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Renaissance - Turn Of The Cards CD (album) cover



Symphonic Prog

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5 stars Through the years there have been many, many great female singers, with powerful, angelic voices, Barbra Streisand, Grace Slick, Nancy Nevins (Sweetwater), Celene Dion, Enya, and some of my current favorites, Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation), Floor Jansen (After Forever), Vibeke Stene (Tristania) and Loreena McKennitt to name a few. However, to my mind, none have ever topped Annie Haslam when she was with Renaissance. Haslam's voice had a magical quality and a smoothness that few others had. Though she had no formal training, her voice, seemed to me, to be the most perfectly pure and the the most purely pretty voice of all. Perhaps it is good that no one messed around with her voice, when you are on top, any change is downhill. But I digress too much, let's get to Renaissance and their beautiful music.


"Running hard towards what used to be Losing ground in changes sliding endlessly Reaching out for mirrors hidden in the web Painting lines upon your face inside instead"

I'm sure many of you are familiar with them but for those of you that know little of Renaissance, let me edify you. The Phenomenon of Renaissance was originally started by ex Yardbirds, Keith Relf and sister Diane. Renaissance created a unique niche in the 70s with their exhilarating, passionate brand of progressive, neo-classical rock with historical, folk tendencies that preceded and is somewhat akin to New Age music. Although it is somewhat common today for many European and some American bands to borrow classical melodies even symphonies to be blended with rock or heavy metal, Renaissance was the first band that I can remember doing that and none, in my opinion, have done it any better. Annie Haslam is the pre-eminent vocalist of her time, with a five octave range and a compelling emotional ability to reach the listeners, she is the most important cog in the Renaissance juggernaut. But this melding of talented artists was a symbiosis, evidenced by the fact that Haslam's solo career has floundered. the members of Renaissance seemed to feed off each other and were not as good separately. The Michael Dunford-Betty Thatcher writing team intermittently produced enough strong material to keep Renaissance fans happy, and the production, while recording for Capitol, was top notch.


"Changing moods and stranger feelings In my dealings with the world Faces that I've seen before am I sure Or has my brain turned

Thinking about things I don't understand Thinking about things I don't understand"

It's hard to believe this album is almost thirty years old, so I guess many of you reading this weren't even born yet. That doesn't mean the music is dated though, this music is like traditional architecture it gets better with age. In fact Renaissance are constantly getting new and younger fans.

With Turn of the Cards, the Annie Haslam fronted version of Renaissance changed its technique slightly and as a result Renaissance really hit its apex. After keyboard dominated albums Prologue and Ashes are Burning the band went with a more orchestral sound and their next two albums, Turn of the Cards and Scherazade excelled and became two of the greatest albums of the 70s "progressive rock" movement.


For me, with Turn of the Cards, Renaisance was at their apogee. The preceding and succeeding albums were also very good and worth consideration but this album was their pinnacle.

SIMILAR GROUPS This is a tough one! I'm going to go with Loreena McKinnett, Beto Vazquez's Infinity and remotely like Blackmore's Night and Therion.

Report this review (#20003)
Posted Thursday, February 12, 2004 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars More like a trick of the cards, really!!

If the previous Ashes album featured (on the sleeve) the group as a quartet, in the present one Dunford is now included as a full-blown member (which he had been before the others in a different incarnation) as Hendry is gone, and so is the electric guitar. Released in 74 on the BTM label (maybe its first release as the catalogue number is 1000), Turn Of The Cards comes with a tarot over gloomu castle sleeve artwork, supposed to enhanced the magic mood of the album

Among the highlights are the 9-mins+ Running Hard, featuring the usual Renaissance sonic formula plus orchestral arrangements, which allows more depth, but at the risk of over-producing a too-slick a product. Obviously Renaissance felt the need to drive the nail much further in the coffin as they need further explanations after their last album's Can You Understand, now they sing about the "Things" they didn't catch the first time around. Not their best track, though. Dunford's acoustic guitar opens the 6-mins+ Black Flame, before Tout's piano and Camp's bass join in a very-Genesis-typed intro; but once Annie sings, that feel is gone and replaced the Renaissance's formulaic symphonic prog, but this one is a textbook example showpiece, especially with Tout's harpsichord. The other epic is the Mother Russia piece, with its obvious Russian-composers influences and almost-cheesy orchestral arrangements. Another decent good track in a album that's filled with them.

My fave from the Mk III line-up after Prologue. Their formula is still being refined, rather still fresh (it won't last), and they reach their pinnacle here. Most tracks here are classic Renaissance with Mother Russia, Black Flame and the opener being the highlight. While Renaissance had achieved some success right from their first album (Mk I), this is one will go up a few categories and provide the group with enviable sales status, and it won't the last to do so. Impossible to rate as just "a good album", but I don't view it as essential either.

Report this review (#20004)
Posted Thursday, February 26, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars RENAISSANCE have produced so many great albums over the years that selecting one is a difficult task. "Turn Of The Cards" has always been among my favorite recording by RENAISSANCE. As usual the band are at their height of creation and Annie Haslam continues to scream her operatic head off (just kidding!). Annie adds some of her strongest vocals ever on this recording. Several of RENAISSANCE's pinnacle tracks are from "Turn Of The Cards" including "Mother Russia".
Report this review (#20005)
Posted Saturday, March 13, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars Probably it's the best album by Renaissance, apart from the sole weak number "Cold is being" (talking about their ideas, as this latter is the arrangement from the famous "Adagio" from Albinoni), however enriched by means of the beautiful voice by Annie Haslam...moreover I like to remind you of the importance regarding some intelligent albums like the present one, because often a lot of prog fans concentrate their attention on the "bombastic" solos and the ostentatious aspects of our wonderful and favourite music genre, often forgetting the melodic aspects or the light musicality of the relaxed moments within. The start is that unique of an unforgettable band: the track "Running Hard" is characterized by a fantastic refrain and above all it's the best gentle "female" reply to the most important and inspiring male vocalists in the British history of Progressive school. Of course I think of super groups like that one of Yes and here Renaissance are at their top and aligned with the same grandeur. Besides you can listen to the fabulous "Mother Russia", concerning the vicissitudes of a Russian dissident against the regime, a splendid mini-suite, where Annie is able to combine the important political theme of their remarkable song, with a great music harmony...instead "Things I don't understand" is another example of their musicality, especially in the second part, where she demonstrates her lyricism and the exceptional vocal harmonization as well;or once again I like to remark another very good number like "Black Flame",which maintains an important tension and a powerful melodic line too, before introducing the already mentioned songs "Cold is being" and "Mother Russia", this latter the best manner to conclude an unforgettable album!!

Recommended anyway and you could also give it the maximum score!!

Report this review (#20014)
Posted Saturday, April 3, 2004 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Hooray! Another outstanding Renaissance album! Compared to the previous album "Ashes are burning", the bass is more timid, but it still sounds as loud and bottom as Yes and Rush of the 70's. Compared to "Ashes are burning", it seems here that the piano and bass do not want to steal all the show: the music is rather loaded of miscellaneous instruments like harpsichord, acoustic guitar, piano, drums, which seem to sound at the same intensity level. Flute, harp, percussions and shaking tambourine contribute to create rich & sophisticated compositions. There are also very good classical arrangements, which give the baroque influence, as usual. The melodies are very catchy, so that many non proggers might like this record. Some will say that there are some folk elements. Annie's lead vocals are absolutely OUTSTANDING, as usual. We feel here that the style converges to the epic & symphonic baroque work of the next album, "Song for Scheherazade".
Report this review (#20007)
Posted Wednesday, April 14, 2004 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Spot the borrowed melody

A fine album from Renaissance, with plenty of prog content to boot. The album consists of a mere six tracks, all except two written by Michael Dunsford and (non band member) Betty Thatcher.

The opening track, "Things I don't understand" was written by Dunsford/McCarthy. It's a symphonic piano driven piece, the vocals of Annie Haslam complementing the lengthy instrumental passages perfectly. The other feature tracks are "Mother Russia", a very powerful piece with many moods, and "Running hard", a traditional Renaissance quasi-classical workout.

I said there were two tracks not written by Dunsford/Thatcher. While "Cold is being" is also credited to them, even with my limited classical music knowledge I can spot Albinoni's "Adagio for organ and strings" when I hear it (it is a very well know tune). Fair enough, the lyrics were not written by that composer, but regardless of any copyright issues he should have at least received some recognition for providing the melody, note for note.

That said, this is a quality offering from Renaissance, full of complexity and innovation.

Report this review (#20012)
Posted Sunday, July 11, 2004 | Review Permalink
Chris S
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This is a good album, make no mistake but I would have to say disappointing after Ashes are Burning. There is a shortage of hooks and overall a bland diluted sound was beginning to encroach in their music. The highlights would have to be ' Mother Russia', ' Running Hard' and ' The Black Flame'.Thankfully things improved on the subsequent album Scheherazade.
Report this review (#20013)
Posted Monday, September 6, 2004 | Review Permalink
Tony Fisher
5 stars When you have a vocalist with the voice of an angel, all you have to do is give her some suitable songs to sing and play them well. Renaissance do it wonderfully on this, probably their most consistently excellent studio album. The songs are all beautifully constructed and developed with excellent keyboards and extensive orchestration that makes up for the absence of a lead/ electric guitar, Mike Dunford sticking strictly to acoustic. Annie Haslam's voice soars gracefully over it all - she doesn't have the range of emotion of some female vocalists but the purity and range is unrivalled. Terry Sullivan is a first class drummer and Jon Camp's Rickenbacker produces some melodic and complex bass lines but the laurels must go to Jon Tout, whose harpsichord, organ and piano playing make him a keyboard god. The first side, particularly I Think of You, is most enjoyable but it's the second side where the album catches fire. Black Flame is a great song with some sublime harpsichord work whilst Cold is Being is based on an Albinoni piece with vocals added over an organ accompaniment and is one of their finest moments on record. Mother Russia is a massive piece, composed as a tribute to Solzhenitsyn and is a concert favourite. Frankly, this is probably too classical and sophisticated for some prog rock fans of limited horizons such as Elliot Minkovitch, who is entitled to his opinion even if it is clearly out of line with the sensible majority. 4 or 5 stars? 5 for Black Flame and Cold is Being. Thanks Signor Albinoni!
Report this review (#20016)
Posted Friday, March 25, 2005 | Review Permalink
Eetu Pellonpaa
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Another classic Renaissance album rejoicing the beautifulness of classical music and acoustic flavored art rock sounds synthesis in the court of Annie Haslam and her friends. "Running Hard" takes few warm-up rounds from the grand piano's keyboards, bass guitar joining the dash for the whole group's union on the lovely marathon to the core of sublime characteristics of beautifulness. Orchestrations support the lovely curves of the marvelous composition pleasantly, which reaches really enjoyable classical compositional levels, encapsulating my own concept of purest incarnation "symphonic rock". The glory of healing folk ballad crystallizes on following "I think of You", containing some shades of popular music's melodic developments, not ruining my own listening experience but might bother most purist elitists. This mellowness is contrasted with catchy pulsing of "Things I Don't Understand", resembling trough Rickenbacker's tones, large vocal harmonies and rhythmic solutions the "Time and A Word" songs of Yes. This association I get from the Renaissance's music isn't in my opinion sign of unhealthy plagiarism, as their own very recognizable sound builds from much vaster array of elements, and the detection might also be false from my perspective. Would however slip this album to hand of anybody inquiring similar music than Yes did. In the middle part of the composition the rhythm ceases, and moves to more distant valley for the echoes of angelic voices. The closing moment gathers elements from the song as very euphoric ascension to heavens.

