Annie Haslam - Annie In Wonderland [Esoteric Recordings - 2019]
Originally released in 1977 Annie In Wonderland was the first solo album from English singer Annie Haslam, who was most known for her work with British prog band Renaissance.The eight-track album not only highlights the wonderful strength, power & versatility of her voice- but also shows the musical genre blending skill & prowess of her backing band. Over the albums playtime we move from showy & grand pop balladeering with prog edges, onto shimmering guitar show tunes with a distinctive Spanish flavor, through to folk-rock funk 1970’s pop that shifts into African ethnic vibes. On Esoteric Recordings- Cherry Reds prog sub-label- here’s a much-deserved CD reissue of this overlooked solo album, which is both daring & creative, yet often memorable & approachable too. The CD album is presented in a colorful digipak which takes in the albums original Alice In Wonderland themed artwork. The release also features a glossy inlay booklet- this runs for fourteen pages, and takes in a new seven-page write-up about the album, as well as band pictures. The CD just takes in the albums original eight tracks, and forty-one-minute runtime- so no sonics extra, but the whole things been given a nice bold & balanced remastering.
The line-up for this album was Annie Haslam- lead & backing vocals. Roy Wood- electric and acoustic guitar, bass guitar, string bass, cello, balalaika (a Russian stringed instrument) Saxophone, drums, bass clarinet, trumpet, African drums, percussion, string ensemble,moog, piano, clavinet, and back vocals. Jon Camp- Bass guitar & pedals, acoustic guitar, Dave Donovan- drums. And Louis Clark- Polymoog, string arrangments, and bass & choir arrangements- so there's both a lot of impressive talent and lots of musical instruments- yet the album never feels too clever, showy or crowded - always focusing in both mood & memorability.
The whole album flows very nicely & evenly making for an enjoy whole- but a few personal mentions appear in the form of "Hunioco", with it’s jaunting blend of clear folk guitar, lightly bounding funk bass all top off with Haslam brightly powerful, yet slightly melancholic voice- and in the tracks final minutes we shift down into a wonderful epic & rising blend of African male chorus singing & percussion, with Haslam simmering above the deep voices. Or the follow-up track “Rockalise” which finds Haslam beautiful warbling voice pick out a lonesome-yet- powerful melody line, over an initial backing of guitar, sparking harp & string backing. Later on in the track bounding glam like drums, sax & organ kick-in, which once again is a surprising but very enjoyable turn of events.
Even forty-two years after it’s release Annie In Wonderland still sounds daring & vibrate- with it’s great mix of genre-blending, tuneful songcraft, great musicianship, and of course Haslam powerful & highly versatile voice.Roger Batty