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Renaissance - Ocean Gypsy CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

2.87 | 56 ratings

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4 stars Michael Dunford was by all accounts pleased with his choice of singer when he formed his own version of Renaissance in the late nineties and recorded the appropriately-titled 'The Other Woman', but he has said over the years that he was both surprised and a little disappointed by the strong rock vibe the album projected. Not that he should have been given the inclusion of a former Whitesnake drummer (Dave Dowle) and a contemporary blues-rock guitarist (Rory Erickson). But regardless, Dunford decided to take one more shot at rekindling something remotely approaching the magic of the band's headliner days, but preferably folksier and more acoustic the second time around. I have to say he largely succeeded.

Other than himself and singer Stephanie Adlington the entire lineup of musicians was new, and Dunford stacked the deck by including a host of impressive prog-rock icons. Jimmy Hastings of Caravan not only lent his saxophone to the effort but contributed flute and piccolo as well. Touch's Alan Daniels shows off his skill on piano and accordion as well as a variety of synthesized orchestral sounds. And jazz great Rod Brown serves up snare drums and most of the other percussion. The level of musicianship here is considerably more impressive than on Dunford and Adlington's first effort 'The Other Woman', an album that was quite memorable in its own right.

Dunford was also astute enough to know that the original band's early music still had great emotional appeal with fans, and the idea of re-recording some of those classics rather than putting together another collection of original material seems in retrospect to be a stroke of genius. At the time I suppose it could have really backfired considering Annie Haslam was still performing solo and occasionally with her own 'Renaissance' lineup, and certainly her brand-recognition was notably greater than that of Dunford's. Still, I have to admire the pluck of the young American Ms. Adlington in being willing to cover some of the most well-known of that material with Dunford at her side, and often in the same octaves Haslam performed them. With a few small exceptions she pulled it off.

The title track is a simpler yet still elegant version, with Adlington seeming to be a bit hesitant at first but warming to the material quickly. Dunford's acoustic work is precise and carries her voice perfectly, while their version of 'Things I Don't Understand' is quite close to the original and Adlington pretty much hits the high notes although her timbre is a bit wispier than Haslam's. The backing vocals also fail to match the original but overall this is a solid cover.

Dunford seems to be playing with four or five hands at times on 'Young Prince and Princess', and I believe at least some of his playing is on twelve-string given the hint of echoing drone. Adlington's vocals are dead-on and Brown's hard drumming adds a playful folksy touch.

'Carpet of the Sun' goes way back to Dunford's first involvement with the band and the 'Ashes are Burning' release from 1973 as the group demonstrates the early folk influences of the Renaissance sound. Hastings' flute and Brown's piano are true to the original for the most part for what is one of the strongest offerings on the album. Brown carries this mood into 'At the Harbour', another song from 'Ashes' and one where Adlington lays off Haslam's vocal range in favor of a softer sound that evokes a strong nostalgic feeling. The strings here play off the piano in a way that is even more pronounced than the original, and the faint choral backing provides a chilling bridge to the familiar strident classical piano closing.

'I Think of You' from 'Turn of the Cards' is a well-considered choice as the vocals are well within Adlington's range, giving her the freedom to focus on an emotional delivery rather than trying to stretch for octaves that were probably at the limits of her ability. Dunford's guitar plucking is a bit more forced here than the original but still the delivery is both respectful of and complementary to the original.

'Star of the Show' is a song Dunford co-wrote with Peter Gosling, the keyboardist on the last two Renaissance studio albums. This is an interesting piece in that it sounds far more like the classic Renaissance sound than most of the stuff the real Mk II Renaissance recorded on their own 'Camera Camera' and 'Time-Line' releases. Sonically the sound is a lot like 'I Think of You' except that Adlington reaches further in both range and volume, demonstrating for any doubters that she could indeed deliver a powerful vocal performance that rivaled much of Haslam's later work.

On the flip side I would have left 'Trip to the Fair' alone considering that song's personal connection to Haslam's own past. The song recounts an evening Haslam spent with her former lover Roy Wood and I have a hard time listening to it without visualizing Haslam singing to John Tout's piano, which takes a bit off this version. Hastings cuts in midway with some sweet saxophone though for an entirely new feel for an old favorite, and the layered backing vocals offset Dunford's careful acoustic picking quite well. Once again the band's early folk influences are strongly demonstrated, something the eighties version of the group unfortunately distanced themselves from toward the end of their existence so props should be given to this lineup for their unique interpretation.

The album closes with perhaps the only song that deserves consideration for a Renaissance hits or anthology album, the melancholy and lush 'The Great Highway'. Synthesized strings and piano drown out most of the guitar playing but given the opulent instrumental arrangements in the song I think the group did a masterful job of creating their own memorable classic with the album's final tune.

I was more than pleasantly surprised to discover this version of Renaissance featuring Ms. Adlington, and while I enjoyed their first record 'The Other Woman' I have to say this one makes that effort pale in comparison. Even though these recordings feature only one true Renaissance member, the presence of so many classic and memorable band tunes echo the group's glorious past in a way that pays tribute while at the same time celebrates a comfortable pairing of Michael Dunford and Stephanie Adlington that I for one wish had carried on for at least a couple more albums. This was not to be though, as the seventies version of the band would reform briefly following the release and create their own new music with the studio album 'Tuscany'. But I don't have any problem giving 'Ocean Gypsy' four stars and a hearty recommendation in its own right. A fine swan song for a mostly forgotten version of the Renaissance enigma.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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