"Black Flame" starts to flicker quite calmly, guitar strings quietly creating a vision of slowly falling snow flakes. Along with the vocal verse the song starts to gain more concrete shape, and burst to its ivory fires with dramatic powers, waving lovely from lower intensities to the higher pressure pyres. The moods continue to develop wonderfully, though as how obvious solution one could claim, I felt Tomaso Albinoni's Adagio in G minor interpretation with organ supporting Annie's singing makes "Cold Is Being" a real monumental sequence on this album. I believe the relying on simple classic melody helps to adore the singer's vocal tones, and really wakens up for the concluding track "Mother Russia". This wonderful composition continues both gathering themes from Russian musical themes and building masterful epic musical drama. The instrumental sequences hold powerful symphonic sequences paying homage to the master compositions, and the sung theme follows more the traits of dramatic folk rock epoch, these both uniting as hair raising climax on the verse.

Even though some of these lovely songs reached ever higher spheres on the forthcoming live double album, this fact doesn't lower the charms of this record from the solid quality pack of records the band created during 1970's. The compositions create a wonderful entity to listen with thought and heart completely, and the values of both beauty and sincere kindness on this album are unarguable.

Report this review (#20017)
Posted Sunday, April 3, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars 3 2/3 stars

A great album in the vein of its predecessor. This one is more classical though and a little heavier/more dynamic. Unfortunately, I find it a bit weaker in quality and consistency.

The opening track sends a wrong impression to the listener. It is for me the weakest track of the classic era of the band. It is a long dynamic Quasi-classical song that doesn't interest me heavily. I think of You is a folk song in the vein of Ashes Are Burning and it is dominated by acoustic guitar, harpsichord, and Annie's vocals. Things I don't Understand is a normal Renaissance song with good musical arrangements. Black Flame is an excellent song with amazing harpsichord and organ playing behind Annie's gorgeous singing. Cold is Being is a simple melodic song dominated by Annie. I like the organ chords behind the singing. Mother Russia is a majestic symphonic track (many times considered Renaissance's best song) with an orchestra, great riffs/melodies, and a grandiose slow buildup.

Highlights : Mother Russia, Black Flame

Let Downs : Running Hard, I think of You

My Grade : B-

Report this review (#43471)
Posted Friday, August 19, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars The third work of announcement in 1974 "Turn Of The Cards".The atmosphere of the former work is almost maintained though some changes are felt. Your expectation will not be failed to live up to. The orchestra is used more dramatically. The piano solo part of the opening number is quoted from the organ tune by French's composer. The fifth is a work that applied lyrics to the adagio of Albinoni. The final tune is a sorrowful message to Russia. The tragic profoundness felt in the album is that the impression of two masterpieces of the 4th and the final tune is so strong.
Report this review (#43635)
Posted Sunday, August 21, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars How to begin, This album reveals all the talent and craftmenship that these musicians had been holding back on their previous albums. I could go on and on about the mastery of the compositions, but I will spare you. All that can be said is to listen, listen, listen and you will be taken to an enchanted place.
Report this review (#66085)
Posted Sunday, January 22, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars The usual wonderful, folky, symphonic, naked sprint through a fragrant autumn meadow you may have come to expect from Rennaisance at this time...and why not?! Turn of the Cards is in my opinion a prog masterpiece. Big words, I know, and I never thought Ashes are Burning could be topped, but this album, the bridge between AAB and Scheherazade, does not fall over for a second. Every track is a gem.

The bands performance is stunning as ever, John Tout in particular plays a fine album. The classically inspired piano intro to 'Running Hard' sets the mood perfectly and the graceful symphonic fall into the song itself produces one of those 'hair on the back of your neck moments' Did for me anyway! (Check out the live version on Carngie Hall!!) This is currently my favourite track on the album. The pace of the song gives the impression of charging headlong; wonderful musical onomatopea (yes I know. Thats not how you spell it) 'Things I dont Understand' is another classic with great harmony vocals and a floating haunted feel, as it changes pace and mood, skilfully executed by these very talented musicians.

Mother Russia closes the album perfectly. Another Rennaisnace epic, or perhaps semi epic, to stand proudly alongside 'Ashes are Burning' and 'Song of Scherazade' An addictive album, skillfully played and written with beautiful classical references and one of the best vocal performances from Annie Haslam I've heard.

Report this review (#69418)
Posted Wednesday, February 15, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars this is a very calming and beautiful album. the female vocals really add a nice dimension to the sound. lovely piano textures and song structures on this album. complex at times and mellow and serene at others. a great album to sit back and relax to. a solid 4 stars.
Report this review (#70110)
Posted Tuesday, February 21, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars My introduction to Renaissance. First time I heard the name, I ofcourse thought the band was all about music from renaissance, I was actually looking for that kind of music when I discovered the band. I bought this album, 'Turn of the Cards' after listening 'Mother Russia'. I had fairly low excpectations and this album exceeded them easily. I fell in love with the singer, Annie Haslam and the pianist, John Tout. The album is very easy and relaxing to listen. Very soft tune through the album.

The first track, 'Running Hard' is very good. It begins beautifully with great piano intro. Then strikes drums and fine piano melodies, and the singing by Haslam. Middle parts include some laid back and easy goin' rhythms and keyboard playing, as well as the end of the song. Strong classical music influences here, I think. Very fine track. 3/5 stars.

'I Think of You' is short, but very mellow ballad. The chorus and the verse are both very catching. Makes me want to sing along, which I do, infecting the whole block to deafness with my horrible singing voice. But that's another story. Small things are beautiful, and in this case, short ones too. 4/5 stars.

The next song, 'Things I don't Understand' begins well. And the chorus is very catchy. After hearing chorus for the second time, comes this cool, peaceful part with great vocals by Haslam. Sounding very epic when backing vocalists join. Returning to intro and verse. After chorus, great piano part. And after that, again, great vocal performance by Annie. I love the keyboard melodies in the song. I use the word "keyboard" sometimes, and "piano" the other times, just ignore. Soft flow to the end of the track. Highlight track of the album. 4/5 stars.

'Black Flame' is my favourite track of the album. Nice guitar intro. When keyboards join, spirit rises. Good choir-like vocals join after that. Calm vocals by Annie, and great chorus with good keyboards. Nice drumming too. Good bass and drumming joining after second chorus. Change to the guitars in the beginning and chorus for the last time. Structurally very boring, but otherwise very intresting and beautiful track. 4/5 stars.

The fifth track is 'Cold is Being', another short ballad. But I think this one is better than 'I Think of You'. Very emotional and beautiful. Great vocal performance, again. Lyrically very intresting. Though my booklet doesn't reveal them, but it's fairly easy to listen them. Good track. 3.5/5

The final track is 'Mother Russia'. Scary beginnig and great keyboard melodies. Very jazzy part after that. Then acoustic guitar rhythming Haslams voice. "Red blood, white snow/ He knows frozen rivers won't flow/ So cold, so true/ Mother Russia, he cries for you", if I'm correct. I like the lyrics on this one too. This song include great melodies, keyboard and singing as well. Very epic part in the end of the song. Final chorus and progressively slowing finishing touch. Great track. 4/5 stars.

Overall, the album is great, but not a masterpiece. It is an excellent addition to any prog music collection. Very cool album. I can't compare this album to any other Renaissance albums, because this is by so far the only album I've listened from the gang. Very good introduction. (By the way, I don't know which band member is the second one from the left on the back of the album in the cards, but he looks just like Conan O'Brien with moustache.) I highly recommend this album to anyone. 4/5 stars.

Report this review (#83536)
Posted Wednesday, July 12, 2006 | Review Permalink
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
4 stars Renaissance are one of those bands usually liked by women - unlike the more complex, convoluted, brainy King Crimson, VDGG or Gentle Giant. However, though I cannot deny being a woman , my tastes actually run more towards these latter bands than the mellow, laid-back, unabashedly romantic Renaissance. Talk about being unconventional... That said, I cannot deny that Renaissance are the perfect listen for those times in which something more intellectually engaging would just not be the thing - not exactly easy listening, but certainly relaxing, almost soothing to senses which are sometimes overexposed to intricate, demanding musical feats.

Like most women, I like listening to female vocalists, though in this case too my tastes run to the unconventional: as a rule, I prefer singers with powerful, low-pitched, almost masculine voices to angelic sopranos. However, there are notable exceptions to this rule, one of them being the crystal-clear, pitch-perfect voice of the inimitable Annie Haslam. Her spectacular vocals add interest and beauty to Renaissance's sweeping, romantic soundscapes, and "Turn of the Cards" features some of her best-ever performances, by turns commanding and soothing, never descending into the cheesiness of the band's later output. The band's musicians are no slouches either (though hardly anyone seems to remember them when it comes to those endlessly boring "best X" polls), with a particular mention for keyboardist John Tout, whose piano parts perfectly complement Annie's singing.

All the tracks are very strong, though ballad "I Think of You" is my least favourite song on this album - unconventional as I am, I don't really go much for traditional, romantic love songs, especially those interpreted by a female vocalist. On the other hand, the majestic, dramatic "Black Flame", masterfully sung by Annie, is to these ears the record's standout track, together with the almost operatic album closer "Mother Russia", a 9-minute-plus epic with great performances by all band members. Other personal favourites are "Running Hard" and "Things I Don't Understand", both over 9 minutes long, both fine examples of symphonic prog at its best - though considerably easier on the ear than most compositions of such greats of the genre as Yes or ELP.

All in all, "Turn of the Cards" is an excellent addition to any self-respecting progger's collection - though not a masterpiece, without any doubt a more than pleasant listen for those moments when you really couldn't take on Magma or Mahavishnu Orchestra. Definitely recommended, unless you need your music to thoroughly engage your brain in each and every occasion.

Report this review (#86318)
Posted Wednesday, August 9, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars I bought this after listening to the mp3 of Mother Russia on Progarchives... thanks for providing those, they really help when people are album shopping.

Anyway, Turn of the Cards is excellent and wonderful. The beginning piano in Running Hard is really good, and I like the rest of the song as well. Annie Haslam is my favorite female vocalist of all time, and her presence is really what makes this album a masterpiece. I Think of You is also a very good song, although some of you on this site seem not to like ballads very much. Things I Don't Understand is nice and has a catchy chorus that will have you singing along. Black Flame is one of my favorites from the album, especially because it has a prominent harpsichord part. Any band that will use a harpsichord (or harpsichord-sounding keyboard, I'm not sure) in rock music deserves to be congratulated. Cold is Being is probably the weakest point of Turn of the Cards, but it is not a bad song by any means.

Mother Russia gets it's own paragraph because it is unquestionably the highlight of the album. It is so beautiful and sad that it gives me chills. It reminds me of a book I read in sophomore English class in high school: "A Day in the Live of Ivan Denisovich". It's about a guy in a work camp in Siberia for saying something negative about the Russian government. Mother Russia gets a similar story across in a much shorter time and a more enjoyable fashion. And, Annie Haslam has a beautiful voice, so it would be difficult to dislike any decent song that she was singing.

This is a masterpiece and is absolutely vital for any prog fan to have in his or her collection. Five stars, no question.

