A graceful serenity peacefully descends as you listen to Through the Fire. The hectic sounds of life’s frenetic bustle gradually fade to a distant murmur, replaced by the gentle embrace of a calming, tranquil spirit which enfolds you with its warmth and charm. The discord and noise of the world briefly subside: in its place an alluring space briefly appears, infused with music which initially feels as if it belongs to another time and place but with an assured and quiet confidence slowly proves itself to be a welcome companion for the here and now.
Originally released 2001, there is a surprisingly contemporary feel to both the music as well as the lyrics. The album cover symbolically speaks to the pervading sense of disquiet, anxiety and unease which people experience at the heart of daily life. The Dharmachakra or the Dharma Wheel, possibly the most iconic symbol within Buddhism, is a call to redress the turbulence of the world, the quest for transformation and the desire for peace and harmony.
Opening track One More Turn of the Wheel confirms and continues this initial impression. Life feels imbalanced, uneven, nervously restless; the way we live creates conflict, inequality and a deep sense of pervading dissatisfaction with the way things are. When the Buddha turned the wheel of Dharma it was an invitation to take the first steps on a pathway leading to spiritual change and a more serene and enlightened way of living.
Both the symbolism of the Noble Eightfold Path represented within the wheel of Dharma, as well as the metaphorical overtures found within the opening track, reveal the unassuming and quietly enquiring role and influence of spirituality throughout the entire album. The journey on which we are being taken is simultaneously musical as well as spiritual, amiably unobtrusive but nevertheless a persistent presence in the affably genial atmosphere conjured by the music.
Ex-Yardbird Jim McCarty formed Renaissance Illusion from colleagues with whom he had played in Renaissance and Illusion and is quick to confirm “there was a lot of spiritual intent in this album and a lot of spiritual feeling contained within it”. His deep involvement in and commitment to Buddhism was reflected in a number of pilgrimages to India and China and a growing friendship with a particular Lama (or teacher) to whom the third track, Glorious One, is dedicated.
But it would be an unfortunate mistake to suppose that the music on this album is somehow nothing more than a vehicle for religious expression. Travel is perhaps the greatest education there is and even sixteen years on from the original release, there is an unmistakably modern and richly multicultural feel to a lot of the songs.
McCarty’s travels are clearly evidenced in Beyond the Day which exhibits a bright and refreshing Celtic influence through the insightful playing of Canadian flautist Ron Korb. Time and again the album demonstrates delightful blends of Indian and African influences, infused with a variety of blues and understated rock rhythms: Good Heart and Blowing Away are standout moments, along with My Old Friend, a tribute to former Yardbird colleague Eric Clapton.
From start to finish you are taken on a whirlwind tour of the exotic sounds and nuances of musical styles from peoples and cultures around the world. The Angel Air label’s decision to re-release this long unavailable album is to be warmly congratulated. It is captivatingly atmospheric, whisking you away to a decidedly gentler place and what feels like a much kinder space, where you can put aside the worries and complexities of the moment and enjoy the sounds of happier times.
01. One More Turn of the Wheel (6:51)
02. Good Heart (4:53)
03. Glorious One (4:12)
04. Through the Fire (5:07)
05. Blowing Away (3:41)
06. Mystery of Being (4:15)
07. Beat of the Earth (4:15)
08. Beyond the Day (4:15)
09. My Old Friend (3:49)
10. Through the Fire (reprise) (1:24)
~ Bonus Tracks:
11. If There Was Something I Could Change? (6:05)
12. Moving On (4:13)
Louis Cennamo – Bass
John Hawken – Keyboards & Piano
Jim McCarty – Drums, Piano, Vocals, Keyboards
Jane Relf – Vocals
Record Label: Angel Air Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 21st April 2017