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Renaissance - Tuscany CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.02 | 98 ratings

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4 stars As the twentieth century drew to a close it seemed possible that the elements were in place for a reunion of Renaissance's classic line-up. A reunion duly occurred but significantly without bassist Jon Camp or lyricist Betty Thatcher-Newsinger. In the event, John Tout was able to participate in only a few of the recording sessions, adding his trademark piano to the keyboard orchestra of new boy Mickey Simmonds. Annie Haslam took on the role of lyricist while Camp was replaced by Alex Caird on bass.

The result, while not exactly a return to form, is still a magnificent achievement, similar in many ways to Yes's 'comeback' album Magnification. While the sound here is clearly identified with the Renaissance of the 1970s, yet it also has moved on: less complex, shorter and fewer instrumental passages, a smoother more dignified sound where the ideas no longer tumble after each other in a rush but build sustainable atmospheres and moods. Economics also play a part as flesh-and-blood orchestras are replaced by a synthetic variety consisting mostly of strings!

Considering some of the poor efforts of the early 1980s, it is a relief to find Michael Dunford has not, after all, lost the ability to write memorable well-crafted tunes that stick in the mind long after the CD has finished. And Annie has contributed some fine lyrics, addressing topics like the plight of beached dolphins [Dolphin's Prayer], using race-running as a metaphor for a need for acceptance and popularity [The Race], or an open letter to the 18thC painter/sculptor who created the lions in London's Trafalgar Square [Dear Landseer]. Nothing earth shattering at all but something with a little more meat than the generic adult relationships of several songs.

As in their heyday, songs are written specifically to suit Annie's voice, using her range and abilities to enhance rather than superficially impress with unnecessary theatrics. She sounds wonderful, as good as she has ever done. Musically they range from simple ballads where Annie is accompanied only by lush keyboard orchestration [Eva's Pond and Dolphin's Prayer], to more energetic songs with longer and more developed arrangements [Deer Landseer, One Thousand Roses and especially The Race]. The interest is in detail and dynamic, rather than complexity: a delicious 'flute' solo, a sexy trill from Annie, a Mellotron-like string-pad, a jig-like keyboard riff, or a brief section of male harmonies from Roy Wood. These are the things that make this album special.

Taken on merit, Tuscany is a very fine album indeed, clearly tracing its lineage to the great days of the 1970s, yet replacing youthful energy with a sage maturity. The emphasis is less on instrumental dexterity and more on overall quality of performance concentrating on their greatest asset - Annie's voice. It is perhaps what you might expect them to make after all this time. Sadly, and very frustratingly, the nature of human egos mean Tuscany is likely to be the last original work from Renaissance. If so, then it stands as a fitting epitaph to a great band.

Joolz | 4/5 |


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