Report this review (#90006)
Posted Monday, September 18, 2006 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Turn Of The Cards, third album from 'Annie Haslam's' Renaissance, represents another evolutionary step forward, mostly in terms of arrangement, dynamics and production. They had already proven themselves capable of writing fantastic songs with wonderful melodies and extended instrumentals, sung and played almost impeccably, but those skills are now matched by an equal grasp of the black art of turning songs into 'works of art'. Gone are instrumental sections simply grafted into songs. Here, pieces flow naturally from start to finish, encompassing melodious song and descriptive instrumental in an organic wave of crescendo and lull, often digressing along the way yet never allowed to stray far from the chosen path. If Prologue created the formula and Ashes Are Burning defined the template, then on Turn Of The Cards the band found the spark that lit a fire of creativity that lasted for the next couple of albums.

Running Hard, despite a lightness of touch, is a brooding nightmare of a song - the kind of nightmare where you endlessly run away from some personal monster that never quite manages to catch you. While Annie's vocals are quite spooky, the music trips and skips along at a jaunty pace: you are running on a high cliff path on a windy night until you begin to feel breathless, the tension getting to be almost unbearable as the demons [piano] close in around you. Finally the welcome warmth of a friendly light brings you to your senses - accompanied by slower statelier acoustic guitars and a lovely understated bass line, your mind at last relaxes as the music builds and then fades.

After the emotional intensity of Running Hard, all you need is a pretty mid-paced love ballad with some nice friendly acoustic guitars to bring relief - I Think Of You is just that! It is followed by Things I Don't Understand, the least successful of the four main works, simply because it is really two songs joined in the middle. The first part is pacey and jazzy, sung in a very fetching harmony with recessed male voice, but not the most memorable of melodies. The second part however, is stunning - slower and more pastoral with unvoiced singing and acoustic guitars to the fore. This is so good it makes you want to weep!

Black Flame is the potential darkness inside us all, the desire to do wrong in the name of right, the absolving of personal responsibilities in the name of institutionalised terrorism - "I'm not to blame, I didn't see the black flame" - how often do we hear that in the 21st century? It is a poignant message, conveyed simply by another memorable melody in a reflective acoustic setting that builds to a rockier middle-8 verse and instrumental before return to the main theme to conclude.

Cold Is Being is sung solo over an organ to the melody of Albinoni's 'Adagio'. It is simple, eerie, spooky, its icy words send shivers down the spine - "So cold is being lonely / Behold the feeling lonely / The living part is done / The dying has begun" or later "Oh how can we believe / We earn what we receive / The pain it overflows" - sung by Annie in a voice dripping with sadness and pathos. It reminds me of Dr Zhivago, and it creates a perfect mood setting as a prelude for the majestic Mother Russia which closes the album.

In many ways, Mother Russia is a musical twin of the Scheherazade suite, the first perfect blend of band and orchestra into a single harmonious entity. It is a towering achievement, constructed around one of the most beguiling melodies ever written and sung by one of the best voices in the business. Despite the acoustic guitars, it is grand and operatic in the best sense, rising and falling from stately full-orchestra set-piece to a lovely central interlude where Jon Camp's bass holds tension as Annie floats above. And Betty Thatcher's lyrics are superbly evocative of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Russian novelist who had been deported to the west early in 1974 accused of subversion against the Soviet state - his sense of loss and longing is brilliantly conveyed with lines like "Mother's son, freedom's overdue / Lonely man, he thinks of you".

Turn Of The Cards is the first of three albums by a band at their peak. Only I Think Of You and the early section of Things I Don't Understand fail to reach the heady heights of near perfection. If you fancy a dose of sublime melody sung by an angel with superbly orchestrated accompaniment you can't go far wrong with this. Great stuff!

Report this review (#97502)
Posted Tuesday, November 7, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is, once again, an excellent album by this prog outfit from England. As before, Annie Haslam's voice only helps but to accentuate the majestic feel of the album, providing a very enjoyable listen. One complaint though: there seems to be a discrepency in the bands diversity. You will often hear the piano introduction, the piano in the development, the piano at the end, the piano everywhere in each song. It seems that John Tout can't bring it upon himself to incorporate organ or synths into his music, which becomes a problem after listening to six songs. This is a problem that is apparent also on Sheherazade, but is rectified by the presence of the orchestra which adds dynamism to the busic. This orchestral "feel" is most apparent on Mother Russia, which is definitely the highlight of the album. Overall, I wouldn't want to say that the album isn't good, and I have given it 4 stars for a reason. The interplay between musicians is terrific, and the overall result is not overly bombastic. If it piano that John Tout plays, at least he plays it well and this is most obvious on the opener which IMO has a better piano intro than a Trip To the Fair. Grade: B+
Report this review (#103771)
Posted Wednesday, December 20, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars GREAT! I really like this band (especially first 7 albums). By the time Turn of the cards released, Renaissance was at its best form. All songs are great, only I think of you is somewhat weaker part of the album. The really best songs are Mother Russia and Cold is beying. Yes, Cold is beying has great atmosphere, up to that time Renaissance used to make some shorter ballads with mainly acoustic guitar and angel-like vocal. But here the vocal is flying over the organ. Amazing. There is no need to write odes to Annie or the rest of the group. This album is really the masterpiece. Due to the second song I give it 4,5 stars.
Report this review (#103895)
Posted Thursday, December 21, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars A rediscovery for me, sitting on a winters day in a Stockholm hotel room. Annie Haslam's vocal's reach out across 30 years and strike you with their clarity and beauty. Tracks like "Black Flame" and "Things I don't Understand" have a majesty that stikes you; there is a great moving force with Renaissance that makes you wonder how you forget them.

I'll back again and again for more. Awesome.

Report this review (#110313)
Posted Thursday, February 1, 2007 | Review Permalink
Cesar Inca
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars After Renaissance achieved their own musical maturity in their "Ashes are burning" album, they reached their first pinnacle with "Turn of the Cards", a most accomplished work of symphonic rock at its most refined. The performative cohesion betwen all musicians, led by John Tout's keyboard inputs and enriched by the usual interventions of the orchestra, is perfect in so many ways... and don't get me started with Annie Haslam's vocal deliveries, since my never ending praises would make this review infinite. Suffice it to say here thata she appropriates the songs written by others and fills them with her own spirit using her technique and emotion as adequate vehicles. Michael Dansford's ideas provide a solid basis for the whole ensemble to expand upon during the longest songs. Meanwhile, John Camp's bass playing remains a very solid bridge between the melodic and rhythm sections, in a way closely related to the role that Chris Squire has in Yes. 'Running hard' is the opener, and it also is an undisputed Renaissance classic. Its flaming epic tone provides a solid strength for the colorful motifs that fill the song's nucleus. 'I Think of You', in contrast, is a simple yet evocative bucolic ballad that proves, once more, that this band could instill an appealling exquisiteness into the least complex acoustic guitar driven ballads. The pompous side of the band returns with a vengeance for 'Things I Don't Understand', another classic. Bearing a more intimate aura than 'Running Hard', it equals its majesty and eve ntakes it to a more solemn dimension. Haslam shines like the sun itself, at times explicitly, at times in a more subtlem manner, depending on the specific demands inherent to each passage. 'Black Flame' is a semi-ballad pletoric of sober melodic lines and evocative textures, a pure musical gem that has been hisotrically overshadowed by the three epics of the album. Cases like these abound in many great albums of prog's history: greats songs that for no apparent reason become eclipsed by other great songs. To put other Renaissance examples, think of 'The Sisters' from "Novella" or 'Ocean Gypsy' from "Scheherazade". The best qualities of 'Black Flame' lie on the interaction between keyboards and bass guitar, with the guitar arpeggios soon entering the spectrum, and ultimately, Haslam filling the sonic pallet properly. 'Cold is Being', a sung reworking of Alabaloni's Adagio, finds the band exploring "Procol Harum territory", so to speak. This beautiful song is mostly a prelude that serves a pretext for a relaxing rest for the listener before the epic momentum of the closer 'Mother Russia' comes around and fills the air with enthusiastic splendour. Yes, the album's final 9 minutes are magnificent, a pure display of explosive sounds joint together in an organic kaleidoscope of art-rock and chamber music. This anti-Soviet lament in favor of freedom and real justice stands out as a magical chant agains oppression and a musical statement about the drama of human life trapped in the maze of political machinery. This is the pompous side of Renaissance at its most moving so far, that is, until the follow-up was released one year later... but that's a matter for another review. I'll end this one by simply regarding "Turn of the Cards" as an excellent item in any good prog collection. Renaissance gave so much to the prog genre, and this album certainly is one of their major acomplishments.
Report this review (#120702)
Posted Thursday, May 3, 2007 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
5 stars Renaissance´s follow up to the classic Ashes Are Burning is almost as good. With songwriter Michael Dunford now officially a member of the group (he joined the band during Ashes Are burning sessions, but was listed on the cover as a guest) the sound is more symphonic than ever. The only song that bears the pastoral, folky side of the band so evident on Ashes... is the ballad I Think Of You, which is very simple and a bit awkward here, but giving a pleasant respite between two massive symphonic epics. Highlights are the hauting Black Flame, the beautiful orchestrated Mother Russia and Things I Don´t Understand (Annie Haslam does a great job on the second part, amazing!).

The other songs are very good. It annoyed me seeing an obviously cover of Albinoni´s Adagio being credited as an original Dunford tune, but I rather believe it was printed by mistake. And the interpretation (only organ and vocals) is stunning!

The production could be a lot better, but maybe this is just because I don´t have the remaster edition.

So, in the end, Turn Of The Cards is one of my favourite Renaissance albums. Almost as fantastic as its precedor, it proves the band could evolve even more into the symphonic sound they created. Highly Recommended to any prog fan. A classic.

Report this review (#130061)
Posted Tuesday, July 24, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars An excellent symphonic prog album!

By now, you must have been familiar with the music of Renaissance where most of the compositions comprise a nice blend of classical music, a bit of jazz, pop, folk and rock into one cohesive offering. I think, the early albums of Renaissance were quite consistent in terms of delivering good to excellent music to the listeners. Most listeners might not feel frustrated with the music because most of the compositions the band made - no matter how complex the arrangements are - the band has always given catchy melody in their songs.

The opening track "Running Hard" (9:37), for example, kicks off with quite complex improvisations of piano in a combined style of jazz and classical music. But when the music enters, the song has catchy melody especially when Annie Haslam's voice enters the music. The opening track is really enjoyable as it moves naturally from one segment to another, smoothly.

The following track "I think of you" (3:07) is a pop-orientated song with some sort of folk music styles through the acoustic guitar rhythm section. Combined with the sound of clavinet, it makes this song richer in textures. The bass guitar lines are quite tight accompanying the music from start to end.

The music moves into more energetic beats with "Things i don't understand" (9:29) which again using tight bass guitar lines as beat keeper as well as dynamic groove that moves the music of this song. The vocal line turns into high register notes during interlude part in a chanting style, while guitar still dominate the rhythm section. It's nice to notice the choir section in the middle of this track.

"Black Flame" (6:23) starts with an ambient nuance with acoustic guitar fills as great soft background and bass guitar brings the music in the smooth flow. Some string orchestration has enriched some segments couple of shots just before the vocal line enters the music. Again, the melody of this song is quite catchy. The clavinet work makes the music much interesting to enjoy especially during the movements with drum work and when it returns to quieter segment. It's one of my favorite Renaissance tracks.

"Cold is being" (3:00) starts off with church organ sound and the melody is quite familiar with most of us. "Mother Russia" (9:18) is a great epic which moves dynamically with the band's brilliant composition that moves the music ups and downs, stirring my emotion. This song is not just wonderful in terms of melody but also in its wonderful flow from one segment to another. The string section work makes the music is richer. Another great song by Renaissance.

