Jon Anderson - Olias Of Sunhillow [Esotreic/ Cherry Red - 2021]
Appearing in 1976, while Yes were between albums, Olias of Sunhillow is the first solo album from the band’s singer/ songwriter John Anderson. And it’s a solo album in the true sense of the form with Anderson playing everything (guitars, harp, sitar, keyboards, percussion, bass guitar, wooden flute, mandolins, saz), as well of course handling all the lead/ backing vocals. The Sci-fi/fantasy concept-based album very much focuses in on the mystical & new age tipped side of Anderson’s out-put, but if you enjoy that side of things you’ll find this a worthy mellow prog rock-meets-world music hippy record. Here from Esoteric Records, Cherry Red’s prog focused sub-label, is a double-disc CD/ surround sound DVD release of the album.
The two discs come presented in eight panel fold-out matt digipak, which very much has the feeling of old fairy tale books from the ’60s/ 70’s- with the double-sided mini gatefold featuring fantasy illustrations/ texts from the original release. The set comes with two booklets- one with a new & informative write-up about the album by Malcolm Dome, featuring snippets of interviews about the making of the album with Anderson which sees him talking about leaning piano & other instruments to create the album. Also, in this first booklet, we get a good selection of photos, illustrations, reprinted reviews, etc. The second thinner booklet features the albums full lyrics- all in all a very nicely presented double-disc set.
The albums concept is based on the planet of Sunhillow, which comes under threat after the eruption of a volcano. So the worlds five tribes Nagrunium, Asatranius, Oractaniom and Nordranious- each representing a different aspect of music consciousness- must join together to build a craft to leave Sunhillow, and head to a nearby planet of Asguard.
The album takes in eight tracks in all, with these having run times between three & twelve minutes. As you’d expect Anderson distinctive alto tenor is front and centre for much of the record- be it as lead or backing. He musically surrounds it with a heady, spacy and largely positive blend of lite prog rock, world & ethic muisc tropes, strummed acoustic guitars, layered & sparking percussion, swooping-to-grand synth-scapes, sound effects and more than a few pinches of hippy bound theatricality. The whole album flows & drifts along well, sure not a lot stands out, due to repeated musical themes, and the concept of the album. But if you're after a bright, at points grandly atmospheric sci-fi fantasy album, with all the 70’s prog/ hippy trappings you can hope for you’ll really get a kick out of this album.
No bonus material on either of the discs, but really you wouldn’t want any with a concept album like this. It’s neat to have the second surround sound DVD, so one can truly take in the grand & epic detail of the album, and it’s many sound layers.
It’s great to see Esoteric Records giving such a classy and grand release of this album. If you are either a Yes or John Anderson fan, or enjoy overblown lite-prog/ world music release from the 1970s- this is a must.Roger Batty