female voice, great song, im sure you could enjoy it a lot.

"Ashes are Burning" the self titled track, and the last track of the album, and other thing, the Best track of the album, this song is great , amazing, progressive rock in itīs highest symphonic classical point here, this song is over 10 minutes, one of the best things here is the bass sound, always in the righ moment and not as repetitive as other songs, this song is simply great, perfect all is excelent here, from the most powerful passages when piano makes again an excellent work, to the slowest moments when only Annieīs vocals are present.

I highly recommend this album, because it was made in Renaissance best period, it show us their some of their best compositions, still im not sure if it deserves to be called a masterpiece, 4.3. stars for me! Excellent addition to any prog lover!

Review by b_olariu
4 stars This is a bomb for prog. My second best from them after the beautiful and smooth A song for all seasons. The title track are one of the best ever written by the band, with long keyboard parts from the master of the band John Tout, very symphonic, very prog. The voice is again very good and shines on every track . One of my favourite from prog music. 4 stars for sure, try it, this band are among the best from the prog old school.
Review by Ricochet
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars It's the time of fantastic moves, of beautiful music, of masterful thought and of everlasting. After a long period of what I like to consider "style accomodation", Renaissance wake up to a form that will shine of brilliancy and of intelligent artistic manifest, everything in a most keen period of them all. The mid '70 resemble by definition a moment of intensive geniality illustration and Renaissance don't stay out of the picture at all, reaching a concept and an ideal of entity climax that will not have a similar reflection in any other moment of history (their history, that is). Three albums define the best of Renaissance, three albums raise them to an infinite state of excellence. Ashes Are Burning isn't an opener of this, but a direct hit of brilliant gesture and sharp master-effects, being of such a beauty, it's hard to comprehend it in its entire. Considering this the most prolific album of Renaissance wouldn't be unjustified, as it tends indeed to have the greatest resonance and the most compact shape (or at least I hear it always as the best reference to Renaissance; prefectly okay). Personally it's my second favourite, nonetheless a masterpiece dedication and a fabulous thing to experience.

In a large scheme of color, elements, motives and impression essences, Ashes Are Burning is a statement of complexity, of great understanding towards a most perfectioned flavor and approach, a dynamic interpretation that is appealing, intriguing and of great sense, of refinement in which valences are a matter of art and of over-confident excelation. The propositions are conserved and reflected in a most mature way, the sensations that compose music are brought to a point of splendid artifacts, the ideas that concentrate on the fluid nucleus of the album are bright, clean, excellent, plurimotivated. Hort sentenced, the feeling is perfect, the mood is ecstatic, the achievement is 100% definitory, the quality is undiminishing, the significance is unneglectable. Impressive, magnificent and pulsating. The character of Ashes Are Burning rely on a charisma in pure shape, on symbols of music, lyrics, breathes and emotions, on elevated dynamics and serious capitalization of the speech, and in a final imaginative stand, on a very boemic and authentic "Renaissance"-like essence. It's a great thing ot experience this musical speech, it's a marvelous reaction to observe and to witness the event of a climax and of a concept expansion rarely acknowledged. A sophisticated look into a music that in the end speaks towards the soul's attention and the soul's enlightement. Up to such a motivated definition, things just can't get better. Pragmatic, yet very fluent and without the oversaturation of a detail branch focus. What more can I say, perfection to the real meaning of the world. The interpretations are two: the factual state and the listener's knowledge. Be illuminated and be dazzled, for this is the true power. That, besides a rendered perspective. A vocal-instrumental combination holds the price of the fluent speech up and running. In the end, what's left of everything is an introspective emotion and an eliberation into the vast space of a matter dream. In tone of real and reachable, the creation excites the undefined and the undesciphered as well. In tone of didact or even academic expression, the guided touch gives euphoria a dimension and to sensation a whole new understanding point. The power of Ashes Are Burning consists of pure music, of values, of principles and of passion. The reflection is a forte, pico bello, musique de lumiere.

Though the concentrated points of the albums are the two "epics", try to savour the mid-part as well, for the power's tendancy is to equally challenge the admiration. Perhaps not a "Black Flame"-like intensity in each and every one of them, still the short style(d) tracks aren't just short style(d), but offer an imense view towards the language of the album. Back to the two "longs", I am more fond of Can You Understand thatn to the title track, due to a charisma melody that soothenes me. Yet the title reference is the most profound composition, presenting a clear "climax of the climax", through intensity, through unearthly dynamics and through the charm that seizes the breath. Repeating what I've already said in the general view, now to the details of the intimate exposure, the speech is pluri-emotive. The message carries different signals. Whether it's the piece, or the changing scenery within a piece, or the elements within the scenery.Thus Ashes Are Burning conceives an entire palette. From dark to slow and to slippery, from glowing to secluded, from easy to complex, from cheerful to boemic and melancolic, from diffuze (positive thinking, of course) to crystal clear, from moving waves to burning air.From definition to explanations that comes aberant. For ultimately, and I repeat myself one more time, music counts.


Review by Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
5 stars The light burns ever more brightly

I have an abiding memory of this album from my formative years living in a shared flat. Being a convert to the lush melodies and fine vocals of Renaissance, I bought the LP not long after its release. It quickly became a favourite, and was constantly on my turntable. Sharing a flat with three others, the best way to listen to music at a decent volume was to use headphones. So it was that I lay back on my bed and drifted off to the second side of the album. The relaxation qualities of the music were such that by midway through the feature (title) track, "Ashes are burning" I was pretty much asleep. Now for those familiar with the track, you will recall that after a lengthy instrumental section, all goes quiet, the silence only being broken by the voice of Annie Haslam singing "Imagine the burning embers..". These vocals are however only in one channel, and so it was that awoke with a start and leapt up in my bed, thinking an unexpected lady had entered my room and was speaking right into my ear.

Now that tale, while largely indulgent and irrelevant, does serve to convey the essence of "Ashes are burning" as an album.

The album opens in similar style to the previous albums with the lengthy "Can you understand" This superbly constructed piece begins with a piano dominated instrumental but it is Annie Haslam who shines. Her vocal performance here is one of her finest ever, the track presenting her with the opportunity to display the full range of her talents.

"Let it grow" is a beautiful relaxed ballad, where Haslam explores her five octave range backed by sparse accompaniment. The final track on side one "On the frontier", is the weakest on the album. It has all the usual Renaissance tenets, but lacks the spark of its illustrious peers.

The wonderful "Carpet of the sun" opens side two. This highly melodic piece once again offers Haslam the challenge she relishes with its soaring chorus. Lyrically the song is warm but whimsical, complementing the melody to perfection. "At the harbour" must rank as one of the band's most undervalued songs, a fact only partially rectified by the stunning version on Michael Dunford's Renassiance's "Ocean gypsy" album. This sad tale of fishermen's wives waiting in vain for the return of their loved ones was clearly inspired by such tragic stories from lyricist Betty Thatcher's native Cornwall. John Tout's haunting piano which bookends the track and Haslam's ghostly vocals only serve to heighten the dramatic effect.

The title track closes the album. This magnum opus sees the band bringing together all that has gone before, and moulding one of their greatest compositions. The track moves through highly melodic vocal passages, a wonderful organ section, and some exquisite guitar work by guest guitarist Andy Powell (Wishbone Ash). There is classically inspired keyboard work, and a truly progressive structure. This is a piece EMERSON, LAKE AND PALMER would have been proud of, I kid you not.

On this album, Michael Dunford contributes acoustic guitar and much of the song writing, but he is not yet credited as full member of the band (although he had actually rejoined prior to the album's release). He is joined in song writing duties for the first time by Betty Thatcher, a partnership which would be the cornerstone of Renaissance music for many years to come. Thatcher was a poet by trade, and had been a friend of former band member Jane Relf. Interestingly, when introducing the title track of this album on the "Carnegie Hall" live album, the band describe this as their "second album", choosing to ignore any releases under the Renaissance name during the Relf era.

This is the music which set the framework for bands such as MAGENTA and MOSTLY AUTUMN. It is as fresh and relevant today as it was in 1973. An essential album.

Review by Heptade
5 stars You'd have to be pretty hard of heart not to appreciate some of Renaissance's music, since it's just so damn pretty...occasionally even beautiful. This album, possibly their career highlight, is chock full of wonderful melodies sung in Annie Haslam's nightingale-sweet, soaring voice. This is not as classical music-influenced as other albums, with lots of folk-rock the order of the day. The shorter songs particularly are as good as hippie folk-rock gets, with great, uplifting melodies, if you can get past some Sesame Street-cute optimistic lyrics (which I can). The album's highlight is At the Harbour, an incredible acoustic song that starts with solo piano and changes into a tragic ballad of the sea featuring delicate broken chords on the guitar. Quite breathtaking. The bookends of the album, Can You Understand and Ashes Are Burning, are more typical Renaissance epics, and driven by John Tout's dramatic classical piano and harpsichord. The album concludes with an emotional Andy Powell guitar solo on the dramatic title track. This is one of three Renaissance (in the post-Relf lineup, at least) records that all symphos should own, along with Turn of the Cards and Scheherezade. Also don't miss the first Illusion album, which is just as good.
Review by 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!

