‘Ashes Are Burning’ remains the pinnacle of the Renaissance catalog and should find a place in every serious prog collection.
Written by: Eric
ALBUM: Ashes Are Burning
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: England
LINEUP: John Tout – keyboards, vocals * Annie Haslam – vocals * John Camp – bass, vocals * Terrance Sullivan – drums, percussion, vocals
Additional Musicians: Andy Powell – guitar * Michael Dunford – acoustic guitar
TRACK LISTING: 01 Can You Understand * 02 Let It Grow * 03 On The Frontier * 04 Carpet Of The Sun * 05 The Harbour * 06 Ashes Are Burning
WEBLINKS: Site Link
‘Ashes Are Burning’ is the second LP to feature the lovely Annie Haslam as lead vocalist. Now as pervey as it might sound as a hot-blooded teenager in the ’70s it was always a toss-up between Haslam and Curved Air‘s Sonja Kristina as to who was prog’s sexist singer.
There was something almost angelic about Annie’s flowing medieval gowns as opposed to Kristana’s overtly glam rock gear especially in a genre not typically known to export anything remotely close to sexual, but looks aside and based on voice alone, Haslam won and still wins every time.
Her first vocal appearance on 1972’s ‘Prologue’ saw the band moving away from the Jim McCarty/ Keith Relf sound of the band which still held dear to the late 60’s and even further into classically influenced territory. A re-tooled band and fresh direction, ‘Prologue’ put Renaissance on the musical map but it’s ‘Ashes Are Burning’ that found Renaissance at it’s creative peak and among fans and critics alike is considered to be their best work.
With the exception of a guest appearance from Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, electric guitar is almost non-existent on the record as keyboardist extraordinaire John Tout is found taking a much larger role in the band. Orchestrated to the hilt and autumnal in feel, this record is nothing like Yes or Genesis who sound rather pedestrian in comparison.
Influenced by Russian classical music, opener ‘Can You Understand?’ is epic in scope with John Camp’s rumbling bass and Tout’s gorgeous piano runs make for an appealing entrance that is quintessential Renaissance. Here Annie sounds less tentative than on their previous outing and I can still remember hearing this song on the radio for the first time, absolutely stunned by what I was listening to.
With that said ‘Let It Grow’ is just a little too Judy Collins for my tastes, but ‘On The Frontier’ and the soaring ‘Carpet Of The Sun’ which was released as a single and largely ignored, more than makes up for the record’s only weak song. Bringing the album to a close is the title track and a more beautifully arranged song you’ll not find. Anchored by Haslam’s remarkable voice and a sublime pop chorus, Renaissance creates a unique musical landscape that’s worth visiting over and over again.
Moving from strength to strength, the excellent ‘Turn Of The Cards’ would follow a year later, but by 1977’s ‘Novella’ a malaise began to set in not helped by punk rock’s overwhelming influence. ‘A Song For All Seasons’ released in 1978 showed a marked change in style with shorter songs and included the band’s first hit single ‘Northern Lights’.
My personal favourite 1979’s ‘Azure d’Or’ replaced strings for synthesizers to great effect. While Renaissance is still a going concern in the twenty-first century, ‘Ashes Are Burning’ remains the pinnacle of their catalog and should find a place in every serious prog collection.