Overall, as far as music concern, I strongly believe that this album contains wonderful compositions combining - mostly - jazz, rock, folk in its unique way through the help of orchestra. No doubt that PROGRESSION prog magazine claimed that "Turn of the Cards" is one of Best 40 progressive rock albums. I highly recommend you to purchase this CD. Keep on proggin' ..!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Report this review (#156807)
Posted Thursday, December 27, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Turn of the cards an album that has some changes in sound and manner of composition than the early albums. First the album is more symphonic than previous ones, because they have here more orchestral arrangements as important part of their songs then on Asher are burning or Prologue, and second to me this album is with some folkish elements here and there. Anyway Turn of the cards is a strong album but less captivating than previous two and even kinda weaker and to mellow at times than the next 3, with exception Novela ( i think the weakest from the '70's and the most mellow album they ever done, at least for me). So the music is again very well played, just listen to Runnning Hard, is a great start with beautiful instrumental arrangements is the beginning of the song. The song is long and very beautiful, with highlight to the keyboard arrangements of the song, i think the best from here. Another highlit is the last piece Mother Russia, a great composition that showes the talent of the whole band. All in all a great album, but not their best. 4 stars for this one

Report this review (#158464)
Posted Sunday, January 13, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars Things I Don't Understand: Why doesn't every Prog music lover own this album?

This album essentially is the darker, and heavier version of Ashes are Burning. This album awes me with the same beauty as the previous album, but with more power and depth. The songs aren't as fluffy and happy anymore, so be aware, if thats what you like, you're in for one of the greatest musical treats of the Prog world.

Just like on the previous album, the first and last tracks are my absolute, to die for favourites. These tracks; Running Hard and Mother Russia carry the most power and mysterious darkness to them. It is worth buying the album just for these two tracks. In between those two famed tracks, is alot of Annie Haslam signing with acoustic guitar, and piano perks, the more pretty stuff.

If you enjoy Renaissance albums, and don't own this sucker, it has Buy Me! written all over it!

Report this review (#161685)
Posted Wednesday, February 13, 2008 | Review Permalink
Prog-Folk Team
5 stars A much darker version of Renaissance emerges in "Turn of the Cards", a wintry album if there ever was one. The full lineup is now into its second album, and it has largely dispensed with the sunny disposition of much of the previous recording "Ashes Are Burning". It completely expunges the electric guitar from its arsenal, not to reappear until "A Song for All Seasons", when the band as a whole had evolved enough to accommodate it.

The album begins with the nostalgic and spiritual "Running Hard". Often considered one of Renaissance's greatest songs, it is the first to include a lengthy piano intro that would be adopted to the greatest degree on the "Scheherazade" album. The piano meanders purposefully towards the main and soaring tune that sees Annie in fine form. The orchestral accompaniment is tasteful and Annie delivers one of her better "la la" flights of fancy in the break. We are even treated to intricate yet accessible vocal harmonies with her band mates. If there is a flaw, it is in the less than ideal production, somehow not even as good as on its predecessor. It sounds somewhat muddy. Nonetheless, the orchestral denouement is majestic without pomposity.

"I think of You" is more reminiscent of Sandy Denny's work with STRAWBS than anything, basically a simple folky number, but with none of the cheer of the earlier tunes of similar ilk. Then perhaps the most Gothic sounding epic of the band's career, "Things I don't Understand". It is the last to be co-written by Jim McCarthy. I am fascinated by his involvement in the credits 3 albums after leaving the group. Was he still involved peripherally or are these mere leftovers from the first era? The first part of the piece is absolutely haunting, with a powerful melody and choral effects, almost sounding like mellotron, but the songs wanes in its final minutes as it tries to morph into a suite with middling success. It could have been one of their best but ends up only mildly satisfying.

The last 3 tracks, side 2 of the original LP, are really the meat of the repast. "Black Flame" is again lusciously melancholy, and is augmented by Tout's harpsichord, more mystical lyrics and a masterful structure and melody. "Cold is Being" totally takes the icy aspect and runs with it to the tune of Albinoni's 'Adagio'. Only 3 minutes long and blissful. It turns out to be by way of introduction to the mother of all Renaissance works, "Mother Russia", an ode to exiled Alexander Solzhenitsyn. While the introduction, verses and chorus are all nothing short of wondrous, it is the break in the middle that sparkles with Annie's plaintive wails followed by emotive piano, orchestral effects, and spine tingling harp. This is truly a miraculous passage! Worth the price of admission, but as we have seen the album offers so much more.

Again, 4.5 stars, rounded up because this is actually a bigger change than one might reasonably expect from one album to the next, meaning that chances were taken, and the artistry triumphed.

Report this review (#162592)
Posted Sunday, February 24, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars "Renaissance" is getting closer to the masterpiece status with this very good album. The line-up is now well in place and their musical style is so easily recognizable that only great song writing is needed to propelled the band into the Walhalla of prog bands.

One has now been able to get use to their excellent and so special musical style. This album is just a very confirmation of this. There are no weak tracks on this very good album. It is a very enjoyable journey from start to finish.

Of course, "Things I Don't Understand", "Black Flame" and "Mother Russia" are shining brighter than other songs. But that's only because they are excellent. The band reverts to the great inspiration of "Prologue" (which was their first great album IMO).

The folkish mood from "Ashes Are Burning" is forgotten. For the best as far as I'm concerned. It was time again to leave space for their unique classical-proggy style which is unmatched to-date (2008).

One thing is for sure : once you have listened to "Cold Is Being", you can only be in love with the superb vocal part. Annie is sublime. There are no other words. Crystal clear, incredibly emotional, complexly simple. Grandiose, my prog friends. One of her greatest vocal parts ever, IMHHO.

This great (but short) song leads to "Mother Russia" which is a bit invaded with orchestrations. Annie bringing this very good song to yet another level. I felt in love with her great voice just a little later than this album. But that's another Sheherazade story. Coming out soon.

Four stars for these turning cards.

Report this review (#164545)
Posted Friday, March 21, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Turn of the Cards are Renaissance fifth album and the third with the new lineup. The predecessor Ashes are Burning were a really good symphonic prog rock album with Annie Haslam´s beautiful voice being used to it´s max. Turn of the Cards are more of the same. In fact Ashes are Burning and Turn of the Cards are very much alike. There been little delelopment, but in this case it´s no problem.

The music is driven first and foremost by John Tout´s classical inspired piano playing and Annie Haslam´s beautiful vocal lines. There are some instrumental parts in the longer songs which are really symphonic with additional strings but these are arranged parts. There are no soloing or jamming sections in the songs here everything is arranged. The arrangements are very nicely done and I think Renaissance keeps just on the right side of the more pop orientated prog rock to still have integrity and power. I think they step a bit over that line with I Think of You though, it´s a bit to commercial for me to fully enjoy, but the rest of the album is excellent. Running Hard and Mother Russia being the most exciting epics here. Things I Don´t Understand points toward the early Renaissance in my ears which is great to me as I´m a big fan of the two first albums from Renaissance. Black Flame and Cold is Being are very beautiful tunes as well. They are actually very dark both of them. Cold is Being is only Annie Haslam and the organ playing from John Tout.

The musicians are all outstanding and as usual I will point out how magnificent a vocalist Annie Haslam is. She masters everything she does with her voice. John Tout has to be mentioned as well as he is an outstanding pianist. He uses keyboards and synth sound very sparsely throughout the album and remember this was 1974 and it must have been very tempting to use all the new keyboards that were out there at this time, but he almost only uses piano and to great effect. It really sets Renaissance apart from most other prog bands that at the time uses synths and keyboards extensively.

The production is very good. Just a touch better than on Ashes are Burning which also had a very good sound quality.

This is excellent symphonic prog rock and it´s one of those album you just got to have if you like the style. Maybe the best female fronted prog rock band ever ? I´ll rate this 4 stars. It´s not quite a masterpiece to me but it´s damn close.

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Posted Sunday, March 23, 2008 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
3 stars A turn in the wrong direction

Many bands in the first half of the 70's "progressed" (partly) by adding more and more elements to their respective sounds. The Prog Folk band Strawbs, for example, started out as a rather straightforward acoustic Folk group in the late 60's and then went on to add drums, electric guitars, and gradually various keyboard instruments including organ, Mellotron, and Moog synthesiser, etc. to their unique sound. In the case of Strawbs, this very interesting progression culminated with the excellent Hero And Heroine album (that incidentally featured John Hawken - a former Renaissance member). A similar expansion happened in many other Prog bands around this time. Yes, for example, added a broader range of electronic keyboards from Fragile onwards. Renaissance, however, seem to have been going in almost the opposite direction and stripping their sound of almost all electricity. Classical grand piano and acoustic guitars remained the core of the Renaissance sound, with drums and electric bass being the only typical Rock elements still present. All this together with the pure and untypical (for Rock) female lead vocals somehow makes the music of Renaissance less than fully satisfying for me. I like the atmosphere they create, but I can't help feeling that there is something missing.

Don't get me wrong though, I fully understand what the attraction here is. This band contains a lot of talent in both the song writing department and in the instrumental and vocal department. The voice of Annie Haslam is distinctive and very pretty. I find this music pleasant and enjoyable, but it somehow fails to impress me. I think it lacks punch. Maybe if they added some electric guitars and synthesisers to the mix it would be better?

Good, but (like almost all other albums by this band) not essential for me

Report this review (#177565)
Posted Monday, July 21, 2008 | Review Permalink
Errors & Omissions Team
4 stars 01. Running Hard The album begins with that most sensational pianos from John Tout, from the classical school, and which came just after the piano? One of the best bass of the history of the Progressive rock, the forgotten Jon Camp. The voice of Annie (my muse largest) is one of the most chilling thing I ever heard. Owner of an incredible voice she gives the song a charm that no one else could. Interpretation fabulous. Of course we all followed very closely by Terrence Sullivan on drums (in the band in the background, but it is another giant also). Vocalizations, a riff from below sensational, with emphasis on the piano phrases. After a series of orchestral, the beautiful voice of Annie is accompanied by the guitar 'guest' of Michael Dunford. The end of the song is in a strange noise that reminds me of course the Morse code.

02. I Think Of You Beautiful song to the sound of the guitar, it gives a show Annie vary in the range. The ballads FM could not all be like this?

03. Things I Do not Undertand In a martial rhythm Things I Do not Understand has dubbed the voice of Annie with a male voice (not that I know of who they are, can be of Jon), and then released showing the octaves eat only a little from where Annie you can get. And Renaissance vocal passages (look at the name there), and then the theme returns triumphant. The soil of the piano after that, followed by a foundation of unparalleled bass once again brilliant. And once again shows that Annie came. Vocalizations paradise. Without words, only the feeling of well being to listen!

04. Black Flame If a disc should be beautiful in concept, their songs to accompany him right? Correct! Here is one more, with the guitar doing the base near the piano Jon is the guitarist and makes all the initial melody, showing once again that the low should not be relegated only to the post of 'companion'. The vocalizations sometimes here and sometimes even more value there, until Annie brilliant shine with their interpretation, accompanied by a strong melody and intensely beautiful. Melodicamente perfect! Some small parts using the keyboards and synthesizers, but making it clear that his strong is the same piano, this is what brings the sound of the Renaissance, but the track is all pervaded by carnations, with a tone more true epic.

05. Cold Is Being Just to deny me this time Tout starts with the music of a cathedral organ (I deny in quotes because that gives the song more like a renaissance). Only body and voice. A perfect calm for the moment that life goes so fast that we can not even see and feel the time, the music must have this special chemistry and magic that makes that all our times have a reason, a reason. We are here for some reason? And this matter? Do not hear that here, certainly not.