Review by Tarcisio Moura
5 stars Itīs hard to write a straight review about an album that has been largelly responsible for my love of prog music. When I first heard it when I was 15 it really blew my mind. I couldnīt believe my ears by the piano introduction of Can You Understand. And I had never found such a singer like Annie Haslam. A beautiful voice, with an amazing range and technique, she sounded like an angel (she still does!)

The album itself, now I see, is very much acoustic: Piano, Harpsichord, organ, acoustic guitars, drums, percussion. Aside from Wishbone Ashīs Andy Powell guitar solo at the end of the title track, the only electric instrument here is the bass guitar, marvelously played by Jon Camp. Still, you donīt miss anything. The music is more prog then folk, as some might have perceived. The use of orchestral arrangements on two tracks are very tasteful and very welk done.The musicians are really outstanding, they go from a simple ballad like Let It Grow to the jazz-rock-classical jam at the end of Ashes Are/Burning without any trouble.

HIghlights? For prog lovers, Can You Understand and the title track. Great epics with everything one should expect from a band of this caxliber: swinging moods, fantastic keyboards, incredible bass lines, and so on... for the ones who aprecciate more quiet sutff, At The Harbour is one fo the most moving songs of the entire prog world (even though its piano introduction is really a stealing from Debussy). The softer side of the band comes with Carpet of The Sun (fine orchestration!) and the ballad Let It Grow (simple and yet effective). Only On The Frontier seems to be a weaker track, but it is nice anyway.

On all tracks the voice of Annie Haslam soars: she is a league on her own. The best female singer ever!

Ashes Are Burning is a classic, an essential masterpiece of music in any sense. And one of the top five prog records (or any other music style) in my life.

Review by apps79
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Following the release of ''Prologue'' guitarist Rob Hendry left the band to be replaced by Peter Finberg for the upcoming tour of the band.When finally Renaissance were ready to write another album, Finberg was replaced by Michael Dunford, who returned as an acoustic guitarist.''Ashes Are Burning'' was recorded between April and August of 1973 and released in October of the same year on Sovereign Records for the UK market.The album featured a guest appearance of Wishbone Ash'es guitarist Andy Powell on the long eponymous track.

''Can You Understand?'' is definitely among the band's best offerings ever.Excellent piano-driven Symphonic Rock mixed with Orchestral/Folk Rock and Haslam in her best shape ever, containing both dramatic and dreamy passages.Tout had become one of the band's leading forces, as prooved again by the second and third track ''Let it grow'' and ''On the Frontier''.Nice absolutely ethereal ballads with a smooth rhythm section and Classical-inspired piano vibrations.Notice that ''On the frontier'' was previously released by ex-Renaissance member Jim McCarty's band Shoot.Another beatiful cut is ''Carpet of the Sun'', a short composition with orchestral parts, finally the harsichord of Tout is on the forefront along with string passages and Haslam's crystalline chords.''At the Harbour'' contains a great piano prelude by Tout, but soon it regains a lovely British Folk flavor with an intense lyrical content, led by acoustic guitars and Haslam's vocals, before another piano outro.The eponymous 11-min. track is among Renaissance's classics, no question.A superb arrangement with grandiose vocals but also extensive instrumental themes around orchestration passages, piano and harsichord interludes, even some deep organ appears in the middle and the great solo of Powell before the end.

Overall this was a great improvement over ''Prologue'' and the establishment of Renaissance into full-blown smooth Progressive Rock of very high quality.Highly recommended, one of the best albums of Orchestral Progressive Rock.

Review by Gatot
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars A well-rounded album with excellent compositions!

This fourth album by Renaissance remarked critical milestone in the band's music career where they had successfully crafted their position as a folk-based band with strong classical and orchestral orientation. If you follow the band's career track you might find that musically this album was much matured in composition than their first three albums : self titled (1969), Illusion (1970) and Prologue (1972). Through this album the band's love to orchestral arrangements has become so obvious.

And as a matter of fact, if you were there in the seventies, you might have found that there were minimum similarities from one band to another. Each band sounded unique musically. You would not be able to compare Genesis against Yes, ELP against Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull against Gentle Giant. Why? All of them are already unique in themselves. The situation was different in the 80s onward when, I think, music styles have proliferated in many dimensions; some new bands take influence from their predecessors. But again talking about 70s, Renaissance music was really original and its influence was not that much in other newer bands as compared to Genesis or ELP. But lately you might find some Ritchie Blackmore's solo albums were heavily influenced by Renaissance.

Why do I need to give that long background as I describe above? I just want to put things into perspective. To be specific, I don't think it's fair to compare vintage album like Renaissance with today's music records as they are different in era and different in technology. And I do believe that technology does matter in music progression. This is to state clearly that I don't want to compare this album with complex and heavy music such as Dream Theater because they represent different era. So when I review 70s album I tried to bring myself as close as possible in the era when the album was released, i.e. in the 70s. I know that at that time "Ashes Are Burning" was released I was more interested in Genesis and Yes, emotionally, than any album of Renaissance. But it does not mean that Renaissance is bad, isn't it?

So, how do I score this "Ashes Are Burning"?

I am not going to do a detailed track by track review but as far as opening track "Can you understand" (9:49) the band demonstrated a great opening through the sounds of piano followed with floating music in medium tempo, augmented by tight and dynamic bass lines. The music flow sounds really natural and it brings you to the end of the song without getting noticed about it since the arrangements are good. During the vocal line, the main rhythm is an acoustic guitar. It's really nice, especially when Annie Haslam delivers her excellent voice.

The next track "Let it grow" (4:15) is quite pop in nature. But the voice of Annie Halsam moves brilliantly with acoustic guitar rhythm section as well as piano. Nothing truly compelling (emotionally) that I got from this song but for sure this one is quite accessible to many ears because it's simple in composition. While on the next track "On the frontier" (4:53) I can see more curved lines in the music styles plus some interesting breaks or bridges where piano as well as bass guitar provide excellent solo. Of course, the solo is not as dynamic as Chris Squire's "Heart of The Sunrise" thing but it's still interesting to enjoy.

"Ashes are burning" (11:24) could have been considered as an epic track if we look at the duration of the song. However, it's not really the duration that makes it like an epic, the structure of the song reminds us to a song with particular theme - regardless what the story is. Musically, the composition is tight, blending nice melody, excellent acoustic guitar and piano work, plus excellent Annie Haslam voice. The interlude part is truly excellent - especially when there is a vibraphone work and keyboard solo, augmented and continued with piano solo. It's really nice and memorable.

Overall, this is a true excellent vintage prog album that you should not miss if you want to know and experience the whole spectrum of progressive music in the past. Well, at least you must be aware that legendary prog bands were not just Genesis, Yes, PFM, Pink Floyd etc. I know, Renaissance has never been said as one of influential legendary bands. But that's okay, as long as you still have a strong passion to understand this album. Highly recommended. Keep on proggin' ..!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Review by jammun
1 stars For some reason, I remember liking this back in the day, but time has a way of putting these things in perspective.

This thing sucks.

It starts out well enough: Can You Understand is a rousing, Yes-derived piece of near perfection. And then it all goes downhill from there. Annie Haslam's voice is pleasant enough when she's not showing off her range; when she shows off her range, it is cringe-inducing and possibly responsible for Minnie Ripperton, for which I automatically dock the album a star

The lyrics are for the most part puerile and mindless cliches. Other than the bass player, there is apparently no competent soloist in the band.

I'd immediately pull this out of my collection were it not for those first few minutes of Can You Undestand, which are highly exhiliarating if listened to every decade or so.

Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Ashes are Burning is the fourth album from Renaissance and the second with the new lineup. In my ears this is a massive improvement over the somewhat mediocre Prologue. Annie Haslam really blossoms on Ashes are Burning and itīs clear to me now why people hold her in such high regard. Her performance on Prologue were one of the positive things on that album, but this time sheīs outdone herself. The music is also much better composed and played than on Prologue and on top of that the production is excellent.

The music is very melodic and symphonic, itīs not very complex but intricate enough to be progressive rock. My favorites are the two long songs Can you Understand and Ashes are Burning which are both great examples of Renaissance when they are best. The instrumental interplay is very present on these songs, and I especially like the brilliant keyboards from John Tout. The man is a melodic genious. On Ashes are Burning there is even a guitar solo which there are not many of in Renaissance music. I can see that the guitar in that song is played by an Andy Powell. Is this the Andy Powell from Wishbone Ash ? On the Frontier, Carpet of the Sun and the folky At the Harbour are also excellent songs with Annie Haslams voice in the center. Let it Grow is a bit too poppy for me, but again the song is saved from total failure by Annie Haslamīs beautiful voice.

