I have been a fan of Al Stewart since he took his first faltering steps into the music industry with the 1969 release of Bedsitter Images. Here we are nearly 40 years later and Sparks Of Ancient Light marks his 19th foray into the recording studio and the second album with Appleseed Recordings.

As a fan, I could not possibly write a poor review of anything Al does, but I will admit that the first time I played this album I came away with mixed feelings. There was no one song that hooked me. Unlike his 2005 Beach Full Of Shells which contained the absolutely outstanding track The Immelman Turn, one listen to this classic and I knew that this was going to be my favorite Al Stewart album of all time.

Sparks Of Ancient Light is am album that creeps up on you, by the third or forth playing, (its a damn good job I have an understanding wife who also likes Al Stewart) I was beginning to come around. This is a song compilation that grows on you with each listen. The 12 songs on this CD are classic Al Stewart historical ballads, a genre that he is without question the grand master of. Sparks covers a staggering 2500 years of history, a potted history of the world! From ancient Greece to the 1979 fall of the Shah of Iran. Al has a compendious knowledge of strange historical facts, which presents a bit of a dichotomy to me. He left school at age 16 to pursue his musical career, yet his historical repertoire is that of a university professor. That, combined with his outstanding musical story telling ability makes for a one of a kind artist.

Al Stewart in my eyes has gone through three major stages in his career, the early years which represented much personal angst, the saga stage which saw the creation of huge sweeping songs like Nostradamus and The Road To Moscow, and his third reincarnation, which saw a return to more mainstream 4 minute radio friendly songs in the ilk of Year Of The Cat. Sparks in many ways is a return to the saga stage, but tuned down a notch. He covers a lot of ground in every song, but keeps them in the four minute time frame.

The album kicks off with a catchy tune Lord Salisbury which chronicles the then British Prime Ministers political agenda of ‘splendid isolationism’. (A Childs View of) The Eisenhower Years, is a quintessential Al Stewart composition. If there was ever a song to define a singers style it is this one. A light lyrical and humorous ditty of post world war II prosperity.

You are on your way back home,
In a brand new station wagon,
A pile of rolling chrome, ten miles to the gallon

Appleseed Recordings have kindly allowed me to stream this song, give it a whirl, you will not be disappointed.

Hanno The Navigator takes us back in time to Carthage 500 BC and we follow Hanno on his trip to the end of the Earth.

Joining Al on this album is the very accomplished guitarist Laurence Juber, who played with Paul McCartney’s Wings, and Jim Cox who provides a very jazzy keyboard sound. Some of the tracks also feature the judicial use of horns and strings.

What always surprises me is how intact Al Stewart’s voice is after 40 years of singing. Out of curiosity I took Bedsitter Images (1969) for a comparison spin, the voice has barely changed which is totally amazing.

Al is an engaging character and he said something really interesting the last time we talked, he only likes about half of the albums that he has released (you can read the interview here), I will be interested in his view of Sparks.

You can order your copy of Sparks Of Ancient Light through Al’s homepage or through Appleseed Recordings, the tracks are also available from iTunes.

Simon Barrett

http://zzsimonb.blogspot.com

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