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4 stars Past Orbits of Dust: Live 1969/1970 is a tough album for me to review as it's made up of rare live recordings of the Renaissance Mark 1 lineup with varying degrees of sound quality. The Mach 1 lineup featured Keith Relf and Jim McCarty, formally of The Yardbirds, on guitar and drums respectively, along with Relf's sister Jane on vocals, John Hawken on piano and Louis Cennamo on bass. Hawken was a founding member of the one hit wonder The Nashville Teens, while Cennamo was a young but accomplished session player.

Only Jane Relf was a performing novice, but her contributions were mostly in the form of backing vocals and supplying Aeolian choral backing to all but three of the album's eight songs.

The most striking aspect of these performances are how assured they were and are even more striking when one realizes that the entire first Renaissance album was road tested months before it was committed to vinyl. One of the circumstances that led to such stout performances was the fact that the band shared bills with harder rocking bands, as the concert promoters only knew that the group was formed from the ashes of the disintegrated Yardbirds , and placed them on concert bills with the likes of groups in the same vain as Humble Pie.

As a result, the group had to raise their game and were also much grittier and animated than the performances on their first album would suggest.

The album's two lead off tracks, recorded in late fall of 1969 in Helsinki, Finland are probably the album's two best sounding recordings, albeit a bit mono sounding, and amply demonstrate the band's chops as well as showcasing their new classical sound fused with rock music. The second of these Helsinki tracks features a more bluesy version of Bullit with excellent harmonica playing by Keith along with a Doors-like vocal break in the middle where Keith whispers, then shouts, about children playing with toy guns and what society implies to them about hand guns. The track ends with a great bass solo by Cennamo who employs an explosive fuzz tone and delay to his bass's sound and commences to play his own dark sounding symphony before all members rejoin to give the song it's final few notes.

Innocence is from a New York concert and again features Keith Relf on vocals before Hawken ends the song with his now usual homage to Beethoven, Bach, Johann Straus, Mozart and other popular central European classical composers, without sounding outright derivative of these composers. This track sports good sound with better stereo separation. The same cannot be said about the following track, Wanderer, sung by Jane, as this track has merely passible sound quality as does an early version of Sounds of Yesterday, which is considered one of the best tracks ever recorded by the Mach 1 lineup and was featured on the band's follow up Illusion album that was recorded and released (In Germany only) one full year later in 1971. It's fascinating for fans of this early lineup to hear how completely arranged this song was just a few months after releasing their first album.

The album closes with a jam that was latter partially incorporated into the studio version of Kings and Queens, titled No Name Raga, and a second version of Kings and Queens from a Swedish concert with features the Jane Relf showcased song Island sandwiched in between. All three tracks have good sound as does the closing track, an outtake from the 1971 Illusion sessions titled Statutes, which is as close as the Mach 1 lineup came to recording a commercial sounding "pop" song with it's catchy chorus and it's two minute running time. The song actually sounds unfinished to me as if it need's a lead guitar passage placed over it's bland middle eight section. Again, with it's varying quality of recorded sound, it's a hard album for me to rate. For someone who is an "archivist" of the group, like me, then Past Orbits of Dust is a four star essential. For those who cherish consistent sound qualtity, three stars would seem to be the best rating as these members or fans will rarely play this historical gem more than a few times.

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Posted Friday, March 27, 2015 | Review Permalink

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