The sound quality is as mentioned above really brilliant. Especially the way Annie Haslamīs vocals are produced amazes me every time. Itīs so clear that it can splinter glass. But all the instruments are also clearly heard in the soundscape.

This is a very special album and it get 4 big stars from me. Itīs masterpiece quality but it gets too nice and poppy at times for my taste and therefore only 4 stars. Itīs highly recommendable though.

Review by kenethlevine
5 stars Finally the lineup for which Renaissance would become best known is in place, a lineup with as much synergy as you could find in 1970s rock. As a result, "Ashes are Burning" is the first truly classic Renaissance album, and one of their best ever. The blend of rock, romantic classical and folk elements was never really challenged by any band before or since. Annie's voice is properly employed for the first time, and the balance of guitars, keys and orchestral effects is achieved on instinct.

The album opens with the most fully formed and realized Renaissance epic up to that point, "Can You Understand". It is a symmetrical piece, beginning and ending with a divine theme on piano, supported heavily by acoustic guitar, bass and drums. This really rocks! Within is an elegantly orchestrated section sandwiched by Annie to sparse guitar accompaniment. "Let it Grow" is a gentle almost poppy song that is elevated several storeys by Annie's vocal gymnastics. "On the Frontier" is yet another vestige of the early Renaissance era, with the music by McCarthy. It is like a sequel to "Spare some Love" off Prologue, also featuring Annie and her male cohorts providing brilliant harmonies and some fine breaks showing off Mr Camp's pedigree. Like that earlier track, it crams so much into so short a space that it almost comes off like an epic.

"Carpet of the Sun" is another lovely track but with a bit more substance than "Let it Grow". "At the Harbour" features a classically inspired folk song surrounded by very classical intro and outros. What is amazing is that an early compilation featuring this album and its predecessor dropped both of those parts, essentially eviscerating the song. "Ashes are Burning" is a fine rendition although it's hard to evaluate fairly in light of the vastly superior 24 minute version from "Live at Carnegie Hall" which appeared several years later. Even Andy Powell's guitars at the end somehow don't match the mood, although it must be said that they are more suited to the Renaissance sound than what we heard in "Rahan Khan". They are really no substitute for Annie's histrionics on the live version. Nonetheless, considered on its own merits, it is still a powerful piece.

4.5 stars, and only because the Live Ashes essentially supplants the studio version. Still, not enough to stop me from rounding up. This is where to begin your exploration of the unique Renaissance sound.

Review by ZowieZiggy
3 stars I have to say that some parts from their previous album "Prologue" have disappeared a bit with "Ashes". At least during the first side of the vinyl album.

Compositions are less passionate and more on the mellow side. I am not thrilled with the long opening "Can You Understand". I probably can't.None of these A-side songs are bad of course, but they lack some emotion IMO. As if the band was less inspired.

The piano play is still very pleasant, Annie's voice is still shining. So. What's wrong? I really don't know, but this feeling has always prevailed. It is probably due to a more folkish approach of their music. This mood has definitely inspired bands such as "Karnataka" and "Mostly Autumn" (but I quite like them).

Some orchestrations are also a bit too invading to my taste. Nothing too serious but it just add to my overall feeling. Still, "Let It Grow" is my favorite of the first side while the mellowish sound is back again for "On The Frontier".

To get up and turn the vinyl album is a rewarding exercise (which you don't need to do with the CD, you lucky youngsters).

To listen to "Carpet Of The Sun" is a real enchantment. Finally, a great "Renaissance" song full of poetry, aerial and so great vocals. The melody of this beautiful song helps in providing a very good feeling about this one.

And I admit that the good mood is going on during "At The Harbour". Very tranquil piano intro and sweet vocals are the main ingredients of this gentle song. It paves brilliantly the way to the epic title track. Fully "Renaissance", bombastic at times, great organ play (quickly combined with piano of course), this is another excellent piece of work.

Mostly instrumental, featuring even a guitar solo (but it is not the first time in these early "Renaissance days) this song is one of the highlights of this good album. Three stars (only due to its weaker A-side).

Review by SouthSideoftheSky
4 stars A very "classy", 'Classical' classic!

Ashes Are Burning was the second Renaissance album featuring Annie Haslam's vocals and the band's fourth album overall. While some songs from previous albums had been a little bit sloppy, Ashes Are Burning is the band's first really polished release. The slight Psychedelic tendencies that were present on the three previous albums are completely left behind here in favour of the pure Classical/Folk influences.

The sound is crystal clear and the vocals and instruments are very articulate and precise. The bass guitar in particular is very impressive with a really powerful bass sound. There is no doubt that these musicians are very talented and, in my opinion, the present album is their best effort. It has grown on me a lot since I first heard it, I used to think that this music is a bit too "classy" and too Classical for my taste and not enough Rock.

Annie Haslam is undeniably a very talented vocalist but her style of singing does not always quite fit into a Rock context in my opinion. The Rock credibility of the group is not exactly helped by the fact that the main keyboard instrument is classical grand piano and the almost total absence of electric guitars. However, the Rock aspect is kept alive by a strong presence of Chris Squire-like electric bass guitar and Rock drums as well as a short guest performance of Andy Powell from Wishbone Ash on some lead guitar at the end of the title track.

The music of this era of Renaissance can perhaps be described as a crossover between Classical music and Folk music with some slight Pop and Rock leanings and some progressive song structures. The two most progressive songs are the opener and the closer. The four slightly shorter tracks in the middle are not much less good with simply gorgeous melodies. Too bad about the boring cover art though!

Renaissance best album and an excellent addition to any Prog collection

Review by rogerthat
4 stars Charming, but not compelling all the way through. Sumptuous but at times less than substantial. And altogether, tending more towards the staid than the spectacular. That sums up this album for me and much of Renaissance. And yet, I really like it!

I am all ears when musicians break new ground and set sail for unchartered waters. But I recognize that sometimes, music that is not any of these things can still enchant. What Renaissance project on this album is an appealing warmth and sincerity that can seem in short supply in prog. If more of their ilk had better appreciated these virtues, then perhaps even their singer could not have saved them from oblivion. As it is, much is forgiven because here at least is a band that really wants you to like their songs and attempts to please, for whatever that counts.

I am not altogether sure if Ashes Are Burning is the best introduction to Renaissance for a listener. But I am quite sure that the first few minutes of Can You Understand make for a rousing and winning initiation. After two and half minutes of excellent piano, the weaknesses of the band begin to come forth. The vocal melody that follows is pretty good but seems a bit incongruous in conjunction with the intro. The pace has suddenly changed from rocking to tranquil. By the time we get to the chorus, we seem to be in a different place from where we started for no particular reason. Reiterating the intro at the end doesn't help.

Nor do the vocals, yet. If this is the first time you are listening to Annie Haslam's voice, you would quite likely be impressed by its sheer purity and power right on this track. But that apart, she is not yet as confident as she can be and comes across, inadvertently I guess, as not putting as much into the song as she could.

This haunts the three folk-pop tracks to come. It is hard not to be impressed by her technique on say Let It Grow but on comparison with subsequent albums, it is clear her best was yet to come. At the moment, more conviction is desirable as well as more energy in places. Because Let it Grow, On the Frontier, Carpet of the Sun are all vocal oriented short tracks, they would have fared better with more authoritative singing from Annie. Carpet of the Sun became a concert staple and comparing the rendition here with live takes from the mid 70s confirms my view. As it is, these songs are charming but could possibly have been more memorable in different circumstances.

Things improve quite dramatically on At The Harbour. In terms of intonation, there are some hesitant moments for Annie but she nails the feeling on this occasion. It appears at least to me that the preceding tracks were easier to interpret and this is the one that could trip all but the best singers. Strange then that she sounds more commanding on this song and makes an impression that lingers for a long time in the mind. This track is further proof that from the get go, Renaissance should have employed guitars more than they did. Dunford's modest guitar playing on the track is yet more appealing than Tout's grand piano work.

At this point, the listener is left with a pleasing impression but yearning for more. Fortunately, the band have saved their best for the last. If I said Ashes Are Burning is one of my favourite tracks of this band, I would be stating the obvious. This is also the only one of their more linear long pieces that really work for me. I tend to prefer the ones where they infused some mystery in the proceedings but on this track, everything falls in place as if the stars had aligned expressly for this purpose. Even in the middle when things seem to get a bit repetitive, the music still has enough momentum to hold your attention. A simple but beautiful intro and a very effective pause after the interlude also go some distance in giving this track an organic warmth that few of their long pieces could attain. This is a track that came to define Annie's live act as such and even here, she finds more elbow room to belt out powerful notes and stun you with sheer voice quality. It is odd that a band that couldn't be less guitar oriented can also count among its achievements one of the most memorable guitar solos in prog rock. Where their tendency to re-iterate almost unto death could drag down their compositions in subsequent albums, on this track re-iteration very beautifully builds the atmosphere as things go from gloomy to jubilant as the symbolic phoenix takes wing again (very aptly depicted by Andy Powell's electric guitar solo).

