Esoteric Recordings have put together a fantastic reissue package here of Renaissance's classic 1973 album Ashes are Burning, the second record featuring the revised line-up with Annie Haslam in the lead vocal slot but fourth album overall. With a string orchestra conducted by Richard Hewson, the band featured John Tout (keyboards, vocals), Jon Camp (bass, guitar, vocals), and Terrence Sullivan (drums, percussion, and vocals) alongside Haslam, with Michael Dunford contributing music & lyrics as well as acoustic guitar, not joining the band officially until after the album was released.
With this more acoustic approach, the bands penchant for melodic, classically inspired symphonic rock & folk is in fine form on Ashes Are Burning, which you can hear from the vibrant opening track "Can You Understand", a longtime Renaissance favorite amongst the fans and a song that still holds up well today with its soaring string section, majestic piano, muscular bass, and Haslam's enchanting vocals. Camp's melodic bass lines lead the band through the grandiose "Let It Grow", Tout's piano beautiful and Annie's vocal equally as impressive, while the more upbeat "On the Frontier" has layers of acoustic guitars and piano, the full band taking part in the vocals for a vibrant, rich sound. "Carpet of the Sun" is another classic, Haslam's five octave vocal range working overtime over alluring strings, keyboards, tricky drum fills, and majestic acoustic guitars. Things quiet down to a simmer for the lush "At the Harbour", a gentle folk tune, before the bombastic title track, which is easily one of the greatest songs this band ever recorded. Haunting piano, silky bass, Annie's soaring vocals, and a scorching guest electric guitar solo from Wishbone Ash's Andy Powell highlight this tremendous track, a song that builds and builds with intensity, the bubbling drama and symphonic nature of the piece impossible to ignore. Tout's array of piano, synthesizer, and harpsichord are just fantastic here.
Not only does Esoteric's remaster sound incredible, but they've included three bonus live tracks from the BBC, recorded in early 1974. The sound quality on these are excellent as well, but I want to mention the amazing bass playing of Camp, who was one of the unsung heroes of Renaissance during this time period. Any fan of Yes' Chris Squire will love Camp's muscular Rickenbacker bass lines on these songs...the guy was top notch in the studio, but a beast live. Check and he and Annie taking the place of Powell's guitar on a smoking rendition of "Ashes Are Burning" to close out the quick live set...stunning.
Whether you are new to Renaissance or just want to replace your old CD copy of Ashes Are Burning, this is a highly recommended purchase. Throw in a wonderful booklet filled with a lengthy essay, photographs, and lyrics, and you have another gem from the folks at Esoteric.
1) Can You Understand
2) Let It Grow
3) On the Frontier
4) Carpet of the Sun
5) At the Harbour
6) Ashes Are Burning
Bonus Tracks-BBC Radio One 'In Concert' January 3, 1974
7) Can You Understand
8) Let It Grow
9) Ashes Are Burning