06. Mother Russia The Mother Russia holds the new sounds before punished for such a stupid patriarchal. Although the Mother Russia has brought the most unusual and brilliant composers of the classical period, the band seems to understand this and puts a whole orchestra at the opening of the music and the entire song. The vocalizations calm the senses while the band builds a bridge between accurate heart and soul. The compositions of Dunford / Tatcher are without a shadow of a doubt special. The band had a fantastic melodic power.

Renaissance, certainly one of my favorite bands. The classic style, the voice, the intrumentações. For me the classic Ashes Are Burning is still the best (I think because it was the 1st I heard of them), but the band was blessed with the gift of composing many sensational disks, then you can venture into any of them.

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Posted Monday, January 5, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is a tough one to call. I have to wonder if Turn of the Cards is really as strong as it appears to be on early impressions and whether its flaws push it closer to the average or do its shining moments push it above the mediocre and closer to greatness. There is evidence of growth but the results are not always very exciting. The band carries on in a sincere vein and yet I don't always feel swayed, much less transported, by the proceedings.

On an album level, this is the first decisive step to establishing the quintessential Renaissance sound. The band seem to have made up their mind that folk is not the way to go. Perhaps, though, they don't quite yet know what they'd like to move on to. This results in the album feeling quite inconsistent and lacking cohesion. At the same time, it has more variety than Ashes Are Burning and because each track offers something different, its moments of weakness become easier to overlook. They also make a clean break with the essential sweetness of Ashes Are Burning and dabble, not always with the greatest success, in darker shades.

Opener Running Hard is one such stab at darker shades. However, the piano intro is not as exhilarating this time around and it feels almost laboured when it gives way to the vocal theme. The interlude dubiously lacks linear movement and plods on the same theme over and over. If all that was not enough, the orchestra plays the vocal theme to close the song in a rather dull fashion. What does grab my attention is Annie's singing on the verse, especially the line "Sounds so bad you let the music take your soul". It is a truly thankless task to breathe life into this rather flat vocal melody but she conveys the change of flavour very effectively.

I Think of You can't seem to decide whether it wants to be folk or R&B. Annie seems to be caught a bit in this confusion herself, evoking a splendid R&B flavour in parts of the song and sounding a little tentative the rest of the time. She still leaves ample evidence of her skill in evoking a rather enigmatic shade of longing, hinting towards melancholy but not fully embracing it. Against all odds, the song winds up quite haunting.

Things I Don't Understand is by far the strongest track on the album. When the band do get their act together, the results are splendid, as with the title track of the previous album. Just like Ashes Are Burning, this track too doesn't lean on a long keyboard intro and wastes no time in getting to the point. But, emotionally, it couldn't be more different. There is tension in the first half of the composition with some rather interesting harmonic ideas, especially given it's Renaissance. The second half is a soaring release very typical of the 70s vein but what's not so typical is Annie's wonderful vocalising. It's hard not to love the track once you have heard that passage and even if the resolution is eventually predictable, it still leaves a satisfying impression.

Black Flame drops the first hint that the band can't really decide which way to go. Acoustic guitar is back and the song leans towards rock, without big riffs of course. Annie's singing is very strong on this track too. Sans vocal grit, she still gets across the feeling by drawing on the power of her voice and delivering with a lot of conviction.

Cold is Being is borrowed from an Albinoni composition. There's not much to say about this by way of description except that it's very well sung again. Annie shines in settings with sparse organ accompaniment, giving great glimpses of her potential again.

Mother Russia is the most fully realized step in the direction of Scheherazade and Novella. While predictable in construct, it is executed exceedingly well and has a strong sense of purpose. Once again, the band gather momentum right at the end of the album. Much like Ashes, Annie has plenty of room here to belt the lines powerfully. This, for a change, is one track she could never quite do justice to live, at least on those recordings that I have heard. Unlike Ashes Are Burning, though, this is grand, sweeping and stately, with the orchestra in full bloom, and thereby the weakness of this style. It is great to behold but struggles to engage and can sometimes leave you cold.

Turn of the Cards promises a good deal and accomplishes less. The band haven't quite realized their new direction yet. Annie is growing in confidence but not quite there yet, except in moments like Things I Don't Understand or Cold is Being. Overall, and in conjunction with their subsequent output, four stars to reward the promise.

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Posted Sunday, February 22, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Turn of the Cards marks the definitive shift in the sound of the band. Not that the change was radical, for the classical influence was very distinct right from the start (considering Prologue as the starting point). But here, the pop influences are much smaller and the classical edge takes over. Their unshamed (in the good sense) use of orchestration adds to the effect.

Aside that, the most distinctive characteristic of this album is its "heavier" sound. The piano, orchestration and percussion often sound like unissone. Though the melodies are strong, what stands out are rythm and percussion. This "heaviness" (by Renaissance standards, let us not forget) is perfectly reinforced by the recurrance of crescendos to build up the songs's climaxes.

Only the shorter tracks have a softer sound. I Think of You is the only truly pop song, and a good one, in the vein of Carpet of the Sun. Cold Is Being is actually lyrics put into a classical piece from Albinoni. It sounds a bit odd to those familiar to the original music, so it's not particularly appealing to me.

Things I Don't Understand has also a jazzy feeling. For that matter, it reminds the first line-up of the band. Maybe that's because it is a Dunford-McCarty song, so it might even have been compose in that period. The first section is clearly jazz oriented. Annie and Jon share the vocals. Though a unissone, his voice is less dominant, working as supporting vocal to add a heavier sound. The second section slows down with Annie vocalizations, gaining a more classically edge. It builts up in a crescendo, Annie and Jon returning to close the song. It is strange at first hearing, but in time will grow on you.

Black Flame is better, starting gently till suddenly bursting into a powerful chorus, than softening again. Running Hard is an excellent display of true combination of rock rythm and classical passages, a great track.

But the highlight of the album is probably the closing track, Mother Russia, another song inspired by Russian themes and music. It is dedicated to dissident Russian writer Aleksandr Soljenitsin. Annie's interpretation is the most dramatic, but not overblown (at least for me). It only reflects the anguish and despair they're trying to communicate, that is the same effect that the music has, building into a shivering crescendo. The musical themes are evidently inspired by Russian classical music. Probably their best song up to that point.

Overall, it is really a very good album, their most progressive till then and shows that Renaissance's style was not single sided, exploring different ways of combining pop, rock and classical music. Nevertheless, it has neither the charm of the former albums, nor the flair of the following one. That is why I give it a smaller rating.

After their pop affair and this one heavier approach, then would come their most symphonic piece of work, that would be also, incidentally, their masterpiece.

Report this review (#233758)
Posted Friday, August 21, 2009 | Review Permalink
TGM: Orb
2 stars Turn Of The Cards, Renaissance, 1974

I don't get it. The great Ashes Are Burning, the even better Scheherazade and Other Stories... and in the middle... this? Turn of the Cards (side one, certainly, to a lesser extent, the credible side two) fails to jolt me like those two, and the blame, rather than wandering to one or two little factors, seems to be rolling around in the muck all over the place. The sound seems contrived, the lyrics lack much substance, choruses like those of Running Hard and Think of You seem unimaginative. Keyboardist John Tout seems to be tearing out classical motifs left, right and centre, Annie Haslam's voice, despite its obvious moments, doesn't really make a coherent impression. There are redeeming features, a couple within the not-so-great songs and in the form of an actually very good second side. Much as I love the two Renaissance works bookending this one, if you're not transformed into a quivering, lovelorn jelly by those two, I'd be very wary about exchanging your hard-earned or cleverly-inherited money for this one.

Nine and a half minute songs seem to be the order of the day. Running Hard is made up of a number of fairly nice components and yet completely fails to emotionally resonate with me as a whole piece. I simply don't associate that cascading piano solo introduction with a vocal-and-lame-acoustic verse, or the collection of intelligent. Credit where it's due: the orchestral parts are (this is Renaissance's forte, I think), as ever, convincing and appropriate, the piano solo is really very good and there are brief moments of soul-melting lushness in Annie Haslam's vocal (songs of blackened lace... you know you're dying all the time!'). Blame where it's due: not a big fan of drummer Terence Sullivan's sound here, I feel the piece ends up sounding too contrived, I'm not convinced Haslam's vocal gives a coherent, continual impression of what's going on, very specifically: running hard' sort of breaks the power of the piece lyrically for me... the whole thing seems like a very well-designed Airfix model without any glue. Yes, it's nine and a half minutes, yes, it's a progressive rock song but I'm not convinced it successfully makes the journey from the realm of intelligence to that of excellence.

Think of You is a Renaissance ballad, with some of the carefree sentiment of Let It Grow; alas, the lyrics are devoid of passion, and that has a knock-on-effect on the rest of the content. Haslam's vocal thus has the same effect as a very skilled set of brush strokes without any paint. I can't say the acoustic melody or its piano and bass embellishments (oh look! A harpsichord!) seem to add any much-needed colour to this drab creature. Blech.

Things I Don't Understand feels (oddly appropriately) like a great song lost within a mediocre one. Again, it lasts nine and a half minutes, which I can't excuse, and again it doesn't make any sort of coherent impression (if anything, even less of one). Initially a strident full band piece, with a secure acoustic, slightly awkward vocal harmonies and an echoed-up piano; this rather clumsily, but thankfully, gives way to a charming Haslam vocal solo, and then we're back to thick harmonies over the drummer. Again: a few positives in the middle, whether it's Haslam's gorgeous high vocals at their best and wordless moments, or an opportunity for the excellent John Camp to shine on bass, or some Beethoven-sounding piano chords. Again: no sense of coherence, I don't get any impression of what the lyrics are doing except on occasion, I find the harmonies a bit blocky and some of the transitions seem a tad sluggish and clumsy (not quite sure why). So, that's side one over, and it's really not that special, in my view.

But at last, we have it! Ladies and gentlemen, your first reason for buying this album or listening to selections from it on Spotify... the excellent Black Flame. Immediately from the understated acoustic-and-bass introduction, this strange piece of medievallish mysterious folk-rock is a gem. Haslam's vocal takes over some very nice lines (musically and lyrically) indeed, and the big vocal harmonies seem to gather everything together rather than just being lumped in. Beautiful piano melodies fall off the piece left, right and centre and all the while John Camp's superb bass-playing drags the piece forwards. Altogether mysterious, captivating and great listening. OK, maybe Annie's voice feels a bit too smooth for the lyrical content at times, but I don't really mind.

And, sly theft or not, Cold Is Being is really very good. Haslam's well-rounded and fluid voice seems to suit a pairing with this lone, gripping organ part even more than it does a whole-band-piece. Here, you can see every individual emotional nuance of the piece, and every individual emotional nuance of the piece, whether in the perfect delivery or the suitably bleak lyrics grasps you.

The third of the album's long pieces is Mother Russia, and this orchestrally augmented creature is, at least, a damn sight better than the other two. Big blaring orchestral sounds all over the place, snarling Tchaikovsky-type horns and strings, appropriately epicised lyrics, and a neat contrast between this overall big sound and the lush piano-and-voice at the heart of the song's quieter sections. It has attack, it has coherence, it has a vocal that really blends with the music and the topic. In short, everything our first two epics of the album didn't. Striking, and a really impressive end to a mixed album.

Anyway, it's obvious I haven't the same respect for this album as my fellow reviewers, and three stars, I think, would be too much for an album of which half isn't worth having. Nevertheless, if you're a fan of the band, that second side will be both great in its own right and a really worthy link between the slightly misshapen epics of Ashes Are Burning and the smooth classical/rock fusions on Scheherazade.