In conclusion, an album that serves notice of some potential but ultimately leaves you wanting for more and with the feeling of an opportunity missed. As it turns out, it is not a feeling they completely pushed aside even at the height of their powers. A slightly weak four stars.

Review by TGM: Orb
4 stars Ashes Are Burning, Renaissance, 1973

The thing that makes Ashes Are Burning a very special album for me is that it's not perfect. The songs' structures seem careless, even crude, and two occasional elements of the sound (chief writer Michael Dunford's acoustic guitar and any time Annie Haslam's wonderful, creamy soprano finds itself sprawling over a male harmony that doesn't really match up) simply don't blend with the album as a whole. And yet, in spite of these inadequacies and crudities, Ashes Are Burning is a spellbinding, compelling album. The music shines through.

Quickly summing up the band: John Camp (stop sniggering at the back) is a jolting Squire-esque lead bassist with plenty of crunch and attack to cover the principal deficiency of keyboardist John Tout's classically inspired, cinematic piano and organ parts. Drummer Terrence Sullivan fills out the rhythm section very capably, if generally unremarkable, and Michael Dunford's sort of limp-folk acoustic is perhaps compensated for by his ability as a songwriter. But we couldn't forget singer Annie Haslam, whose clear soprano has a creamy, luxuriant quality; occasionally, it feels almost too rich, but even then, a real treat to hear. Once saw 'Everything fusion' as a very fitting description of their music, and given their use of an occasional orchestra, strict classical piano, a chugging rhythm section and folk-based writing and subject matters, I don't think I can better that.

And this sound is best off in the opening/closing pair of the album. Can You Understand features possibly my favourite instrumental intro ever, with a gorgeous little piano motif pulsing away under the jarring, jabbing attack of Camp's bass, with all its various elements soaring away and then falling back into a tight, powerful, rich and complex arrangement. Two and a half minutes of the best music ever made. Thereafter, we see variously a rather irrelevant ten-second choral segue; a plain folk tune rolling into a more Gypsy-flavoured chorus, which is then instrumentally developed without particularly striking uses of either Tout's odd-sounding piano or the ornamental orchestra, which then slides back into a more deeply arranged variant of the folk tune with a blaring orchestra and Tout and Camp walking around on the chords behind it and now back to that wonderful opening theme with its parts overrun by violins, cellos, brass. Strangely enough, the intellectually interesting aspects of the song (a sort of abcCBA structure, where the capitals are orchestral) don't seem especially well-realised... the band's creativity seems to have gone out for a smoke whenever a bridge was needed, it flows pretty poorly, and yet, the contradiction of the album is present here: it's just fantastic. The individual sections are a delight, Renaissance are easily the most convincing incorporators of a classical orchestra in rock music (perhaps it's writing for Tout's noticeably classical presence that gives the orchestra something to latch onto), and that instrumental opening is so powerful that even the clumsiest transitions barely slow the song's emotional drive.

Well, since we're still recovering from that one, the sweet ballad of Let It Grow (admittedly, clichéd lyrics, but Betty Thatcher's word choice fits the tune very well) is a sweet follow-up, starring a remarkably calm piano and an absolutely winning vocal from Haslam, who moulds a lovely melody into a nuanced, full, gripping part. Camp, Dunford and Sullivan wander along in the background, and only Sullivan's precise 'leave' (one of those cases where I'd love to know a drumming term) on the end of Haslam's melodies and band presence the cathartic, harmony-laden denouement feel particularly relevant. Very charming, though the instrumentation is often superfluous.

On The Frontier took a while to appreciate. Have to admit, I still find Dunford's acoustic a bit tinny on the intro, I don't think much of either the vocal arrangements (a sort of strange oil-and-water crossing of Haslam and Camp's (I think) vocals) or the lyrics. However, those seemingly essential elements don't really seem to matter that much; the band's instrumental strengths simply outshine it. Tout's lush piano (even his very stiff efforts at jazzing it up), Camp's ability to take up and then fill out all parts presented to him and Sullivan's solid sound and capacity for fills, and a very neat acoustic part on the end secure this as at least a positive impression.

But, altogether excellent, bright and bouncy, Carpet Of The Sun is a folk/pop tune substantiated by the fully-functional orchestra with a fluent harpsichord, an interesting drum part running along behind it, and, indeed. Haslam's vocal is gorgeous, delivering in a suitably uplifting format a suitably uplifting lyric. A song that smiles just about as broadly as this reviewer is comfortable with but which thankfully has very nice teeth. At The Harbour is a strange contestant for my favourite tune of the album; it doesn't boast, it's not particularly stressing anything, it's about the aftermath and not the event. Piano introduction, a persistent, clear acoustic melody, a mournful harmonium and Annie Haslam's beautiful, haunted vocal... it's really an emotional piece, brought out by Thatcher's ambiguous lyrics. Eliot's 'new art emotion' seems an appropriate description.

Ashes Are Burning is the second extended treat for us here, and the powerful closer that matches Can You Understand blow for blow. It's far more coherent in its mixture of folk, rock and classical than the opener... at least, everything patches together very well, the number of great melodies, on celeste, piano, organ and bass is just extraordinary, a number of styles are touched upon but Sullivan pulls everything together into the rock camp, Haslam's lead vocal over an organ-and-pedals about eight minutes in is amazing, pure, powerful, haunting and the driving conclusion with a gorgeous blues guitar solo (courtesy of Andy Powell) is divine.

So, there you have it, a sandwich with the bread on the inside? Nevertheless, an album with a few flaws, real flaws, flaws that really should matter, that is pulled through by the power of its melodies, the individuality of its performers and the willingness to try new things. Something any music lover should take a look at sooner or later, and an example a lot of bands could do with... it's personality, not mere accuracy and thought, that makes great albums.

Rating: Four Stars

Favourite Track: three contestants, of which Ashes Are Burning probably comes out as the winner.

Review by Cesar Inca
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "Ashes Are Burning" signals the starting point for the definitive maturation of Renaissance's voice within the ample realms of British art-rock through the 70s. In many ways, this album follows in the path that the band had begun to trace in the "Prologue" album, but now you can tell that the ensemble bears a more solid feel and aims at more ambitious schemes in terms of writing and arranging the material. Also, The First Lady of Prog Rock (Annie Haslam, of course) begins to expand her vocal skills, charisma and finesse in a broader fashion within the band's sonic architecture. Speaking of sonic architecture, this is the first Renaissance album in which the orchestral arrangements become an integral part of some songs' inherent intensity: while not on the same level as any of the individual components of Renaissance's golden trilogy ("Turn Of The Cards"/"Scheherazade"/"Novella"), "Ashes Are Burning" pretty much installs the band's statement in the history of progressive rock from the folk-rock trend. Dunford, always present with his array of acoustic 6 & 12 string guitars, only became an official member after the album was released, so he is credited as a guest musician (just a bit of trivia). With the bang of a gong starts the opener 'Can You Understand?', a classic, a staple, and quite deservedly so ? it sets the standard of Tout's keyboards leading the melodic developments, the rhythm duo delivering a dynamic framework and Annie singing with such power and feeling that she actually makes the lyrics and music her own. The sung portions go from tranquil acoustic folk to something more related to a stylish sort of country, and it is at this point that the track capitalizes its dominant optimistic mood. 'Let It Grow' is a lovely ballad that sounds like a crossroad between Bread and early Yes; immediately after, 'On The Frontier' offers a very similar scheme, only with more prominent vocal ensembles that enhance the folky vibe properly, as well as a clever use of subtle jazzy moods some time during the interlude. The latter is not a Renaissance original entirely: in fact, it first appeared a few months earlier in an album by Shoot, which was led by Renaissance alumnus Jim McCarty. 'Carpet Of The Sun' is one of the most recognizable short songs by the band ? it is catchy, bearing an appealing sense of naivety in both the melodic phrases and the contemplative lyrics. It so should have been a worldwide hit!... just like songs by Simon & Garfunkel and Carole King had already been. At this point, some may feel that the album is reaching some sort of monotony in style: it may not be wholly false in terms of structure, but the actual quality of the music and the undeniable appeal of the performances make the repertoire remain fresh as the album goes on. Also, at this point, the average straight male fan should be totally in love with Annie, just like I have been since I first discovered the band. 'At The Harbour' shows the band going back to their ceremonious side ? the piano intro is moving and mysterious, yet warm and bearing a certain sense of intimacy? and it should be, since it is based on a Debussy piece, and the aforesaid composer was very keen on that sort of ambience. Well, the song's main theme bears a melancholic Celtic mood to it, a real sailor's song that portrays the worries of women who wait for their husbands to get back to the dock alive and kicking while a storm seems to enrage the sea greatly. The piano-vocal reprise aptly provides a culminating dramatic feeling for the song's closure. Last but not least, the namesake track closes down the album with a solid recapitulation of the opener's grandiosity. Quite certainly, this piece's melodic framework and development is the ambitious apex of the album, and no wonder that expanded live renditions of it should become defining moments in Renaissance's history. The first sung section is intense yet maintaining an elegant framework of sonic delicacy; then comes an instrumental interlude in which the instrumentalists shift toward a different, extended dynamics; finally, the announcement of ashes burning the way makes one of the greatest Haslam moments ever, which can only be succeeded by a plethoric fade-out that featured an electric guitar solo by guest Andy Powell (illustrious member of Wishbone Ash). This is a real lovely album, full of musical imagination, wonderfully crafted by a band that was just one step away from their peak: "Ashes Are Burning" started the period where Renaissance ruled the progressive folk-rock environment worldwide.
Review by AtomicCrimsonRush
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars "Clear your mind maybe you will find, That the past is still turning, Circles sway echo yesterday, Ashes burning, ashes burning..."

