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Al Stewart's new album is infused with a theme of "certainty and uncertainty." Grammy award winning producer Laurence Juber teamed with Al for the fourth time to produce this album on which Laurence's virtuoso guitar playing and instrumentation again perfectly match Al's peerless trademark songwriting. Each of the dozen tracks is a newly-cut gem that Al has set in its own time and place. There are tales of ancient adventure on the high seas; Elvis behind the wheel; a football hero having an interesting day; a sensuous street corner; the Shah; and a very, very angry bird. SPARKS OF ANCIENT LIGHT - a radiant and stellar collection of songs about love, loss, exploration, revelation, and history.
". . . It's great to see him [Al Stewart] in such fine form, doing what he really does best on his new album . . . That something he does so well is weave these wonderful historical references into his songs. Literate as they are, Al Stewart's songs have this weird and wonderful way touching a personal nerve. Not only that, they can also be downright catchy. As a lyricist who has a unique way of wrapping an engaging narrative around an equally compelling melody, I'd actually put Al Stewart just a notch under people like Dylan and Neil Young. He also has that rare gift of being able to turn a phrase in the sort of cinematic, universal way that his songs become personalized in a manner that, subject matter aside, nearly anyone can relate to. On Sparks of Ancient Light, Al Stewart is back in peak historical, literate, and most importantly, lyrical form." -- Glen Boyd, BlogCritics.org
"British talent Al Stewart has always been obsessed with romantic literature and history, marking him as the most incongruous of folk-flavored "pop" singers. `Year of the Cat' delivered Al a fluke hit - once. And the man is still going his own merry way on "i""b"Sparks of Ancient Light (A-), citing the likes of Greek mythology, former president William McKinley, an Elvis sighting and `(A Child's View of) The Eisenhower Years.' But the guy sings and writes as well as he ever did, and in his quirky, bemused and literate way he's delivered one of the finest albums of his career." -- Jonathan Takiff, Philadelphia Daily News
"The music heard on Sparks of Ancient Light is actually better than that heard on his top selling works like Year of the Cat, making this album a deeper, richer experience. . . . A masterpiece all its own . . . Classic Al Stewart in the best sense. Rich in stories and the inimitable Al Stewart style of song . . . A must have acquisition. (4Â½ stars)" -- Matt Rowe, MusicTap
"Why bother with Cliff Notes when Stewart gives you a quick summation of the last 2,500 years in 12 songs? For those that like their pop way out in left field with something to say, clearly, this set isn't for everyone, but it's for anyone that ever got into collecting Classics Illustrated. It's a long way from `Year of the Cat' and Britney won't be using any of these songs for her comeback, but grown ups need something to listen to also. NPR to the max." -- Chris Spector, Midwest Record
Al Stewart was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1945 and moved with his family to Bournemouth, a seaside town in the south of England, at an early age. It was there that Al bought his first guitar - from future Police guitarist Andy Summers - and learned his first guitar licks from Robert Fripp, later the leader of King Crimson.
Leaving school at 16, Al began his musical resume as a guitarist for various local bands - "I wanted to be Al Beatle . . . I wanted to be Keith Richards" - before exposure to Bob Dylan's songs shifted his focus from instrumentalist to vocalist and lyricist."p" "p"In 1965, Al moved to London, where he shared a flat with Paul Simon, and served as emcee at the famed Les Cousins folk club, fraternizing with rising young talents like Simon, Ralph McTell, and Cat Stevens. He was soon writing and performing his own songs at Les Cousins and other folk clubs and colleges across England. "p" "p"Following a 1966 single, "The Elf," Al's first album, Bedsitter Images, was released in the UK in 1967 (and years later in the US). Al's follow-up, "b""i"Love Chronicles, won him a measure of fame and infamy for its intimate tales of Al's romantic life, including a 19-minute title song that, um, climaxed with the use of a then-shocking vulgarism for "fornicating." The CD also featured exemplary musicianship by a pre-Led Zeppelin Jimmy Page and a pseudonymous Richard Thompson on lead guitars.
After releasing several more albums written in autobiographical mode, Al shifted his lyrical gaze outward, into history, literature and current events. He debuted this approach on 1973's "b""i"Past, Present amp; Future, highlighted by "Nostradamus," "Roads to Moscow" and one of Al's personal favorites, "Old Admirals." His next LP, Modern Times, cracked the US Top 40 charts in 1975 and led to a full-length US tour for Al and his band.
With groundwork laid and touring dues paid, Al's next album exploded in American and elsewhere: "b""i"Year of the Cat (1976) spun off two Top 20 hits (the indelible title song and "On the Border") en route to becoming a million-selling release itself. Al's next album, 1978's Time Passages, repeated the success of its predecessor, selling a million copies and yielding the Top 10 title track and Top 30 single, "Song on the Radio."
The rise of late '70s punk rock, which was more about spitting on history than chronicling it, coincided with management and record label problems for Al, who had moved to California, and his recorded output slowed. In the early '90s, he returned to his folk roots with a solo tour of the UK and the release of Famous Last Words, utilizing acoustic instrument- ation and traditional folk and classical styles. Between the Wars (1995), which focused on the 1920s and '30s, marked Al's first collaboration with former Wings guitarist Laurence Juber; their next effort, Down in the Cellar (2000), was a concept album incorporating Al's knowledge of fine wines into his you-are-there historical and personal narratives; the CD was only released in Europe at the time and led to a drought of new Stewart material finally broken by 2005's A Beach Full of Shells on Appleseed, on which, noted the All Music Guide, "both his vocal style and craftsmanship remains intact," while the Miami Herald concluded that "this venerable singer/songwriter is still doing what he does best, and clearly his best is as good as ever."