Favourite song: probably Mother Russia just about clinches it over Black Flame. Rating: two stars, but a strong two stars. Probably a 7 or 8/15 (these fall in the two/three remit, somehow) or something like that, maybe higher, but I'm lousy with the low end of my 15 rating spectrum.

Report this review (#235144)
Posted Wednesday, August 26, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Yes it is a card trick, a card trick or Yarbirds were separated, the soft side will spud "Renaissance" and the side Hard 'Led Zeppelin'. This turn card is the cool, the very cool ... "Running Hard" has caused some broad sense ... The song is in English so it is difficult thing to do with the substance ... c'est beau, the singer has a beautiful voice, it must be said. "Things Do not Understand" is still in the same vein ... it is possible that emotion is hard to come because the album has more claim to be a Tour card, so nothing special, an album proper, good, but nothing more. "Black Flame" proves once again. "Cold Is Being" is a title a little harder, but it still has its place, beauty, cleanliness, five cards to six titles, expect to hear the latter title probably a surprise, because this piece ciquième marks the end of the album ... I think that Renaissance has spoken. "Mother Russia" ... the sixth card, undisclosed ... necessarily the title is expected to turn and the thing that will happen is strange, it is in the same vein, little more beefy-being, traditional instruments are present, this last map is the most beautiful but not excessively again , so this album can disappoint, but it remains a good album, nice and cool
Report this review (#235194)
Posted Wednesday, August 26, 2009 | Review Permalink
Marty McFly
Errors and Omissions Team
4 stars I got to this record perfectly clean, with almost no background known. I just know that 70s and this group is good combination. So this review is different. Nice cover art, although I don't believe such things as card predicting (propheting?), astrology

"Running hard" contains all elements of good Ren. music. Strings (truly symphonic prog), godly (I imagine this harp, played by minstrels in Ancient Greece times), shifting of fast/ slow pace of song and finally, Annie Haslam's voice. But didn't offer any more markable melody. Maybe my expectations are too high, because of limits pushed far by Scheherazade year later. "I Think of You" is strange song. Short, focusing on her amazing vocals, but not offering much more. Melodic though. "Things I Don't Understand" reminds me previous year's Ashes Are Burning song. After a while, presents a change in the song and few other later. That's good. Although quite intriguing, it's prog style after all. Thrills listener, shows him various techniques and in the end, returns to good, old, well known and pleasant style, so circle is closed.

"Black Frame" is rather quiet song. If you're fan of combining Her voice with piano + power bridges. I do. "Cold Is Being" is said (wiki) that rips of music from some 18th century composer I never heard about. Yes, I know this melody. Played on organ with Voice, perfect combination. And the name of song fits with theme of last track, "Mother Russia", theme reminding me this Porcupine Tree's track, Russia On Ice. But also has one important thing. Symphonic orchestra (there has to be one) will be later used more in next album's last track. You know which one, don't you. No, I don't get lyrics at all, sadly. But lyrics are beautiful, that can even I understand.

Decent album which is worse, so 4(-). Seems like in shadow to me. Of two albums which this is between.

Report this review (#237259)
Posted Saturday, September 5, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Those who happen to enjoy classical music almost as much as prog rock will find joy out of TURN OF THE CARDS. The compositions are all very delicate and not very demanding, meaning that any prog fan can get into the music relatively easily. Here's the big downside; the music is a bit too pretty for any fan of the ''rock'' side of prog.

''Mother Russia'' is the prog classic from the album; there's an orchestral section underneath everything that gives the piece a certain majesty. ''Running Hard'' and ''Things I Don't Understand'' also contain nice prog bits, but my mind dawdles throughout most of the album. Renaissance takes themselves too seriously; all pieces sound like business more than fun (although too much fun is just as bad), and I can't get any enjoyment. My assessment might be harsh to the fans, but my prog tastes aren't exactly here.

Report this review (#278775)
Posted Tuesday, April 20, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars Each time I hear the term symphonic progressive, this album is one of the few that comes to my mind. The music of Michael Dunford combined with passages of Jehan Alain (in the opening of "Running Hard"), Joaquin Rodrigo (in the second movement of "Mother Russia") and Tomaso Albinoni (all the music of "Cold Is Being"), the wonderful orchestration and the voice of Annie Haslam comprise a real masterpiece of symphonic progressive. "Things I Don't Understand" is the oldest track of the album, writen by Jim McCarty before being replaced by Terence Sullivan. The best song in the album is "Mother Russia" and I would like to know if there is any prog fan in the world who disagrees with that statement. This epic quickly became a live favourite (usually the last song in their concerts) and is also included in "Live At Carnegie Hall" (magnificent performance). Favourite tracks: "Running Hard", "Black Flame", "Mother Russia".
Report this review (#299489)
Posted Friday, September 17, 2010 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
4 stars My decision of listening to Ashes Are Burning and Turn Of The Cards back-to-back was an unusual experience for me since the two albums ended up sounding like two sides of one complete experience. It was only a few month later when I made the effort of listening to Turn Of The Cards on its own that I realized that it wasn't as great as I originally had given it credit for.

Running Hard is a neat album opener but I can't help comparing it to Can You Understand? and that's when it suddenly becomes a pale remake of the Ashes Are Burning's formula. I Think Of You is the obligatory ballad, considering the placement of Let It Grow on the previous album. It's a good song but even though each of the individual components of it should create one excellent whole, this doesn't happen here. Just like Ashes Are Burning before it, Turn Of The Cards starts loosing some momentum towards the third track. The biggest difference this time around is that Things I Don't Understand actually manages to recover itself towards the end with a completely gorgeous conclusion to an otherwise average track.

Instead of the expected pop song like Carpet Of The Sun, we actually get to hear the tune that I consider to be this album's biggest highlight! Black Flame returns me to the realm of magnificent Renaissance compositions and the only real complaint on my part is that it's too short for its own good. It is then followed by a semi-cheesy track called Cold Is Being. It's really not a difficult task for Annie Haslam to sing along to a classical piece of music, luckily this tune is very short and makes for a decent transition between the two lengthy tracks that surrounded it.

I honestly was expecting a bit more out of Mother Russia, considering that the title track that occupied that same slot on Ashes Are Burning is easily one of Renaissance's best works. This one could have easily been shortened down to 5-6 minutes in length, giving more space to Black Flame. The only part of this performance that really makes it worth a while for me is the 2-minute instrumental interlude leading up to the final reprice of of chorus.

Turn Of The Cards might not be as terrible as my review would suggest but it's definitely not as great as Ashes Are Burning, which is why I would recommend everyone to start with that album. This was, nonetheless that golden era for Renaissance and so it's still worth an excellent rating. If anything, it's a much more balanced album than both Ashes Are Burning and Scheherazade And Other Stories.

***** star songs: Black Flame (6:29)

**** star songs: Running Hard (9:37) I Think Of You (3:09) Things I Don't Understand (9:32) Cold Is Being (3:05) Mother Russia (9:20)

Report this review (#317412)
Posted Saturday, November 13, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Another superior effort from the royalty of symphonic prog! Turn of the Cards contains no less than three prog epics all of which deserve to be admitted to the hallowed Vaults of Valhalla. The Gershwin-sounding "Running Hard" (9:37) (9/10), and two of my all-time favorite Renaissance songs, "Things I Don't Understand" (9:29) (10/10) and "Mother Russia" (9:18) (10/10). The other songs I can live without (and have, thank you very much). "Things I DOn't Understand" has such a great pace, carved out by the strumming guitar of Michael Dunford and the syncopated hits of John TOUT's piano and Jon CAMP's bass. The fast pace at which Annie has to sing brings out another side to her that is wonderful--amazing remains the clarity of her annunciation--and pitch changes with the key/chord changes! And her scatting and high, HIGH pitched angelic riffs in different parts are . . . amazing. (I'm running out of superlatives for this woman.) Tout's piano solos and embellishments around the vocals are simply mesmerizing. Definitely one of his best songs. As other reviewers have noted before me, "Mother Russia" does an amazing job of capturing the harsh cold of the Russian landscape (and people). The use of full orchestra in support makes for a much more powerful, more full expression of the intended theme--and used to its fullest is a testament to the mature compositional skills of the band members. Amazing song. And so emotional! (Something Annie is often criticized for lacking.) Another excellent album in which the band continues to gel and mature.
Report this review (#330970)
Posted Tuesday, November 23, 2010 | Review Permalink
2 stars I'm not fond of Renaissance's music, and this album epitomizes why (well, at least if we stick with the Haslam lineup - I'm not touching that debut). "Pretty," perhaps, quotes intentional, but it does not get its fingers dirty, does not innovate, does not push. This record is a mush of second-rate Rach-inspired piano and mediocre "folksy" melodies. The music is sterile, with the vocals almost completely divorced from the accompaniment, and the musicians sound bored. But, most of all - and this is, I believe, the most serious insult you can level at a prog band - there is little desire to shape and explore the music. Once in a while the band will jump in the water, mostly to spin around some male-on-female (hot hot hot) vocal harmonies, but in the end there is little to the music other than an empty "majesty," quotes again intentional. An airy symphonic theme, followed by some tumbling piano, perhaps sing the theme wordlessly, rinse, repeat.

Things I Don't Understand is probably the most worthy composition here, featuring a strong (if lifeless) melody and plenty of vocal reprise. Unfortunately, said reprise simply collapses into "now we're going to sing this louder" mode with flaccid orchestral accompaniment, and we're back to square one. The melodies are regimented and do not flow, yet they do not feel strict either. Rather, they sound as if they don't mind being there, but won't hesitate to leave your ears alone if you feel like they're bothering you. I Think of You is an even worse offender - an excruciatingly mediocre ballad that loves sending me mixed messages (Are you a prog band or not, Renaissance? You "love me every way / Love me like a friend?" Where the hell do we stand, woman?) Perhaps the least appetizing aspect of this song in particular is Haslam's "soaring" (lots of quotes today) vocals at the end. Yeck. Totally unconvincing.

Also of note is Cold Is Being. The music is surprisingly fine, probably due to being some sort of baroque adaptation (like I know who any of those guys are, plebeian), but I can't help but marvel at its poor adaptation. The vocal lines have an incorrect number of syllables to suit the melody properly - how does a band that considers itself worth its salt make such a blunder, or believe that such a mistake is permissible? It's not even as if they were kept that way due to artistic license...the lyrics there feel as phony as anything else on the album.

This album is not a complete loss, mostly due to the writing (*not* the performance) of many of its vocal melodies and harmonies. However, I cannot in good conscience call it "good," as the three-star rating demands. So, two stars.

Report this review (#341157)
Posted Thursday, December 2, 2010 | Review Permalink
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl,Neo & Post/Math Teams
5 stars Turn of The Cards is one of my favourite albums ever so I hope I'm able to write an objective review without being influenced by my personal feelings. After the dramatic chanes in the lineup the band is now "complete", in the sense that this is, I think, the best lineup showed by Renaissance. Dunford writes all the musics, borrowing sometimes little pieces of classical music not covered by copyright. On the previous album he borrowed a piece of Jean Michel Jarre thinking that it was a Russian traditional, but it's another story. All the lyrics are written by the poetress Betty Thatcher (no relations with Maggie).