Renaissance's "Ashes Are Burning" is their masterpiece. The title track is one of the best examples of Annie Haslam's high 5 octave range. The lyrics are evocative of dreams or reflections of how things used to be and how they could be. The folk prog atmosphere borders on a Celtic flavour at times due to the musicianship and vocal techniques. I am reminded of early Fairport Convention or Pentangle at times, especially due to the content and female soprano vocals. Annie has a pleasant, sweet voice that always feels uplifting to the spirit and she is a survivor of the male dominated prog scene of the 70s. Curved Air would spring to mind as another. This album features some of Renaissance's most endearing and most popular works.

'Let it grow' is quintessential to Renaissance with a nice melody and a pretty musical framework. The rhythm is executed with acoustic flourishes mixed with piano arpeggios and scales. The sound is more mainstream and would fit a radio program easily. 'On the frontier' is a lot more progressive with some innovative time sig changes with bass solos and a prodigious piano workout.

The final track, 'Ashes are burning' is brilliant, my favourite Renaissance track. It clocks in at 11:24 as a mini epic with a ton of piano and acoustic work. A vibraphone compliments the soundscape beautifully with a tapestry of interwoven piano lines and Annie's enchanting voice. The lyrics are equally alluring and every time I hear them on this track it takes me to a far away place with lush green meadows and tall trees, and a neon purple sky; "Travel the days of freedom, Roads leading everywhere, Come with me now and show how you care, Follow the dying embers, Cross on the paths that they lay, Breath of the past the earths yesterday..."

The music has the power to transfix images with its delicate nuances, and progressive symphonic orchestration. Annie's pulchritudinous angelic vocals on the album are enticing enough, but the lyrics are mesmirising making this album an instant classic.

Review by Ivan_Melgar_M
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Redefining Symphonic

"Ashes are Burning" is the second album of this reborn RENAISSANCE, and the difference is obvious, if the excellent "Prologue" was practically a the duet "Tout & Haslam", now we are before a solid band with the addition of "Michael Dunford" adding his unique guitar while Sullivan and Camp take a more protagonist role in the performance.

The album starts with "Can you Understand", one of the few RENAISSANCE songs that sounds better in studio than in "Live at Carnegie Hall", the introduction presents us a full band creating music, not only a piano and vocals, and even when "Rout" and "Haslam" are transcendental, the performance of "Dunford" is just brilliant, with a solid rhythm section to support the band. It's also important to notice the polyphonic chorus to support "Annie's" fantastic voice. From the first moment we can notice a huge improvement, what was already great in "Prologue", is superb in "Ashes are Burning".

"Let it Grow" is an unfairly underrated song, that the band hardly uses in concerts, again the interplay between vocals and piano is outstanding, but now you have a very strong bass and percussion, even when the band is still basically melodic, the arrangements take an important part, allowing RENAISSANCE to create a unique Symphonic/Folk style with few imitators.

"On the Frontier" begins with an acoustic guitar solo and a male/female choir that soon is joined by the full band, this is another song that I haven't heard in many live recordings but still a strong Prog piece with a hint of Psychedelia from their early days plus some Rocking sections.

I usually listen an album from start to end, but when the turn comes for "Carpet of the Sun", I feel an irrepressible urge to repeat it two or three times, because of it's incredible beauty and magnificent performance, again "Annie Haslam" is the star, but without the perfect arrangements and capable performance, wouldn't be the same, maybe too short, but.........hey, it's better to leave the audience with the taste of honey in the lips.

If there's something I love from "At the Harbour", is the dramatic contrast between the sober and strong piano introduction (courtesy of John Tout) and the fully acoustic and sweet Celtic Folk ballad performed mainly by "Annie", is like the encounter if two different and opposite worlds that only brilliant musicians can make it work.

The album is closed by "Ashes are Burning", and as we can expect from a title song, it's "La piece de Resistance", the band magically manages to combine the Symphonic brightness with the soft Celtic atmosphere as nobody else did. Don't expect a typical Prog Rock with radical changes but they present is different moods linked one with the other with great dexterity and the addition of "Andy Powell" in the guitar gives a different sound. Special mention for For John Camp who gives an outstanding performance, adding the necessary strength when required and of course the incredibly dramatic organ, guitar and drums finale that always gives me goosebumps.

Any other comment about his album would be unnecessary, I only need to say that as I do with any essential masterpiece, I will give "Ashes are Burning" the maximum possible rating of 5 stars.

Review by Rune2000
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars My initial encounter with Renaissance came though the highly acclaimed album Scheherazade And Other Stories. No matter how much I tried to get into that record, it just would budge and so I gave up and moved on. Eventually once I got Spotify, aka music database at my fingertips, I once again felt obliged to give Renaissance a new chance. But which album was I to start with? Since my choice fell on Ashes Are Burning and Turn Of The Cards, I gave them both a shot!

Ashes Are Burning turned out to be a very pleasant surprise which didn't waste much time and kicked off with the 10-minute opener Can You Understand?. This track has everything that I felt was lacking on Scheherazade And Other Stories; energy, creative arrangements and a wonderful lead melody! Annie Haslam's introduction is built up in a grand fashion and the momentum is maintained all throughout the performance.

What should we expect after such a wonderful album opener? Why, an even better followup! Yes folks, Let It Grow is just as good as a Renaissance ballad will get! The melody is just gorgeous and the instrumental arrangements, including Haslam's vocals, are excellent all around. But after the cheerful sun comes a short rainy period with the rather average On The Frontier, that brings me no pleasure. Carpet Of The Sun is slightly better although it's still not really the same band that performed on this album's first two tracks.

Luckily it all improves and the lengthy instrumental intro of At The Harbour gives a good indication of just that. The middle section, or so called main portion, of the piece isn't really on the same level as the two symphonic sections that surround it but it makes me long for the excellence to come! I'm clearly referring to the lengthy title track to Ashes Are Burning. This is clearly the epicness (spell check seems to dislike this word, but I'll let it slide) that I lacked on Song Of Scheherazade. I would much rather hear this tune two consecutive times than expose myself to the rather tedious progression of that 20+ minute epic. Simply a perfect reason to love Renaissance! Ashes Are Burning is an amazing record that is held back by a few minor flaws. Although my overall perception of this album is highly positive, it just merely misses the masterpiece-rating. If you haven't heard this album then give it a shot!

***** star songs: Can You Understand? (9:51) Let It Grow (4:17) Ashes Are Burning (11:21)

**** star songs: At The Harbour (6:48)

*** star songs: On The Frontier (4:57) Carpet Of The Sun (3:32)

Review by BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR Heavy Prog & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars This album contains three of my Top 10 Renaissance songs in "Can You Understand" (9:49) (10/10), "At the Harbour" (6:50) (10/10) and the title song, "Ashes Are Burning" (11:24) (9/10). The other songs are only okay. Something about the playing in the title song is a little loose and not as well recorded as it could/should be, but the climax and guest Andy POWELL (WISHBONE ASH)'s guitar solo are awesome! The spaciousness and simplicity of "At the Harbour" have made it probably my favorite Annie Haslam and John Tout song. And what a song to start of an album with in the Russian-tinged "Can You Understand." Jon CAMP's bass play throughout this and "Ashes" amaze and astound me. I find it interesting that Michael Dunford is listed as a guest and not fully in the fold as a full band member. Good thing they let him (back) in: he is amazing and his contributions are key though they are often overlooked. What more can be said about Annie HASLAM that hasn't already been said. And to think that she had no intentions of becoming a rock singer--and had no formal training (at least, that's what I've heard her say). A voice from heaven. All in all Ashes is a very good album--made so by the three amazing songs I've highlighted above--all three of which deserve to belong in the Hall of Fame of Classic Era Progressive Rock Songs.
Review by octopus-4
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR RIO/Avant/Zeuhl,Neo & Post/Math Teams
4 stars I remeber about 10 years ago when I heard the piano intro of "Can You Understand?" coming from a radio in my office. I was really surprised and suddenly disappointed when it turned into a rap!! This song is one of the best things ever produced by Renaissance and the fact that the studio version is very similar to the live version of "Carnegie Hall" even without a symphonic orchestra makes this one of my favourite Renaissance albums.

