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Progressive Rock CD Reviews


50th Anniversary Ashes Are Burning – An Anthology – Live In Concert, 2-CD, DVD & Blu Ray Box Set

Review by Gary Hill

This new set is such a classy release. It includes a two-CD set of a 50th anniversary concert from Renaissance, but that's just the beginning. There is also a DVD and Blu-Ray of the show included. A booklet rounds out the set, and it's all put together in a cardboard clamshell box.

This concert includes performances of the band with small orchestra. The music is a nice collection of tunes from various points in their history. Renaissance founding member Jim McCarty  guests on a couple of songs. The video is quite well done, and includes more stage banter and such than the audio CD does. I really enjoy this performance, both in video and audio form.

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Track by Track Review
CD i
Carpet of the Sun

Acoustic guitar starts things off, and the orchestra joins with horns playing a central role at times. Annie Haslam's vocals climb in over the top. This Renaissance classic works well in this live telling.

Ocean Gypsy
A slower number, the arrangement here is lush and beautiful. I think this one works better than the opener did. I suppose it could be called a power ballad, but of the Renaissance brand of prog rock. There are some powerful melodies, and the orchestra brings a lot of magic to it through the augmentation it provides. There are some powerful soaring instrumental sections in the mix on this number.
Running Hard
Fast paced piano brings this cut into being. The introduction plays through largely focused on that piano until the orchestra rises up to create a fanfare that creates the peak of the opening movement. A different fast-paced jam emerges for the entrance of the vocals. This cut has so much energy and magic built into it. There is a shift mid-track to dramatic music for the next movement.
Midas Man
I love this folk prog piece in every incarnation. The symphonic arrangement really brings something special, though. Other keyboard elements and backing vocals also serve to elevate the piece even further. This might be the best version of the song I've ever heard.
Symphony of Light
This epic piece begins with a full symphonic section that has operatic vocals. It works out after a time to more of the kind of arrangement you expect from Renaissance. There are some intriguing changes and different movements along this musical journey. I really love some of the movements of this so much. The instrumental section around the seven-minute mark is one of those. An excursion into rather freaky classically inspired sounds that comes shortly after and evolves into more world music inspired prog is another. That eventually works to an even more classically based movement as it keeps evolving and exploring.
Island (with Jim McCarty)
More on the folk rock side of the equation, this number has a great energy and awesome melodies. It's a driving tune.
CD 2
Opening Out

Dramatic and powerful progressive rock is augmented by the symphonic instrumentation.

Day of the Dreamer
Another soaring piece of Renaissance prog magic, this is another strong piece. It gets some extra power with the addition of the symphonic instrumentation. The instrumental break really extra oomph from those instruments.
Mystic and the Muse
Coming in dark, freaky and (dare I say) mystical, this works through a number of changes as its prog concepts evolve. The symphonic instrumentation brings a lot of driving energy and power to the proceedings. This is more experimental than some of the other pieces here. It has a lot of almost dream-like weirdness. It's also deeply classical music oriented.
A Song For All Seasons

The orchestral elements bring a classical, but also almost a jazzy, angle to the opening movement of this piece. At over eleven-minutes of running time devoted to it, this is an epic piece. It has some awesome shifts and changes. This number has so much range and contrast. Parts of it fit very well into the folk prog zone, while others stretch toward soaring symphonic prog. This is one of the highlights of this show. This gets so intense and powerful before it's all over and done.

Ashes Are Burning (with Jim McCarty)

The real epic of the set, this takes up more than the last 16-and-a-half minutes of the CD. Piano and acoustic guitar bring it into being. Haslam's vocals join after a time. There are some really exceptional instrumental movements in the midst of this thing.

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