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Renaissance - Turn Of The Cards CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.08 | 569 ratings

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4 stars It took them a while but with 'Turn of the Cards' Renaissance finally returned to the level of progressive brilliance that characterized their 1969 debut, although with a completely different lineup this time around. The one remnant of that version of the group was Jim McCarty who was still peripherally involved with the band although had stopped recording with them several years prior. His final 'appearance' came on this album in the form of "Things I Don't Understand", a collaborative effort with Michael Dunford that dates back to the early seventies. While the album features three lengthy progressive compositions, this is the one that really binds the entire body of work from the 'Turn' recording sessions. Coming nearly a third of the way into the record, "Things" marks a fairly abrupt departure from the melodic, almost poppish though steeped with symphonic tones that the group had established with the first two songs, a sound they had been moving toward since Annie Haslam and John Tout had become the foundation of the band a few years before this recording.

"Running Hard" opens with a beautiful volley of piano courtesy of Tout, followed by several progressions on his opening theme augmented by the rhythm section and Haslam's soaring vocals along with several percussion bits that give the tune more of a classical feel but with noticeable pop sensibilities. A fine example of the sort of accessible, working man's symphonic music the band would become known for throughout the decade, but nowhere near as daring and far-reaching as "Things" and what would follow it on the backside of the vinyl. "I Think of You" doesn't even go that far with Haslam and Tout instead delivering a decidedly 'pretty' and brief soft-rock love song bordering on being a ballad.

But for whatever reason the group decided to shift the mood considerably after that. "Things I Don't Understand" is a study in tempo and mood shifts that opens as a pleasant enough folk-rocker featuring Dunford's aggressive strummed acoustic guitar and Betty Thatcher-penned lyrics that Haslam delivers as a sort of mystic poem with vague notions of reincarnation and mysteries of life, while the rest of the band offer harmonized backing vocals. As the song wears on Tout's piano becomes increasingly dissonant, the tension of the song building slowly before opening up like a breaking sunrise with Haslam's gorgeous and wordless soprano vocals making way for melodic piano and almost imperceptible drums and bass, before winding the whole thing down with a spacious choral ending that calls to mind the same sort of ambitious symphonic pop groups like Supertramp and Klaatu were perfecting around the same time. This is inarguably the showcase piece of the entire album and a song the band would revisit many times in the ensuing years, both with compilations and live performances. Dunford would even record a 'Part 2' requiem for the song with one of his later Renaissance lineups.

But the band wasn't done there. "Black Flame" seems to pick up where "Things" leaves off, building slowly from a base of Tout's gentle piano and organ along with Dunford's acoustic strumming before Haslam begins a careful and measured vocal delivery that erases any doubt where the inimitable Kate Bush gained much of the inspiration for her own vocal career, not to mention a whole generation of other female British singers. The similarities to the first two albums Ms. Bush released a half-decade later are almost uncanny. Once again the men in the band offer layered backing vocals and bassist Jon Camp makes a delicately brilliant contribution toward the end while Tout shifts back to piano to close the song. "Black Flame" offers a perfect harmonious complement to the preceding "Things".

"Cold is Being" follows as a palate-cleanser, credited on the original vinyl to Dunford but in fact a rendition of Remo Giazotto's "Adagio in G minor", which was itself misattributed to the Venetian composer Tomaso Albinoni when it was first published in the 1950s.

Finally the band delivers one of the first in a series of long-lasting concert staples, the Alexander Solzhenitsyn tribute "Mother Russia". Here again the group centers the piece around Tout's piano and Haslam's vocals, but the mood is more somber than anything else on the album, heavier in tone as befitting a song with a Russian theme, and with a percussive rhythm toward the end that projects an almost martial feel, complete with synthesized flute, strings and harp from Tout for an overall symphonic delivery that stands along with "Things I Don't Understand" among the finest compositions the band would ever record.

If ever there were a masterpiece from the band Renaissance this would be it, although in the end the first impression of the opening "Running Hard" and even more "I Think of You" fail to achieve the heights of the rest of the album and detract just enough to cause the record to fall just short of complete brilliance. Even with that this is a majestic piece of work, and one that belongs in the collection of every symphonic and progressive rock fan. A very solid four star effort and one that just misses achieving that last star.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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