The lineup is more or less the same of the mentioned live, with the exception of Andy Powell, whose poor guitar solo on the title track was fortunately kept off from the live version. But tlet's go in order.

"Can You Understand" is introduced by the piano as I have written, then the song has something of "russian" is terms of classical music inspired to Russian composers as it was quite usual for the band and in particular for Michael Dunford. An interlude with a country flavour and then an orchestral part. Annie Haslam is one of the best prog singers ever (look at PA polls) and her work is excellent as usually was before the 80s. There's a nice story that I've found on Wikipedia: a part of the song was composed by J.M. Jarre, but Dunford thought it was a Russian traditional and used it without permission. For this reason on some editions this song is credited to Jarre.

"Let It Grow" is one of the mellow "piano and voice" songs typical of this period of Renaissance. Another example is "Carpet of the Sun".

"On The Frontier" with its choral singing and the open major chords is part of the hippy side of the band. I think one of the reason why the band is often compared to YES is the bass. Jon Camp plays it at high volume and it sounds similar to Chris Squire. The "classical" interlude played by piano and bass is the best moment of the song.

"At The Harbour" has a long piano intro that's too disconnected from the rest of the song. The song itself could have been shorter as the central part is the good one. Same for the coda.

"Ashes Are Burning" takes only 11 minutes against the 24 of the live version. The reason is in the bass solo that has sense in a live and less in a studio song. Regardless this it's one of my favourite songs ever on which Annie Haslam can show all her great vocal range. The various sections make it an epic track. Add the bass solo of the live version and remove the guitar solo of this version and it's a masterpiece.

A great album but not at the level of Carnegie Hall.

Review by colorofmoney91
4 stars Ashes Are Burning was the first album by Renaissance that I listened to, and it is so beautiful. This album has a very prominent folk feel, but it is often backed by surprisingly rocky riffs that really make this album unique, in my opinion. Besides the symphonic sound of mellotron being present, there is also much harpsichord action going on. Undoubtedly progressive, the songs here move and flow through multiple beautiful passages that sound structured like a symphony. Acoustic strumming is a very important part of this band's symphonic folk prog sound, and there is definitely a lot of it on this album. I'd say that this would probably be a great crossover record for fans of prog folk to get into symphonic prog.

I have to say that the title track is the most standout track on this album. It starts out sounding like a potential Christmas tune, but the piano soon enters and gives off a very autumnal feel. Annie Haslam's voice is impeccable on this song, and the chorus is highly infectious and uplifting. In the middle of the song, it is revealed that this song rocks pretty hard. Very fun listen with terrific bass and vocals throughout.

Highly recommended for symphonic prog fans and prog folk fans alike.

Review by Warthur
5 stars Finally enjoying something resembling stability in their lineup, Renaissance went back to the studio to record Ashes Are Burning with Michael Dunford installed as a full member of the group (as he had been briefly before Prologue). Favouring acoustic guitar over electric, this lent a folky air to the band's classical-influenced prog, giving rise to the classic Renaissance sound that would see the band through to the Song for All Seasons/Azure d'Or era.

Dunford also deserves credit for coming into his own as a songwriter here, providing music to five out of the six tracks here (all the lyrics on the album were, of course, contributed by the enigmatic Betty Thatcher). One song, On the Frontier, was written by former Renaissance co-founder Jim McCarty, and it has to be said that it's probably the weakest song on the album. At this point, the new Renaissance lineup had more or less moved out of the shadow of the old one, and were stronger for it.

I'd previously been more lukewarm on Ashes Are Burning, though this may be because for a good long time the only CD copies available were pretty average in terms of execution. The recent remastering by Esoteric really helps tease out the finer parts of the music, and places Renaissance as a band who had found their own distinct niche in the prog landscape - namely, carrying the torch of the brightest and most optimistic phases of the psychedelic era whilst fusing it with high-quality folk-classical musical sensibilities, carried on the soaring voice of Annie Haslam.

Review by ClemofNazareth
4 stars The most immediately noticeable differences with 'Ashes Are Burning' over the prior two Renaissance albums are the precisely measured arrangements of each song, and the overt confidence displayed by the band members as they perform them. 'Prologue' was a decent album but the studio atmosphere was clearly less rigorous than here. There are several places on that album where the band seemed to indulge in extemporaneous space-filling (like both the opening and closing tracks), and others where musical ideas seem to have been left unexplored (eg., "Bound for Infinity"). But with 'Ashes' the band has found their groove and every song is rich with both musical precision and lyrical meaning.

Michael Dunford was still writing for the band and in fact officially rejoined them to provide acoustic guitar on the album. He replaced the briefly-employed Peter Finberg who had come from and returned to a career in mostly pub-rock bands like Slack Alice and HiHooka Joe. Finberg had himself replaced Rob Hendry who was encouraged to leave following 'Prologue' and according to John Tout was never a good fit for the group.

Dunford wrote all the songs on 'Ashes' with the exception of "On the Frontier" which former band founder Jim McCarty had composed and recorded with his new band Shoot and which Renaissance immediately appropriated for their own use. The late Betty Thatcher had by this time completely ensconced herself in the lyricist role for the band and provided Annie Haslam with all her lines for the album. Tout's piano is much more prominent throughout, but the real difference seems to be Dunford as the music has returned to a more folk-rock direction, albeit a fairly commercial one. The production is clearly improved over the last couple albums under the direction of Dunford and co-producer Dick Plant who had just notched invaluable experience in a similar role with ELO's 'On the Third Day' sessions.

"Can You Understand?" opens the album with Tout, bassist Jon Camp and drummer Terrance Sullivan laying down a seductive melody that borrows heavily from Jarre's 'Doctor Zhivago' 60's score and finds the band in top form with shifting tempos and playful chord variants that give the song a bit of a world-music feel in addition to something that sounds like something that would fit as a theatrical musical score (which I suppose it was, sort of).

The band relies heavily on Haslam's vocals and Tout's piano to drive many of the songs here especially the airy "Let It Grow" and "Carpet of the Sun", the latter which features rich orchestral accompaniment of strings and reeds that sound remarkably like some of the same sort of stuff Joe Boyd had overseen with several of his Island stable acts around the same time. This music is quite rooted in the early seventies and clearly the band was paying some attention to what was going on around them musically at the time.

"At the Harbour" is a beautiful composition that combines piano, light acoustic guitar and what sounds like a bit of organ for a prototypical example of the sort of songs the band would go on to create on their next few 'classic period' releases.

The closing title track once again finds the band adding an extended, heavily instrumental piece to end an album, something they had done on all three prior releases. Wishbone Ash's Andy Powell provides the electric guitar here which along with Tout's frenetic piano passage in the middle and organ forays throughout gives the tune some sonic depth that is lacking just a bit on the rest of the record. Unlike 'Past Orbits of Dust' which closes 'Illusion' and to a lesser extent "Rajah Khan" at the end of 'Prologue' this track seems to be devoid of improvisation, rather focusing on delivering a tight composition that brings all the talents the band to bear for a promising glimpse of what was to come.

This is the best Renaissance album so far, and would become the band's first charting record in the States, opening doors for them to tour extensively there over the coming years. A four star offering without a doubt, and highly recommended to anyone even remotely interested in the band.


Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars Here, guitarist Michael Dunford is finally a full fledged member of Renaissance. And they finally hit the big time.

The album opens and closes spectacularly. Can You Understand and Ashes Are Burning are two of the finest prog rock pieces in the entire Renaissance catalog. They have that big symphonic sound, fronted by John Tout's keyboards, and Jon Camp's strong bass lines, and of course, Annie Haslam's perfect voice.

In between those classic pieces are some nice prog folk tunes. Haslam carries these songs. Let It Grow by any other band would be completely forgettable, but when Annie sings those high notes, I just picture a beautiful song bird. Carpet Of The Sun became an international hit. It's a great song, but Haslam's trilling voice takes it to another level.

It's not quite a masterpiece, but it is a classic.

Review by Epignosis
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Ashes are Burning is a remarkable Renaissance album, combining a delightful blend of folk and symphonic progressive music. While largely piano-led, it blends other instruments into the compositions are needed and without excess, allowing Annie Haslam the occasional spotlight as the lead vocalist, soaring hither and thither and delivering one of her best performances on record. This is one of Renaissance's grandest albums.

