Jon Anderson's Olias of Sunhillow was one of my first forays into progressive rock at the age of 11. At first, it was really out there for me. I had never listened to a concept album before, but I was big into science-fiction/fantasy, so it naturally clicked with me. The concept of Olias of Sunhillow: after hearing a distress signal on a distant planet, Olias, the title character, sets to build a ship to rescue those in distress. "To The Runner" remains one of my favorite songs on the album, along with "Meeting (Garden of Gods)/ Sound Out the Galleon". This album might be an acquired taste, requiring multiple listens to discover that it's really a gem. But it's worth giving your full attention.
Inspired by the artwork of Roger Dean and the writings of Ver Stanley Alder, Jon Anderson developed an entire story around the idea of an interstellar exodus from Sunhillow, writing this album around the narrative (named for the spaceship's architect, Olias). The idea may seem overly ambitious, but Anderson fills the record with enough magical moments to delight fans of Yes' mystic side. The music is written and performed almost entirely by Anderson, who dubs vocals, plays guitar and harp, and adds percussion and the occasional synthesizer to flesh out his ideas so that at no point does the music lose its spellbinding effect for lack of sonic detail. Olias of Sunhillow is faithful to the spirit of Yes, though decidedly more airy than that band's visceral style -- its closest comparison would be Fragile's "We Have Heaven" or Going for the One's "Wonderous Stories" (which was clearly influenced by this record) on the vocal tracks, and Greek progressive electronic composer (and future Anderson collaborator) Vangelis on the instrumental tracks. Although the album is effective in its entirety, "Sound Out the Galleon," "Olias (To Build the Moorglade)," and "Solid Space" are some of the more memorable excerpts. The arrangements incorporate elements of the four tribes of Sunhillow, the most noticeable being Oriental elements that prefigure Vangelis' own China (especially on the opening "Ocean Song"). While there are several songs that could have easily fit in Yes' own catalog, and the lyrics continue to mine the mystical musings that Yes fans had come to enjoy, Olias of Sunhillow is not the missing Yes album some might hope it to be, though it does prefigure the later Jon & Vangelis collaborations of the '80s. If possible, pick up the LP version of this release, since the packaging is stunning and features terrific artwork by Dave Roe. ~ Dave Connolly, Rovi