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Renaissance - Day of the Dreamer CD (album) cover

DAY OF THE DREAMER

Renaissance

 

Symphonic Prog

4.03 | 5 ratings

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Joolz
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars I can't get enough of live albums! And, I am glad to say, this one is a worthy and enjoyable addition to the catalogue. Renaissance have been reasonably well served by live albums: the essential Carnegie set and the pair of King Biscuit albums - all with orchestra and from the mid-70s - are both very entertaining and ideal as an introduction to Renaissance's music. So where does this new set fit in?

Unlike previous releases, this is not a single concert, rather it is a compilation of old recordings, gathered together by Mooncrest with Annie Haslam's assistance, and released in 2000. Here we hit a problem - the presentation is of the 'extremely minimalist' variety - again! Aside from some over-zealous self-promoting in her cover notes (did she really write this stuff?), all Annie tells us is that the songs on this album represent "some of the best live performances" captured by the seminal 70s line-up of Jon Camp, John Tout, Michael Dunford, Terry Sullivan and Annie herself. We are left completely in the dark about where or when these songs were actually recorded, but most of it must have been right at the end of the 70s.

Listening closely to these songs suggests that maybe at least 3 different sources were used: this is not a problem as any variations in the sound quality are so small as to be insignificant. Even the last 2 tracks, which clearly do have distinctly different sonic characteristics, blend in quite well. Overall, the sound is just about as good as anyone can expect: excellent dynamic range; clear and bright; excellent separation and stereo imaging allowing all instruments to occupy their own space (though there is perhaps some bleed from drums and bass); and virtually no background noise. Generally, the mix is good, but could be better: errors in fading up the guitar in several places; harmony vocals which ought to be a little stronger; and some people might think the bass guitar should be toned down a notch. Personally, I like the feel of this, as the prominent bass, together with some feisty drumming, help to drive the music. Small subtle changes betray the multiple sources, but overall it has a crystal clear sound which creates a greater sense of intimacy than is normally the case when they are supported by an orchestra.

These are indeed some very fine performances by a group of very talented musicians at the top of their game. And no orchestra this time around, which is what makes this album most interesting. Suffice to say that all songs are performed well - there are no duds. On the merit side it is wonderful to hear the material from 'A Song For All Seasons' (which at least helps to date that material to 1978 or later!); while on the debit side, I feel the last 2 tracks - Ocean Gypsy and Running Hard - are probably the weakest, not because of poor playing, but because the sound is not as punchy.

So, with no orchestra, how do they fill the gaps? By adding synths to the piano played by John Tout. It is the reason this album is intriguing, but it is also it's Achilles Heel! Nothing wrong with Tout's playing, as he demonstrates he is capable of operating multiple keyboards simultaneously as well as the best of them. No, his playing is exemplary, the problem is in the sounds he makes with those synths. On most of the songs (the last 2 are notable exceptions), the synth sounds, especially the pads and washes, are cheesy and generic, probably from an early digital keyboard - eg, substitute 'string' sounds that sound just like, well, substitute string sounds! During the early instrumental passages of A Song For All Seasons, a disastrous saw-tooth synth singularly fails to emulate a brass section! Twenty years or more ago this may have been an accepted practice, and these sounds certainly crawled all over a lot of records, but today they merely sound dated and out of place.

However, despite the reservations about the synths, this is a cracking album. While 'Carnegie' still remains the first choice, Day Of The Dreamer offers an alternative view. This is how most of us will have experienced them in the live environment - just the 5 core musicians naked and thriving on it.

Just one final point though: I do wish they would include more between-tracks banter. I know they did it - sometimes it was quite amusing - and for me it enhances the 'live' experience.

Joolz | 4/5 |

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