"Can You Understand" The first Renaissance song I ever heard, albeit a live version, opened precisely this way, with an engaging, dazzling piano that exploded into bass and drums filling out the sound. The introduction completely exits to bring in a folk song proper. It's a wondrously enchanting vocal melody. It abruptly picks up with its nearly country refrain. The orchestral section in the middle is well crafted, as though the listener has been transported to the middle of a symphony. Then the regular music pleasantly resumes, whisking the hearer away into bliss once more. Jarringly, the band drives back to the initial piano-led theme, augmenting the piece with variations.

"Let it Grow" As though the title is indicative of the way this piece blooms, the light piano flutters in underneath easygoing singing before the band enters, bringing the piece into its full self.

"On the Frontier" Laying aside the piano as the main instrument in favor of acoustic guitar, this song is a moderate folk rock tune with male and female vocal harmonies. While initially a simple folk tune, the middle section adopts more diverse rhythms, tones, and moves into a dynamic approach to the piece as a whole, featuring a classical-sounding duet with bass guitar and piano- very well executed, and very well ended.

"Carpet of the Sun" This is one of Renaissance's most popular tunes, and is certainly one of my favorites. It is a happy song, full of melody and vibrancy. It is the romanticized carefree happiness of the 1970s embodied.

"At the Harbour" Opening with a classical piano piece, "At the Harbour" has a captivating introduction. Haslam enters with a suddenness and urgency. It is slightly melancholic and Celtic. The final two minutes involves piano, distant choir, and an almost heavenly light.

"Ashes are Burning" The lengthier title track opens with percussion, followed by piano, bass, and a seemingly impatient Haslam. Later, she offers some wordless vocals that I think could have been better served with some lyrics. Eventually, the bassist takes the rhythm over, as the pianist slightly hearkens back to the opener. The middle section, initially bereft of drums, features an unexpected organ solo before allowing the piano to resume control. As the embers of the music die, only Haslam and the organ remain. The final segment offers a dynamic bass over stagnant organ with an electric guitar solo sizzling ever so slightly over it all.

Review by siLLy puPPy
COLLABORATOR PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
4 stars This is where it really comes together for RENAISSANCE after the non-stop member exchange that they endured since their formation. Ann Haslam's sophomore release finds her hitting her stride after the less than perfect PROGLOGUE. It was also the first release to feature a full orchestra which is in the truest sense a symphonic progressive album. Even this far into their career founding band member Jim McCarty who had jumped ship quite some time before has a song that made its way onto this album. "On The Frontier" was originally released by his former band Shoot.

The album begins with the excellent "Can You Understand" with that now famous long classical piano intro that eventually leads into the acoustic guitar sound that this album favors leading the band into a kind of symphonic folk sound. The songs feel more fully developed on this release with interesting parts that come and go and always keep it exciting. Ann Haslam sounds like she has finally blossomed into what she was born to be, namely the lead singer for a symphonic rock band that she nails on this release and ushers in the classic era for RENAISSANCE.

Songs like "Let It Grow" that are too poppy and sweet are what bring this album down a bit for me. This song actually reminds me of the fact that this group can at times sound like a progressive version of The Carpenters. Although this is a great album there are times it has just too much of a la-la-la-let's-skip-through-a-flower-field-and-yodel feel to it. Still a huge improvement from the previous RENAISSANCE lineups and the first of several beautifully orchestrated symphonic rock albums. Not a masterpiece for me but more than enough awesome material to warrant a mandatory space on my shelf.

Review by stefro
5 stars Briefly-popular during the latter half of the 1970s, symphonic folk-rock quintet Renaissance were initially formed by ex-Yardbird Keith Relf during the dying embers of the 1960s, the vocalist having tired with amost a decade worth of playing blues-based rock. Keen to try something new, Renaissance was Relf's ambitious attempt to stretch out musically, yet he would only stay with the group for a single album. That album was 1969's self- titled debut, which also featured Relf's sister Jane(vocals), Jim McCarty(percussion), John Hawken(piano) and Louis Cennamo(bass), none of whom feature on 'Ashes Are Burning'. Issued in 1973, this was the fourth Renaissance album overall, but the first to feature what is now recognised as the 'classic' line-up of Annie Haslam(vocals), Jon Tout(keyboards), Michael Dunford(guitar), Jon Camp(bass) and Terry Sullivan(drums), all of whom featured on previous album 'Prologue' bar Dunford, who replaced the outgoing guitarist Rob Hendry. Augmented by lyricist Betty Thatcher, this line-up would issue a trio of excellent albums from 'Ashes Are Burning' onwards, marrying strong classical influences with folk, rock and pop to create a thrilling brand of symphonic music. Whilst 1975's 'Scheherazade & Other Stories' is often referred to as the group's masterpiece, 'Ashes Are Burning' also deserves special mention for it's sheer power and bravado, showcasing the group's core creative force of Haslam's incredible five-octave vocals and Tout's lush piano-playing. The whole album proves a sumptuous treat, yet it is the two lengthy pieces that book-end the album that show off Renaissance at their very best. Opener 'Can You Understand?' starts a beautifully-judge piano medley that gathers in pace as it spirals towards it's satifyingly grandiose inclusion, whilst the epic title-track literally bursts into after another gorgeously-sung Haslam intro makes way for the booming bass rhythms and churning keyboards of the tracks powerful second half. In between, the pretty and melodic 'On The Frontier' and the anthemic 'Carpet Of The Sun' showcase the usual Renaissance trademarks, once again marrying strong classical tones with elegiac folk touches and the subtle medieval feel that permeates much of their best work. One of the group's trio of classic mid-seventies albums, 'Ashes Are Burning' may just be their most ambitious album, and certainly their darkest. STEFAN TURNER, STOKE NEWINGTON, 2O14
Review by VianaProghead
4 stars Review Nš 273

'Ashes Are Burning' is the fourth studio album of Renaissance and was released in 1973. It was the first of several Renaissance's albums to feature an orchestra. It's notable for being Renaissance the first band to bring an orchestra with the group, a characteristic that was extended by several works of the band in the 70's. This was also the album that turned Renaissance in one of the most famous and best symphonic progressive rock bands in the 70's. 'Ashes Are Burning' is considered one of Renaissance's better works. It makes part of what is usually called their baroque/folk era. It belongs to their golden era that began in 1972 with 'Prologue' and ended in 1978 with 'A Song For All Seasons'.

The line up of Renaissance on this album suffered a small change from their third previous studio album 'Prologue'. On 'Ashes Are Burning', the guitarist Rob Hendry was substituted by Michael Dunford. Michael Dunford, who had been working with the group only as a composer, had joined the band by the time that 'Ashes Are Burning' was released. So, the line up on this album is Annie Haslam (lead and backing vocals), Michael Dunford (acoustic guitars), John Tout (backing vocals and keyboards), Jon Camp (vocals, and bass) and Terry Sullivan (backing vocals, drums and percussion). The album has also the participation of Andy Powel (electric guitar), as a guest musician.

'Ashes Are Burning' has six tracks. All songs were written by Betty Thatcher and Michael Dunford except 'On The Frontier' written by Betty Thatcher and Jim McCarty. The first track 'Can You Understand' is one of the best songs ever composed by the band and is simply brilliant. The song begins with a fantastic and incredible classical piano solo and the rest of the song is performed in a magnificent symphonic folk/rock style. The vocal performance of Annie Haslam is also absolutely brilliant. This song has a rare and superb electric guitar solo performed by the guitarist of Wishbone Ash, Andy Powell. This is clearly one of the highlights of the album. The second track 'Let It Grow' is a simple, beautiful and relaxing ballad with another incredible vocal performance by Annie Haslam. Again, we can notice the melodic and beautiful piano performed by John Tout. This isn't a very emotional song, but it's, for sure and for everybody, very pleasant, because its musical structure is very simple, making of it a very accessible song to listen to. The third track 'On The Frontier' is for sure the weakest song on the album and is also my less favourite song too. However, it's far of being a bad song and it has also some pretty and good musical moments. In reality, it has the same beautiful and pretty voice and the same nice vocal harmonies. But, in fact, it's very vulgar and it doesn't have anything really new and remarkable to show. The fourth track 'Carpet On The Sun' is a simple and beautiful song that is perfect and a nice orchestral musical work. This is the shortest song on the album that remains with its very particular style a very nice song. It's a very melodic piece of music where again Annie Haslam offers to us her great vocal talents and where she can brings to the song a nice and peaceful ambient. It's a very catchy song but it isn't one of the highlights of the album. The fifth track 'At The Harbour' is a return to a more complex and ambitious musical compositions than the previous three songs. The song is a classic dark ballad and is also one of the darkest pieces of music that Renaissance would recorded. But, it's in reality, a fantastic piece of music with brilliant musical arrangements and fine melodies, which provide to the song a real and truly dramatic effect. The sixth and last track is the title track 'Ashes Are Burning'. This is the magnum opus of the album, and fortunately, it was chosen to close brilliantly this excellent musical work. This can be considered probably the greatest epic of Renaissance but this can't only be attributed to the long duration of the song. We all know that it isn't in reality the duration of a song which makes of it an epic. 'Ashes Are Burning' has everything what an epic must have. It has a very complex musical structure, blending nice melody, excellent individual musical performance, by all members, and the beautiful voice of Annie Haslam. This is in reality a memorable piece of music. It can be considered without any doubt as one of the greatest progressive songs ever made.