The album opener is great. "Running Hard" has a 2 minutes piano intro. Those two minutes are enough to understand that something great is coming. The song has many changes in rhythm and melody and is highly symphonic. Renaissance have often been compared to YES. I think the reason is in the bass as Jon Camp plays quite similar to Squire, but there's not the self-indulgence typical of YES. The Renaissance starting from the third album are closer to classical music, specially 19th century's russians. The only excursion of YES in this realm is the Stravinskij Firebird's suite played by Wakeman on YESSHOWS.

"I Think Of You" belongs to the "Carpet Of The Sun" kind. Slow, sweet three minutes songs based on piano and Annie Haslam's voice.

"Things I Don't Understand" Is another "short symphony". I think we could use this song to define "Symphonic Prog". There are a lot of things in less than ten minutes. Changes in pitch, tempo, instruments coming and going, and everything flowing like a river. There are no sudden transitions. A remark for the vocal performance of Annie from the middle of the song to the coda. It's a pity that this song hasn't been included in the "Live at Carnegie Hall".

"Black Flame" is another great song. Properly a song, not a sort of symphony as the previous track, I mean a song in the structure. But it's a great song. There a contrast in the chorus: bass and drums play louder, the rhythm is increased but in the same time there's a harpsichord behind. After two choruses there's a variation and then the main theme again. Another great performance of Annie Haslam at her best.

Albinoni's "Adagio" is arranged with lyrics and played by organ and voice. Not a great thing. I'm used to skip it, to be honest. When a prog band takes a classical piece and reinterpret it totally, like they did later with "Sheherazade", I think also Rimsky-Korsakov would appreciate. Playing classical things as in "Cold is Being" is useless and sometimes irritating, like rapping on Comfortably Numb or growling on The Great Gig In The Sky. Well, it's just three minutes and they are followed by a masterpiece.

"Mother Russia" can help fogetting the forgettable "Cold is Being". This is one of my favourite Renaissance's songs and one of the few songs present on "Carnegie Hall" that are better in the studio version. I think also this song contains something borrowed from a classical composition but I'm not able to say which one. I won't try to describe this song. I'm convinced that's great and I strongly suggest this album to who wants to start with Renaissance. The Adagio is not bad enough to make me decrease the rating from "Masterpiece".

Report this review (#379184)
Posted Thursday, January 13, 2011 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
3 stars I think the description of this group in the liner notes explains why i've never really been into this band.They are decribed as being a folky Art Rock band with Haslam's clear soprano vocals and Tout's superb piano playing being the focus. And yes America really fell for them because of this. No electric guitar here either so yes the Prog-Folk fans are all over this. Sure I can appreciate the music which is why i'm giving it 3 stars, I just don't enjoy it.

"Running Hard" opens with piano and it doesn't kick in until around 2 minutes.Vocals join in as the tempo picks up. I don't like the orchestral bits though. Male and female vocal melodies before 5 minutes followed by an instrumental section.Vocals are back as it settles 7 minutes in. "I Think Of You" is mostly strummed guitar and vocal led early then piano and drums join in. "Things I Don't Understand" has some prominant bass to start as male and female vocals join in. Catchy stuff. Vocal melodies before 2 1/2 minutes then the vocals return before 4 minutes. Some piano before it settles with vocal melodies again.Vocals are back late.

"Black Flame" opens with acoustic guitar and vocals arrive before 2 minutes. A fuller sound follows.The fuller and mellow passages are contrasted throughout. "Cold Is Being" opens with organ as the vocals join in. Not a fan of this one at all. "Mother Russia" opens with piano and we do get these orchestral bits as it has a classical feel to it. It's building then it settles when the vocals arrive after 2 minutes. Some vocal melodies after 5 minutes.Vocals return before 8 minutes.

Just not the type of music I can appreciate a whole lot.

Report this review (#395354)
Posted Saturday, February 5, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars So-so.

A good album, but not essential. After the masterpiece, the previous "Ashes Are Burning", frankly I expected more.

Nothing has changed in terms of music composition, again the style was highly influenced by classical music (especially Russian and French composers). Initially, the songs come to life by the guitar of Dunford and then are enhanced by Tout's piano riffs and, unfortunately, from excessive orchestral arrangements. The problem with this album is just that: the way in which the orchestra is used. In my opinion "rock and orchestra" is good when orchestra shines its own light, that is when many sections are devoted almost exclusively to it. It 's the case, for example, of "Atom Heart Mother" by Pink Floyd, or "Song Of Scheherazade". But when the orchestra is used only to provide redundancy to the sound, the problems start. Undoubtedly, the compositions acquire more grandeur, but at the same time the atmospheres become tedious and unnecessarily pompous (I think especially of David Palmer's arrangements for Jethro Tull, many things by Fruupp, or albums like "From Genesis To Revelation by Genesis or "Time And A Word " by Yes).

Songs like Running Hard and Mother Russia are beautiful but inevitably weighed down by the orchestra. Considering that I Think of You and So Cold Is Being (the usual boring review of Albinoni's adagio) are mediocre tracks, the rating of the album drops dramatically. Fortunately, Black Flame and the more complex Things I Don't Understand are very good, almost to the levels of the best songs of "Ashes Are Burning."

As always, excellent performances by Haslam and Tout.

rating: 6/10.

Best song: Things I Don't Understand

Report this review (#429334)
Posted Friday, April 8, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Renaissance is a band that I consider to be at the extreme top-end of superb symphonic prog bands. I've always had a place in my heart for anything with a renaissance-theme, so the name of the band was an immediate attraction, but the music here utterly fantastic. The compositions don't really have a renaissance feel, but more of a modern classical/prog arrangement kind of feel. There is a lot of energy here for the most part, and after a beautiful intro, "Running Hard" turns into a fast paced prog rocker that flows hard and beautifully as the terrific voice of Annie Haslam soars high above in the mix.

Something that is a very strong element in Renaissance's music is very present here; folky instrumentation. There is usually a healthy dose of acoustic strumming and occasional harpsichord that really add to the music and gives Renaissance a unique feel. Anyone interested in fantastic symphonic prog that is all beautiful with a folky edge should definitely check out this album. Fortunately, this writing style would be enhanced on their next album, and I also feel like it was done better on Ashes Are Burning as well.

Report this review (#431169)
Posted Monday, April 11, 2011 | Review Permalink
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars It took them a while but with 'Turn of the Cards' Renaissance finally returned to the level of progressive brilliance that characterized their 1969 debut, although with a completely different lineup this time around. The one remnant of that version of the group was Jim McCarty who was still peripherally involved with the band although had stopped recording with them several years prior. His final 'appearance' came on this album in the form of "Things I Don't Understand", a collaborative effort with Michael Dunford that dates back to the early seventies. While the album features three lengthy progressive compositions, this is the one that really binds the entire body of work from the 'Turn' recording sessions. Coming nearly a third of the way into the record, "Things" marks a fairly abrupt departure from the melodic, almost poppish though steeped with symphonic tones that the group had established with the first two songs, a sound they had been moving toward since Annie Haslam and John Tout had become the foundation of the band a few years before this recording.

"Running Hard" opens with a beautiful volley of piano courtesy of Tout, followed by several progressions on his opening theme augmented by the rhythm section and Haslam's soaring vocals along with several percussion bits that give the tune more of a classical feel but with noticeable pop sensibilities. A fine example of the sort of accessible, working man's symphonic music the band would become known for throughout the decade, but nowhere near as daring and far-reaching as "Things" and what would follow it on the backside of the vinyl. "I Think of You" doesn't even go that far with Haslam and Tout instead delivering a decidedly 'pretty' and brief soft-rock love song bordering on being a ballad.

But for whatever reason the group decided to shift the mood considerably after that. "Things I Don't Understand" is a study in tempo and mood shifts that opens as a pleasant enough folk-rocker featuring Dunford's aggressive strummed acoustic guitar and Betty Thatcher-penned lyrics that Haslam delivers as a sort of mystic poem with vague notions of reincarnation and mysteries of life, while the rest of the band offer harmonized backing vocals. As the song wears on Tout's piano becomes increasingly dissonant, the tension of the song building slowly before opening up like a breaking sunrise with Haslam's gorgeous and wordless soprano vocals making way for melodic piano and almost imperceptible drums and bass, before winding the whole thing down with a spacious choral ending that calls to mind the same sort of ambitious symphonic pop groups like Supertramp and Klaatu were perfecting around the same time. This is inarguably the showcase piece of the entire album and a song the band would revisit many times in the ensuing years, both with compilations and live performances. Dunford would even record a 'Part 2' requiem for the song with one of his later Renaissance lineups.

But the band wasn't done there. "Black Flame" seems to pick up where "Things" leaves off, building slowly from a base of Tout's gentle piano and organ along with Dunford's acoustic strumming before Haslam begins a careful and measured vocal delivery that erases any doubt where the inimitable Kate Bush gained much of the inspiration for her own vocal career, not to mention a whole generation of other female British singers. The similarities to the first two albums Ms. Bush released a half-decade later are almost uncanny. Once again the men in the band offer layered backing vocals and bassist Jon Camp makes a delicately brilliant contribution toward the end while Tout shifts back to piano to close the song. "Black Flame" offers a perfect harmonious complement to the preceding "Things".

"Cold is Being" follows as a palate-cleanser, credited on the original vinyl to Dunford but in fact a rendition of Remo Giazotto's "Adagio in G minor", which was itself misattributed to the Venetian composer Tomaso Albinoni when it was first published in the 1950s.

Finally the band delivers one of the first in a series of long-lasting concert staples, the Alexander Solzhenitsyn tribute "Mother Russia". Here again the group centers the piece around Tout's piano and Haslam's vocals, but the mood is more somber than anything else on the album, heavier in tone as befitting a song with a Russian theme, and with a percussive rhythm toward the end that projects an almost martial feel, complete with synthesized flute, strings and harp from Tout for an overall symphonic delivery that stands along with "Things I Don't Understand" among the finest compositions the band would ever record.

If ever there were a masterpiece from the band Renaissance this would be it, although in the end the first impression of the opening "Running Hard" and even more "I Think of You" fail to achieve the heights of the rest of the album and detract just enough to cause the record to fall just short of complete brilliance. Even with that this is a majestic piece of work, and one that belongs in the collection of every symphonic and progressive rock fan. A very solid four star effort and one that just misses achieving that last star.


Report this review (#514013)
Posted Saturday, September 3, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars After a couple of strong albums, with Turn of the Cards Renaissance seem to be treading water. The continued reliance on material from the Jim McCarty era of the band is telling - Things I Don't Understand is a Dunford/McCarty collaboration (and the last McCarty-penned track the band would record), whilst Running Hard lifts a theme from Mr. Pine from Illusion. Mother Russia, meanwhile, makes a stab at closing the album with a rousing crescendo along the lines of Ashes are Burning, but fails to match that track's power. Overall, in fact, there's a sense that Renaissance have begun to plagiarise themselves, as well as an underlying feeling that the band still aren't quite confident even in the niche they had created for themselves. It's a good album, but it's not better than good.
Report this review (#526910)
Posted Monday, September 19, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars Well, Renaissance is one of my favourite prog bands basically because of their rich sound and musicianship. It's true they have used the classic composers -usually uncredited- as a basis to their music writing but others have used the folk tradition, the popular tradition or the 12 bar blues scheme to exhaustion. Anyway, they have always done so with incredible good taste and to prog rock major glory. They have done classics progressive as have E,L&P, J. Tull, Yes and many others with no so good results. So, for me, it's a shame any of their albums appear in the top 100 prog records and this is the reason for this review.

