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Anderson, Jon: Olias of Sunhillow (Audio Fidelity Hybrid SACD/CD)
Back in the days of the Prodigy online service I found a Yes forum. It was soon after the Union CD was released, I was in high school, and I had just borrowed Yessongs and Union from a friend. I was learning two different incarnations of one of the most revered progressive rock bands and just scratching the surface would be putting it lightly. Many folks on that forum truly enjoyed being Yes-mentors and the question "have you heard Olias of Sunhillow?" eventually surfaced. My answer was "no" and one kind soul took it upon themselves to mail me an import CD just so I could experience that which was such a special recording.
Released in 1976 when Yes members were all recording solo albums (after 1974's Relayer), Olias of Sunhillow is Jon Anderson's debut solo album. All music and lyrics were written by Anderson and all instruments were performed by him as well. On top of it all, Olias is a concept album inspired by the album cover to Yes' Fragile.
The music here is a seamless combination of acoustic instruments (guitar, sitar, harp, many types of percussion) and synthesizers. As simplistic as that description is, add many layers of Anderson's voice, in melody and harmony, and you have a timeless treasure. By today's standards this is not such an amazing accomplishment, however, in 1976 it must have been a brilliant revelation to achieve such a cohesive balance.
Four tracks are songs that blend together (tracks 2, 4, 7) or have been placed together (track 3) to propel the concept. The extensive liner notes include the storyline, lyrics, and fantastic artwork (this is a classic example to keep the LP format).
Anderson's cosmic lyricism, gift for melody, and earthy composition make this a real desert island disc. The "Naon" portion of track 4 is one of the many highpoints of Olias. One can hear a seed of Yes' "Awaken" with tribal percusson and group vocals. "Flight of the Moorglade" has many layers of vocals; the Jon Anderson choir sings so well with itself. The vocal harmonies along with the inimitable rhythms make it such a larger song than the 3:25 would indicate. Track 7 contains many voices, synthesizer melodies, sound effects, and percussion instruments. The sound is grand but not sloppy; the layering and crescendo that takes us from "Moon Ra" into "Chords" is very Yes. It can't be overstated how important Anderson is to that band, but that he created this on his own is a testament to his individual talent and vision.
With Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans and Relayer under his belt, Anderson seems to know which instrumentation to use, where to place vocalizations, and what moods to elicit to conjure the mental images that occur when listening.
The concept of movement through a universe of stars on a space ship, from an exploding world towards an earth, is produced with lyrics and music - this gift is what many love about Jon Anderson. This is also a narrative about a population rescued by the few who are able to build a ship (perhaps music is the vehicle?) and bring different tribes aboard, to co-exist through turmoil and hope for a new beginning, and that rhythm, chanting, and trances (all found in this music) will guide them; this is a 37-year-old recording that is multi-faceted and relevant.
Having been able to personally spend over two decades listening to and digesting this album is a blessing in itself; to have a magnificent limited-edition Hybrid SACD to hear is beyond awesome. I am still to this minute finding things I didn't before detect (i.e. the heartbeat at the end of track 7). I encourage you to add this to your collection.
1. Ocean Song
2. Meeting (Garden of Geda)
Sound out the Galleon
3. Dance of Ranyart
Olias (To Build the Moorglade)
4. Qoquaq En Transic
5. Flight of the Moorglade
6. Solid Space
7. Moon Ra
Song of Search
8. To The Runner
Added: March 21st 2014
Reviewer: Ryan Good
Related Link: Audio Fidelity Website
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