Conclusion: In my humble opinion, I think 'Prologue', 'Ashes Are Burning', 'Turn Of The Cards' and 'Scheherazade And Other Stories' are the four best studio albums from Renaissance and constitute the best musical period of the band, their famous musical golden era. However, and after all these years that I know very well these musical works, I still consider 'Scheherazade And Other Stories' their best studio album and the only masterpiece of the group. Despite 'Ashes Are Burning' be one of their best pieces of music, it isn't, in my opinion, a masterpiece and I even doubt if it's better than 'Prologue'. As 'Prologue', 'Ashes Are Burning' has only three songs that can be considered truly masterpieces, 'Can You Understand', 'At The Harbour' and especially 'Ashes Are Burning'. Unfortunately, the other three songs aren't as good as the others and 'On The Frontier' is, in my humble opinion, even inferior to all the others.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

Latest members reviews

5 stars I can't believe I haven't rated this album yet. I love it. This is such a great album. I adore the voice of Annie Haslam, the piano from John Tout, and the bass from Jon Camp. But it is all so good. The intro from Can You Understand alone, is brilliant. But so is the rest of the song. 10/10 So ... (read more)

Report this review (#2878414) | Posted by WJA-K | Thursday, January 26, 2023 | Review Permanlink

5 stars This is a fantastic record that I feel I can really throw on regardless of what mood I'm currently in. While the songs all pack the epic symphonic arrangements and gorgeous vocal harmonies you know you'll be getting from a great symphonic prog album, what keeps bringing me back are the addictive ... (read more)

Report this review (#2504144) | Posted by dougmcauliffe | Wednesday, February 10, 2021 | Review Permanlink

4 stars The magic begins... It is really only with this album that Annie Haslam's wonderful singing can start to shine. Leaning more on their folky side, this album contains a number of very enjoyable and delicate tunes. However, it begins with a good shot of complex progressive rock, forming the intro t ... (read more)

Report this review (#1706952) | Posted by Walkscore | Friday, March 31, 2017 | Review Permanlink

5 stars This album is good. Really good. But seriously getting into it, Ashes Are Burning is light on the symphonic nature, but nails the pastoral sound so well it's absolutely essential for any fan of prog folk. The album kicks off with John Tout's excellent piano work on Can You Understand, with Jon ... (read more)

Report this review (#1167146) | Posted by fudgenuts64 | Tuesday, April 29, 2014 | Review Permanlink

5 stars I truly do believe this album deserves five stars. It is a masterpiece of progressive rock, in my opinion, and it is so different from many other A-list prog bands. Annie Haslam's voice may be the most beautiful voice in progressive rock. Their style of playing only justifies their name and sends th ... (read more)

Report this review (#1143790) | Posted by ebil0505 | Friday, March 7, 2014 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Ashes Are Burning is probably the first essential Renaissance album, filled with the intensity, melody, and expression so found within the symphonic genre. Unlike bands like Genesis and Yes who incorporate symphonic musings into their sound, Renaissance takes full advantage of this by flawless ... (read more)

Report this review (#1109241) | Posted by Mr. Mustard | Tuesday, January 7, 2014 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Simply, it is a wonderful feeling to hear this album . The contrast of songs sung by a beautiful, powerful and smooth voice like Annie Haslam is perfect for the touch of the band, which has extremely competent musicians. The album opens with Can You Understand which starts with a melodic drum and b ... (read more)

Report this review (#1090865) | Posted by Gabimm | Monday, December 16, 2013 | Review Permanlink

5 stars 9.5/10 I think if I were asked by a band that did the genuine "progressive symphonic rock", I certainly would point Renaissance. Not only the symphonic elements that would make the band so well known, but also because his music breathes the erudite compositions. It is classic in the best se ... (read more)

Report this review (#1057164) | Posted by voliveira | Wednesday, October 9, 2013 | Review Permanlink

5 stars After a long weekend of festival fun and madness at Boomtown Fair, where there was as much progressive rock to be found as in Justin Bieber's phlegm, a return to the world of prog with a lesser known 70s classic was much welcomed. Renaissance originally started in 1969 as a prog reincarnation ... (read more)

Report this review (#1019015) | Posted by Julianofprog | Wednesday, August 14, 2013 | Review Permanlink

5 stars I am aware that Ashes Are Burning is not the best work from Renaissance, but for me is a perfect masterpiece, and my favorite Renaissance album by far. This is where the classic Renaissance sound was born, and it lasts on practically all of the album, from the first piano notes of Can You Unde ... (read more)

Report this review (#993145) | Posted by MyDarling95 | Sunday, July 7, 2013 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Moving to the city and going to college in 1975 introduced me to a lot of new flavors of everything. I was already a fan of Yes, Pink Floyd, and ELP, but there was a lot of prog I'd never even heard of. I was also a fan of female vocalists, especially Joni Mitchell. I was pleased to discover t ... (read more)

Report this review (#927567) | Posted by krishl | Sunday, March 10, 2013 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Ashes Are Burning is Renaissance's first of three masterpieces. It's the second album with this classic line-up (Annie Haslam's) and it seems that the previous one was only a kind of warm-up (it's a weak album) to tune their instruments and voices and produce a following fine work. And a fine work ... (read more)

Report this review (#616309) | Posted by ibnacio | Monday, January 23, 2012 | Review Permanlink

4 stars This is one of the best Renaissance releases. This group had created an unusual blend of folk (mainly from the vocals and melodies), classical (from the piano, organ and crafty harpsichord tickles) and rock. The bass lines are particularly strong throughout this album. "Ashes Are Burning" was ... (read more)

Report this review (#480222) | Posted by Frankie Flowers | Monday, July 11, 2011 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Difficult that 4th Renaissance album "Ashes Are Burning" is not judge as Masterpiece. Dunfor is present as songwriter and as guest (but it is, in truth, the 5th member of Renaissance) as Andy powell of Wishbone Ash that plays electric guitar on "Ashes Are Burning" and string section. Annie Has ... (read more)

Report this review (#372557) | Posted by 1967/ 1976 | Tuesday, January 4, 2011 | Review Permanlink

4 stars This album by Renaissance is sure among their best efforts. Annie's voice is shining all along the tracks for every listener's delight. It has a kind of classical-folk flavour that makes it sweet and exciting, but power and range are the most remarkable offerings. In terms of composition, we hav ... (read more)

Report this review (#308176) | Posted by migue091 | Thursday, November 4, 2010 | Review Permanlink

2 stars The album was bought in the one dollar bin. I was surprised at the sound, yet most of the album falls into a little house on the prairie distance. The first song and the last have progressive interruptions but overall is a folk based, piano distanced album. This group is once more an island inf ... (read more)

Report this review (#306492) | Posted by thewickedfall | Sunday, October 24, 2010 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Good golly miss Haslan, those vocal melodies are damn fine. Renaissance - Ashes Are Burning (1973) Overall Rating: 13 Best Song: LET IT GROW How come these guys are a progressive rock band, and some of these songs stretch to over 10 minutes, but it never seems like standard progressive ... (read more)

Report this review (#291722) | Posted by Alitare | Friday, July 23, 2010 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Unlike most Renaissance listeners, I prefer Prologue to this one. The main reason stays in what lies between the opening and the closing tracks. Can You Understand? further develops the exploration on reworking of classical music started on the previous albums and mostly evident there in Kiev. ... (read more)

Report this review (#233757) | Posted by bfmuller | Friday, August 21, 2009 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Annie Haslam's voice truly is the heart of Renaissance's music,and in this album this is more apparent than ever.The consistent musical background that beautifully mixes clasical influences with a solid rock and roll spectrum is the perfect vehicle for the shining voice of Haslam,transforming th ... (read more)

Report this review (#213494) | Posted by Gustavo Froes | Sunday, May 3, 2009 | Review Permanlink

4 stars And no justice for all. Why this band never made it commercially is beyond me. This band is just incredible and they can include myself among their admirers and fans. Why they did not outsell most other bands in their heydays is beyond me. Well, before the band did a Genesis in the '80 and bec ... (read more)

Report this review (#188154) | Posted by toroddfuglesteg | Thursday, November 6, 2008 | Review Permanlink

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