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Renaissance - Novella CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.79 | 435 ratings

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3 stars This is one of three Renaissance albums I picked up a few years ago at a small New England used record store. At the time I was passingly familiar with the band don't recall ever setting down and listening to this entire album anywhere around the time it was released. Not surprising this slightly worn copy was in a New England record store though, as the band was quite popular in that part of the U.S. back in the seventies. In fact, that seems to be about the only place in the States they were popular, as this sort of music was not at all en vogue on the West Coast, and certainly not in the Midwest where arena rock was becoming something of a tour de force by 1977.

I've played this thing numerous times over the past couple of years and so far it just hasn't clicked with me or at least to the extent some of their other albums from the same period have. To be fair, following 'Turn of the Cards' or 'Scheherazade and Other Stories' would have been quite a tall order given the novel blend of pop, folk and classical music the band put forth with those albums. 'Scheherazade' in particular was almost an overly ambitious undertaking with its sidelong epic retelling of the 1001 Arabian nights story. And it doesn't seem that the band tried to top those records with this one, but instead simply put together a half-dozen comparatively short works that showcased their immense technical talents but failed to capture the same sense of majestic artistry of their prior two records.

The opening "Can You Hear Me?" may qualify as a mini-epic in length at more than thirteen minutes, but while John Tout's piano and Terence Sullivan's percussion are quite good, the overall arrangement consists mostly of instrumental ebbs and flows with Annie Haslam delivering fairly repetitive vocals. The orchestral arrangement, and particularly the strings, adds depth to what is mostly piano, bass and drums, but in the end the song comes off sounding more like something befitting a musical score more than a rock album, even a progressive one.

The segue into "Sisters" is a smooth one though, and the two songs almost meld together as a single work thanks mostly to Tout's lead-in piano and the choral backing that augments Haslam's angelic singing. The keyboards carry the middle portion of the song before Michael Dunford finally makes his presence known with a lengthy passage of outstanding acoustic guitar fingering. Once again the piece is technically near perfect, and even Haslam's somewhat forced vocals toward the end are carefully measured and were probably meant to sound slightly strained and tense. This is one of the stronger songs on the album thanks to Haslam's vocals and Dunford's guitar, but not at the level with their finest work.

"Midas Man" is a well-known Renaissance tune that again benefits greatly from Dunford's acoustic guitar work and orchestral backing, but even after many times listening to it I don't feel particularly inspired. And "Captive Heart" demonstrates the power in the harmony of Haslam's singing and Tout's playing, but at just over four minutes this barely qualifies as a complete Renaissance work.

The band finally kicks up the tempo with a rocking rhythm and an almost dizzying array of tempo shifts on the closing "Touching Once (Is So Hard to Keep)", but again there is not enough musical or emotion depth to really capture the listener's imagination.

I really do love this band and am enjoying (re)discovering their music decades after it was recorded. The group spared little expense in creating this album and the production quality is outstanding. I believe it was also their highest-charting record. But compared to their debut and the two that preceded this one, 'Novella' doesn't quite make the cut at the same emotional level. A very solid three star effort but unfortunately not one of their best.


ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |


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