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Renaissance

Ashes Are Burning (Expanded Edition)

Review by Gary Hill

Just paying attention to the songs from the original studio release, this is an exceptional album. It really captured the magic of Renaissance in all its splendor quite well. This new edition, though, includes three live tracks to round out the disc. Additionally, there is a great booklet included here. All of those thing work together to make this a "must have" release in the Renaissance catalog.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2019  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Can You Understand
A gong starts the song and album. Piano rises up, bringing the melody to play in style. The band join and we're taken out into some killer progressive rock jamming. The cut shifts and changes as it drives forward sans vocals. A climax ends with another gong. That makes for a false ending. Some non-lyrical vocals rise up. As those end acoustic guitar creates a folk prog backdrop. The first real vocals of the album come over the top of that. The song builds outward from there, staying in a reasonably stripped back folk arrangement as it does. It gets a bit more rocking further down the road, but still retains that folk prog concept. World music and progressive rock merge on this next movement that brings a cool change of direction. It gets quite lush in its arrangement. Symphonic instrumentation brings a lot to the piece. This gets a shift to dramatic classically based stuff as it continues. After some changes they make their way out to the earlier fast paced prog jam for a time. The evolution of the cut continues as that resolves, but they just keep changing things. It returns to themes, expands on them and then moves on to others. This is really quite a dynamic powerhouse.
Let It Grow
Delicate piano melodies open this with a classical sensibility. Annie Haslam's vocals come in over the top of that backdrop. The cut works up into a dramatic folk prog arrangement to continue.
On The Frontier
The folk elements are a huge part of this track. The cut makes good use of both male and female vocals. It has a real cheery sort of vibe to it. The break later in the track brings the real progressive rock to bear. That even has some hints of jazz fusion. They return for one line of the chorus before piano brings in another jam. This one gets a bit more rocking before it shifts to a classically based piano and bass excursion. From there we're brought back to the song proper.
Carpet of the Sun
I've always been a big fan of this cut. The folk prog stylings of the number are particularly pretty and effective. Symphonic instrumentation lends something special to it, too.
At The Harbour

Classical piano opens this track in style. The piano solo makes up almost the first two-minutes of the piece. Acoustic guitar serves as the backdrop for Haslam's beautiful vocal performance. There is a lot of folk music built into this cut. It is a particularly pretty number. A piano based movement takes over later in the piece, bringing back the classical elements as some non-lyrical vocals are heard over the top. The classical textures retain control all the way to the end, even though those vocals drop away.

Ashes Are Burning
The sound of wind brings this into being. Piano rises up from there. The rest of the band join, bringing it more into pure progressive rock territory. Haslam's vocals soar over the top. The cut works to a more folk prog, but still rocking, movement for the chorus. The piano really shines as it drops back again for the next verse. They continue to explore the musical potential of the piece, taking it in different directions as they work forward. After the three-and-a-half-minute mark bass takes over, moving this out into a smoking hot fast paced prog jam. This is purely on fire. I love some of the keyboard sounds so much. The whole thing really rocks, though. It reinvents itself before the five-and-a-half-minute mark, and the synthesizer really shines as it continues from there. It eventually drops way down for the return of Haslam's vocals. At the end of that movement, though, the rocking sounds return and she rises up to meet it. They move out to a dramatic prog meets psychedelic jam from there. That section turns more pure progressive rock and eventually takes the number to its closing.
Bonus Tracks:
                  
BBC Radio One "In Concert"
                 
Recorded 3rd January 1974
         
Can You Understand

This live performance is so strong. They manage to play it quite faithfully while somehow breathing a lively sort of groove into it, too. There is a spoken section at the end of this, including an introduction of the band, and the next tune.

Let It Grow
Again this live take is faithful and also inspired. The bass sounds on this are great, but some are bass pedal. The number really works quite well in this performance.
Ashes Are Burning
This live version is so powerful. I love the section with the soaring vocals and dramatic building music. I think that this is stronger than the studio rendition, really. It shows just how potent this band was at that point in their career. They could take a masterpiece like the original piece and somehow breathe even more energy and power into it. That's both impressive and entertaining.
 
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