The good thing with prog rock is that, thanks to its eclecticism, it really opens your ears and mind to a wider range of music styles. So, don't think about if that is Albinoni's or Rachmaninov's being stolen here and there. That band coined a style of their own and, as far as I know, they did it to excel up to A Song for All Seasons, and, in the case of Turn of the Cards, well, I think it's the most indisputable of their three five-star records (the others being the precedent and the following).

No flaws, no low downs, just great music flowing.

But if dense, rich dishes are not your kind of food, then, it's no problem. Go elsewhere, there are lots of music to enjoy.

Report this review (#613613)
Posted Friday, January 20, 2012 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
5 stars Renaissance were another of the 70s prog bands with a female singer that captured the attention of many in the day and continue to gain fans due to the complexity of the music and crystal clear angelic vocals. Curved Air are also in the same league with Sonja Kristina, but the vocals of Annie Haslam are more operatic. Annie has a 5 octave range that really is entrancing.

Many cite Annie as before her time heralding in what is now known as female fronted operatic Gothic metal with bands such as Nightwish, After Forever and Epica. Annie has that dark edge of Gothic but is certainly capable of incredible beauty with her mesmirising skilful range. The other members of the band are Jon Camp on bass, Michael Dunford on acoustic guitar, Terrence Sullivan on drums, and John Tout on keyboards. The music is very mysterious and ethereal which is perfect or Annie's angelic reverberations. The album has three songs per side on vinyl and all are excellent quality, with some compositions that are incomparable.

The urgency and tempo of 'Running Hard' is augmented by Annie's voice and a classical piano intro skilfully played by Tout. 'I think of You' is a sombre ballad with a beautiful melody that really touches the emotions, and has lovely lyrical poetry. 'Things I Don't Undertand' is the Dunford/ McCarty composition of some length and features wonderful uplifting vocals and dreamy melodies.

'Black Flame' kicks off side 2 and is the best song on the album with chilling vocals and incredible melody. Beginning with an extended acoustic intro, it is noteable or its infectious chorus. It is a dark ballad but as well as having Gothic nuances and bleak lyrics it is somehow uplifting thanks to Annie's crystalline voice. The melody is unforgettable and has an esoteric atmosphere, especially the verses.

'Cold Is Being' is based on the melody of Albinoni´s Addagio and it sounds majestic and has a haunting atmosphere.

'Mother Russia' ends the album with a Russian theme and some gorgeous instrumentation. The symphony orchestra touches are superb; dramatic and tense and then releasing into sheer beauty with the flute passages. Annie is seriously enchanting on this and it certainly is another highlight. The band would also return to this live and can be heard performing an incredible version on the 1976 "Live at Carnegie Hall" album.

There is not a bad song on the album and it features 3 masterpieces in 'Running Hard', 'Black Flame' and 'Mother Russia'. Renaissance would release many albums of masterpiece status and this is one of them.

Report this review (#614049)
Posted Saturday, January 21, 2012 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars I think this is a slightly better album than the preceding "Ashes Are Burning". To me that is because on this album the band, well mostly Michael Dunford, who wrote all of the songs, mostly with Betty Thatcher, but one with original band member Jim McCarty, tends to shy away from the folky material, and stick to the much better symphonic prog.

I find it difficult to give just about any Renaissance album the coveted five star rating, mostly because, although I love many of their songs, they always tend to stay relatively mainstream. There are some adventurous chords, often taken from some classical piece or other, and a few odd timings, but most of their songs are still somewhat mainstream.

Still, Running Hard, with the obligatory piano intro, is a great song, as is Black Flame. the highlight of the album is Mother Russia, a powerful song, with hints of some phrases used by the original Renaissance lineup half a decade previous.

And of course, Annie Haslam's voice is a treasure.

Report this review (#701264)
Posted Friday, March 30, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars One of the best Renaissance albums, TURN OF THE CARDS was released in 1974 and contains 6 fine songs with "Mother Russia", "Running Hard", and "Black Flame" being classics of the band. No bad songs at all are here. I also like the spaseness of "Cold is Being". This was the ultimate time for the band along with other albums like PROLOGUE. Hard to believe this is the band that churned out such pop crap a fews years later. But, I guess that was the fate of a multitude of progressive 1970's bands. Change or die. Solid 4 star release by Renaissance.
Report this review (#733615)
Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars 10/10

I thought the seventies' prog could not surprise me anymore, but oh God, how I was wrong. Renaissance is one of the most fabulous bands I've ever heard, all I have heard of them verging on perfection. This extensive use of symphonic elements, combined with lush instrumentation and a sweet and pleasant musicality make this one of the most notable bands from the giants of progressive rock.

Turn of the Cards following his wonderful Ashes are Burning and is even better, contrary to what many say. The album does not differ from its predecessor in terms of musicality, but it is even more mature, presented a greater amount of long songs, even if no exceed 10 minutes.

Opening with the fantastic Running Hard you know you're hearing something special. The piano intro is simply out of this world, and song structure does not differ from the usual Renaissance - songs longer follow a typical pattern, it is possible to notice. I especially love the section with the xylophone! I Think of You and Cold is Being are two canoes and agrad'veis short, the first one being more rock-oriented and the second featuring a delightful interplay between the vocals of Annie Haslam divins and majestic organ. Black Flame is the "weaker" here a tad forgettable, but still in his own right a great song.

But are the other two songs longer the highlight of the album. Things I Don't understand is simply majestic, I can't even describe my emotions ahead to the second half of the song where the vocals of Annie just tear my heart with so much beauty. Hard to find a band that makes a material with such beauty as Renaissance. And Mother Russia ... my God. I have no words to express my love for this song. His instrumental section is simply apotheosis, with the gradual growing of instruments and orchestra. Pure symphonic prog.

5 stars. A majestic masterpiece of epic proportions.

Report this review (#1059523)
Posted Monday, October 14, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars Turn of the Cards, in my opinion, is one of the three essential Renaissance albums, being sandwiched between the other two. In this way, it is not much different from the previous; the melodic and orchestral touches are still there, and work to great effect.

Again, with this album you've got six songs; the three shorter ones have a more melodic component. A decent ballad can be found in 'I Think of You,' while 'Black Flame' and 'Cold is Being' offer some folky and uncharacteristically darker moments in parts. Perhaps too simple for the more technically inclined, it wouldn't be a Renaissance album without these more laid- back tunes.

With that said, the real interest here is the three longer songs. Here is where the band really shines, as they flawlessly combine their distinctive orchestral niche and progressive intensity all while retaining a strong sense of melody. There is something unique with each; 'Running Hard' has undeniable energy to kickstart the album in a strong way, while 'Things I Don't Understand' exhibits the vocal abilities of Annie Haslem, and 'Mother Russia' serves as an intense and epic, yet beautiful conclusion.

Overall, this is a great follow up to the previous album, building upon the sound and personality achieved there. Though not the best Renaissance album, 'Turn of the Cards' certainly is a must-listen for symphonic fans.


Report this review (#1109242)
Posted Tuesday, January 7, 2014 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
5 stars This is the album where I find RENAISSANCE fully came of age. Most likely due to the fact that for once in their entire existence they had two consecutive albums with the same lineup. This stability meant that they could finally focus on the music at hand and refine it to some squeaky symphonic perfection. True that they may have never had a diverse range of sounds in their symphonic prog and you can tell how they recycle a riff here and a run there but even though they were basically a one-trick pony in the composition department they nevertheless were quite good at that one trick.

This actually makes sense since this band was basically manufactured by the management and not a product of organic collaboration. This band in that sense is no different from bands like the Monkees, so if you look at it like that then it's totally logical that they stuck to the playbook. A lot of the classical piano pieces are actually reworkings or excerpts from traditional classical pieces and the fact that Jim McCarty songs are still finding their way onto albums proves that anything is fair game for inclusion.

Despite all that I still find the music of RENAISSANCE to be a pleasant type that actually works for me and I actually prefer this album a lot better than its predecessor despite it not being a whole lot different. A lot of the sappiness is gone and replaced by some pure melancholy, which suits this type of music and makes it more appealing to me. "Mother Russia" for example is dedicated to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who was a Russian writer and activist. The songs feel a little deeper and the band seems a little more comfortable in their stable lineup. Point blank, a beautifully orchestrated album.

Report this review (#1125411)
Posted Friday, January 31, 2014 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars ''Ashes are burning'' had a major success in the States, entering the Billboard 200 and reaching No. 171.Renaissance had the chance to play live in the USA for the first time with surprisingly outstanding results, to the point they considered focusing more on the American market than the English one, who ignored them as a poor offshot of the classic Renaissance of the 60's.The band left Sovereign Records and signed with the newly established BTM Records of Mike Copeland.Their next album ''Turn of the cards'' was firstly released in the States on Sire Records in August 74', the English release came late in March 75' on BMT.

This time Renaissance focused on producing a grandiose Orchestral Progressive Rock with dominant string sections, acoustic guitars and piano as the leading instruments, but the vocal lines of Annie Haslam and the shorter tracks still retained an evident ethereal, folky flavor, based on soft drumming, dreamy piano and acoustic textures.''Things I don't understand'' was a regular piece among Renaissance's live gigs but it was recorded properly for the first time, somewhat connecting the early and present sound of the band, revealing strong psychedelic influences among smooth orchestrations and strong Classical flavors with a romantic mood.Despite entering the mid-70's, Renaissance's style remained pretty old-fashioned.The constant use of acoustic movements and the extended use of piano recall mostly of a band trying to become more artistic from the mass of 60's Psychedelic groups, and the delicate use of harsichord adds a very symphonic taste to the music.They attempt a cover of ''Adagio in G Minor'' of Baroque composer Tomaso Albinoni with ''Cold is being'', which is pretty great and highlighted by Haslam's dramatic voice and Tout's depressive church organ.''Mother Russia'' is the one track that really shined through time from this album, based on the self-biography of Russian writer and activist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.The band captures the feeling of the cold Soviet winter in a dramatic Symphonic Rock with nice twists between string lines, marching parts and bombastic orchestrations.However the finest piece to my ears appears to be ''Black flame'', led by a beautiful acoustic guitar/organ intro and Haslam's poetic vocals and developing into a charming Piano/Symphonic Rock with polyphonic lines, romantic piano textures and charming harsichord.

Well-crafted album with some amazing orchestrations.Sounds pretty dated at moments for the year it was released and the one-dimensional guitar/piano dual executions are a bit annoying to lead a whole album.On the other hand Haslam's unique vocals, the lovely symphonic mood and the rich arrangements are elements you can hardly turn your back to.Warmly recommended.

Report this review (#1155827)
Posted Sunday, March 30, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars A Key Renaissance Album.

Rennaissance continue with the same pattern they set up on "Ashes are Burning" with this release, although it has a few more rock-oriented edges than its predecessor. Like 'Ashes', it contains some of their key compositions, including the excellent opener, "Running Hard", and amazing closer, "Mother Russia", both of which would become two of the highlights of their live shows (and on their great Live at Carnegie Hall album). "Things I don't Understand" is excellent too (the third-best track), while "I Think of You" and "Black Flame" are both beautifully-sung slow ballads that showcase Annie Haslam's beautiful voice (with the latter tune in particular producing a lovely dark pensive atmosphere). The only track here that could be considered a disappointment is "Cold is Being" which involves lyrics over top of the traditional classic piece "Adagio for Organ and Strings" by Tomaso Albinoni/ Remo Giazotto. This track just doesn't work, and I find I need to hit the skip button just for this one. But the rest of the album is just wonderful, a natural evolution from 'Ashes'. I give this album 8.4 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to 4 PA stars.

Report this review (#1706953)
Posted Friday, March 31, 2017 | Review Permalink

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