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Renaissance - Illusion CD (album) cover

ILLUSION

Renaissance

 

Symphonic Prog

3.07 | 234 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
2 stars You almost need a scorecard to keep up with all the lineup changes in Renaissance during the seventies, and particularly around the time this album was recorded. And of all their records this is the one affected most significantly by band member musical-chairs. The tour following their debut release revealed waning commitment to touring by vocalist/guitarist Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty, and keyboardist John Hawken was already showing signs of the wanderlust tendency that would lead him in and out of Renaissance, the Strawbs and the Renaissance redux Illusion several times over the coming years. Bassist Louis Cennamo had also left to join Colosseum (although that wouldn't last long for him either) and the band seemed to be ready to crumble. But before that happened Hawken recruited Terry Crowe and Terry Slade to replace McCarty and Relf, Neil Korner to replace Cennamo, and added a full-time lead guitarist in Michael Dunford. All but Slade were former Nashville Teens band mates of Hawken's.

Just to muddy the water, that's not the lineup that entered the studio to record this album. The original members had already mostly completed four tracks before the breakup began, while this new group recorded the track "Mr. Pine" a bit later. That probably would have been it except that the band and their label knew the twenty-seven minute length would not cut it for an album release and reconvened the original members (Minus Hawken who was off touring with Spooky Tooth by this time) to record the closing "Past Orbits of Dust" with Don Shinn (Dada, the Echoes) filling in on keyboards on what is basically a semi- controlled extended jam session meant to fill up enough vinyl to justify the album's release.

By far the most progressive and interesting song on the album is the spaced-out psych-folk "Mr. Pine" with its emphasis on organ over piano, harmonized backing vocals and subtle use of electric guitar synchronized to the organ especially in the middle part of the track. The hazy, folksy vibe on this song was a far cry from the classical bent of the first album but was probably more attuned to the direction of more mainstream progressive music at the time.

The four tracks laid down by the departing members are frankly sub-par considering the level of talent and the band's original vision. The opening "Love Goes On" is a brief and lightweight, vocally-focused effort with the Relf siblings sharing the lead singing role and lyrics that don't go much beyond the song's title. This song is a bit what the 5th Dimension would have sounded like around the same time had they been a folk band and white. There is little attention paid to musical complexity and no extended instrumentation passages like most of their early works featured.

"Golden Thread" is longer and more developed musically, qualifying at least as a true progressive rock composition. McCarty provides the lead vocals here with Jane Relf adding mostly wordless backing. Hawken shines on piano on this, a more typical folk- classical composition akin to what brought the band together in the first place.

The piano passage on "Love is All" sounds like a compilation of the keyboard from the first two songs, and this is another short number that doesn't develop much beyond McCarty's vocals and Hawken's piano. "Face of Yesterday" isn't much different except a bit longer.

This really isn't a particularly memorable effort for a band who would otherwise record several classic albums in their time. The fluid nature of the group's lineup and shifting musical direction are quite evident. It's no surprise the record was initially released only in Germany and wouldn't see a UK issue until several years later. For fans either of the MkI or the 'classic' lineup of the band this can't be seen as anything more than a transitional offering meant to honor a recording contract, and as such it merits not much more than two stars (out of five) and a tepid recommendation.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 2/5 |

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