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Renaissance - Renaissance CD (album) cover

RENAISSANCE

Renaissance

 

Symphonic Prog

3.76 | 334 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
5 stars Icarus Ascending

Who would've thought that the Yardbirds' spine members would've converted into a progressive rock band after the departure of their flurry of guitaris legends, such as Clapton, Beck and Page? OK, I'll admit that this reconversion has a little bit of a "jumping on the bandwagon" feel, but these guys were credible right from the start. With Page somehow taking the Yardbirds name with him (and wasting it away, preferring to call Zep his new band), Jim McCarty, Keith Relf and Paul Samwell-Smith (the latter on production) decided to change their musical direction and surprisingly chose the more difficult (and risky) choice of going "prog". Enlisting ex- The herd Cennamo on bass, and ex- Nashville Teens John Hawken on keyboards (through another ex-Yardbirds, Chris Dreja), it is obvious that it is the latter's involvement in the group that defined the group's new musical direction, through his classical penchants. Rounding up the line-up is the superb sister of Keith, Jane Relf that was a folkie at heart, which fitted well with Relf and McCarty's new direction; they'd formed a duo called Together after leaving the Yardbirds and recorded an album and this helped shape the Renaissance sound, as both writers were now composing on acoustic guitar and would write all but one track of this album together.

Indeed, Renaissance's typical sound is a unique cross of Classical, Folk and Rock, but away from the usual canons of the Prog Folk genre, dominated by Hawken's piano. The group's debut album was released in early 70 on the en-vogue Island label and came with an absolutely superb Fall Of Icarus artwork on a gatefold sleeve. Opening on their cornerstone or flagship piece, the 11-mins Kings And Queens, the album opens on the a symbolic Hawken piano overture, before the group kicks in, Cennamo's amazing bass often doubling Hawken's classical-borrowed parts, thus reinforcing his dominance. Jane's voice offers quite a nice contrast to her brother Keith, and they give a credible folkish feel. Although not flawless, this is nevertheless a full blown prog epic, with all the future clichés present. Great stuff. It is followed by a no-less impressive 7-mins Innocence, built in the same mould, which I like more. Somehow it is understandable that the group is so dominated by Hawken's keyboards, because Relf's lead guitar skills are not very developed as he always had to play previously behind future guitar legends. Live, it seems that Keith was a tad more prominent than in the studio mix.

The 6-mins Island is a much folkier (and delicious) track, even if it also featuring Hawken and Cennamo's classical borrowings, sung lead by Jane and an abridged version would grace an accompanying single, while the only track written by Hawken (with McCarty on lyrics), the 4-mins Wanderer is a bit of a departure and a foray into Celtic-type folk, with Hawken playing the harpsichord and Jane's awesome vocals in the second part. The album closes on the 11-mins+ Bullet, a moody and darker track that was designed for featuring Prokofiev themes in a slightly more psych/spacey setting with psalm-like backing-vocals and Keith's harmonica (regularly used in The Yarbirds)? I'm sure this piece was used fo frame individual solos live.

My personal favorite of the group (all eras considered), as three Yardbirds are involved (who would've thought that possible?). Relf , Mc Carthy and Samwell-Smith, the latter on production, evolve from blues caterpillar into prog butterfly. Intense and beautiful. Jane Relf has nothing to envy to Annie Haslam, either. If you haven't had a chance to find out about the original Renaissance group, do jump on the superb Repertoire mini-Lp reissue that comes with two bonus tracks, from a non-album single, where an abriged version of Island and the original The Sea tracks are well within the album's spectrum and added excellent value. This album also comes sometimes with other bonus tracks (and a different artwork), the Together pieces written by Relf and McCarty prior to this album, but these are simply not fitting with the album musical realm. Historically important, this album is an often over-looked gem by most Haslam-Dunford fans. Essential stuff.

Sean Trane | 5/5 |

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