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Renaissance - In The Land Of The Rising Sun CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.50 | 39 ratings

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4 stars My word, this is a cracker and make no mistake. Yes, I know Carnegie Hall is the 'standard' for Renaissance live recordings, but this shows just how good they would still be if they could only put aside personal differences. It has a freshness and vitality belying the band's age, and demonstrates a willingness to progress, something that Carnegie Hall fails to do. Several songs here carry arrangements that are developed, more or less subtly, from over-familiar originals. Old favourite Trip To The Fair is a good example. A brilliant song at any time, here it is renewed with numerous little innovations and small detail changes, like some whispered background vocals, that typify the approach of this band and help to breathe new life into old workhorses.

Annie's voice remains the focal point of attention, and she doesn't let us down. There is a perceptible sense of nervousness about the first couple of tracks, but once settled she turns in a powerful performance. Her voice has gained a fetching delicacy and fullness, maturity creeping in to replace the angelic purity of her familiar girlish tones. She noticeably warbles a little more than before, and deals differently with higher registers, but she still has the power to thrill like few others. From gentle and tender ballads like Pearls Of Wisdom and I Think Of You, to belting out THAT high note and a string of high vocalese in the coda of Ashes Are Burning, she delivers a masterfull performance.

The rest of the band sound good too, from jazz-rocking with gusto to complex orchestrations and lush backdrops. Sometimes you miss Camp's distinctive melodic bass, and the male backing vocals have an unfamiliar timbre that doesn't always meld with Annie in the way they used to. Mickey Simmonds is the one-man orchestra, his keyboards producing a convincing alternative to the real thing, only occasionally do you miss the authentic sound of real cello or brass. Rave Tesar's piano style is quite different to Tout's - more clipped, and not quite so light-handed - but his contribution is strong and authoritative, lending a new slant on the older material.

The first disc is a series of shorter songs, old and new. Opening Out and Midas Man are early highlights, the latter being an attractive laid-back version quite different in ambience from 'standard' readings, but newer material should not be ignored. The beautiful Pearls Of Wisdom, a lively and dynamic Dear Landseer and the Indian tinged Ananda all stand out from inevitable perennial crowd pleasers. Disc two has more Prog meat, including Trip To The Fair and a suitably awesome and majestic Mother Russia that stands up well alongside older versions, though perhaps Tesar's opening piano work lacks expression. As always, Ashes Are Burning ends the show on a very high note: the first half belongs to Tesar's piano, but the long finale section is stunning, organ and Annie's high improvised vocalese combining in a truly rousing climax.

The album was recorded live before a polite Tokyo audience in early 2001 during a short Japanese tour to promote new studio album Tuscany. Recording quality is crisp and punchy though a couple of songs might have benefitted from a more powerful production [eg One Thousand Roses], the only niggle is each track fades during the audience applause instead of being continuous. Overall, it is a terrific album, an excellent addition to the Renaissance catalogue and an essential purchase for fans of the band's blend of classically inspired symphonic Prog, simpler ballads and catchy tunes delivered with an adult intelligence.

Joolz | 4/5 |


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