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Renaissance - Renaissance CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.75 | 385 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars This debut album has gained both praises and low ratings here. I think I'll go for 3 - 4 stars, even if this line-up inevitably pales in comparison to the one with Annie Haslam. Like Led Zeppelin, Renaissance (Mk 1) was raised from the ashes of YARDBIRDS, but shares quite a little with that band, besides guitarist Keith Relf and percussionist Jim McCarty. Probably the central member is keyboardist John Hawken - who would later play in Strawbs. And of course the singing sister Jane Relf, whose amateurish vocals bring this symphonic prog closer to Folk Rock.

This album shouldn't be compared with classic Renaissance masterpieces such as Ashes Are Burning, Scheherazade or Novella. It was only 1969, [symphonic] prog still taking its first steps, therefor this work really should be mentioned when talking about important early prog albums. Classical music influences were hardly better - as seamlessly - integrated into rock before this (well, there was The NICE, but mr. Emerson mostly just stole existing compositions into rock formula). Moody Blues's Days Of Future Passed (1967) was quite another case: the orchestral interludes/extensions were more or less separate from the songs, and neither Deep Purple's Concerto was Symphonic Prog as we know it. Hawken does cite some compositions (Beethoven) briefly, but his own piano or harpsichord melodies are great too.

Of course being a pioneering album doesn't necessarily mean it's a masterpiece. There are many weaknesses, starting from a rather muddy production. Actually compositions (and vocal performances!) are also weaker than what soon would come from e.g. Yes, King Crimson, Genesis and Renaissance (Mk 2). The 11-minute opener 'Kings & Queens' is the strongest track and deserves a prog classic status. Especially Hawken shows his capacities as a pianist. The slightly slower and folkier 'Innocence' is less memorable, and again sung by keith Relf instead of Jane, who gets the lead vocals only in the dreamy and romantic 'Island', and 'Wanderer' which is the closest one to Haslam-era Renaissance. 'Bullet', the longest and admittedly a weird proggy track, has too much bluesy jamming for my taste.

This is an album I listen to very rarely, but those rare listenings are quite pleasurable. The group made a second album Illusion -which is folkier than this - before that peculiar complete change in the line-up took place. A change in the band name would have made sense too: maybe in that case this group would be better remembered?

Matti | 4/5 |


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