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Renaissance - Novella CD (album) cover

NOVELLA

Renaissance

Symphonic Prog


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5 stars Being my personal favourite by this band, I'm having a hard time trying to understand why it generally gets such mixed or unfavourable reviews. Though "Can You Hear Me?" overstays its welcome a bit (ten minutes would have been sufficient), it's still well written and flawlessly executed. "The Sisters" is a haunting piece of lost faith that features a simply brilliant Spanish guitar solo that threatens to drag forth tears every time - next time you listen, turn the volume all the way up for the last thirty seconds with the lights off. Trust me. By far the most superior piece on this record - and, in my humble opinion, the standard-bearer for the band's body of work as a whole is "Touching Once." Covering ground in classical, medieval, and jazz music without losing touch of where it started or where it wants to go, this piece sums up to my ear everything a group like this should and could be. A brilliant record, I'm just sorry that more of the few of us it seems who are familiar with the band don't rate it much higher than we do.
Report this review (#20063)
Posted Monday, February 2, 2004 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
2 stars Boring-ella

As suspected with the previous album the inspiration is waning for the musician and boredom sets in for the listener. This album took incredible application as to actually LISTEN (and stay awake) to this as my mind kept wandering away into slumber.. Coming with an almost laughable medieval romantic fantasy artwork, it also brings back the Renaissance logo that was forgotten on the previous ones. It's prettu hard to understand how this album manged good sales, though.

I'll only mention the mid-length Midas Man and the longer Touching Once (interesting instrumental passage at its 2/3 mark) as the only two tracks pulling you out of your apathy, but even then, this is only an occasional occurrence as most of the time you hesitate between the boring; soporific or sleep-inducing qualifying terms to describe Novella. Definitely the last Renaissance album worth commenting as their slide into corniness will continue after, but I'd like to remain polite, so I'll stop here. Best avoided, but some (many) will say that of this sore example of a review ? I couldn't bring myself to make the effort of writing a better one.

Report this review (#20064)
Posted Thursday, February 26, 2004 | Review Permalink
lor68
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Well there are a few weak moments, but "Can You Hear Me", with its wonderful dynamic parts and variations, plus the incredible voice by Annie Haslam, are alone well worth checking out...(naturally don't forget the other jewels such as "Touching Once...", the classic "Midas Man" and the sensible ballad "Captive Heart").

Recommended, especially the first and the last track which deserve an excellent score, but for the remaining folk prog numbers the average is 3 points anyway !!

Report this review (#20065)
Posted Saturday, April 3, 2004 | Review Permalink
greenback
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Just another sublime Renaissance album! Following the marvelous "Song for Scheherazade", Novella still has many of its magical moments. There are wonderful orchestral arrangements, unforgettable melodic piano parts, and the bass is well played, sophisticated and absolutely not timid. Annie's voice is superb, as always, and the other musicians produce excellent backing vocals. There are harp, small bells, tubular bells and acoustic guitar. The keyboards fit well with the symphonic ensemble. The influence is, again, very baroque and progressive. There are some mellow, delicate, mystical & dreamy bits which are really addictive. If you like the previous album, then you should like this one too.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Report this review (#20062)
Posted Wednesday, April 14, 2004 | Review Permalink
Chris S
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
1 stars Novella lost it for me. It is in one word...boring.I am not sure how the band managed to lose it so quickley after Sheherazade. They had everything going for albeit they were much more vulnerable to the onset of Punk and all the new wave hype beginning as opposed to the other more solid bands like Genesis, Pink Floyd. They began to fade in a similar veain as Strawbs did in the late 70's. sad really but bottom line Novella is poor.
Report this review (#20075)
Posted Monday, September 6, 2004 | Review Permalink
1 stars A cross between the preciousness of "Ashes Are Burning" and the pretentiousness of "Scheherzade and Other Stories." Starting with this album, Renaissance became all but unlistenable to anyone over the age of 20. We also hear Annie Haslam becoming the Mariah Carey of progressive rock: a pretty voice incapable of expression.
Report this review (#20078)
Posted Sunday, January 30, 2005 | Review Permalink
Cesar Inca
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Following in the footsteps of "Scheherazade", although not getting as brilliant in terms of overall musical quality and artistic magic, "Novella" still deserves a place of honor in the history of Renaissance, mostly because it is full of so many good ideas, the habitual exquisite performances (typically featuring Haslam's captivating singing and Tout's keyboards, including more synth than ever before), and excellent arrangements for band and orchestra. IMHO, the most interesting aspect of this album is that the melody lines are a bit more somber than usual, particularly in the first two tracks. 'Can You Hear Me?' is the almost mandatory opening long opus (just like 'Trip to the Fair' and 'Can You Understand?' in previous albums), which conveys a dark mood fitting properly the almost dramatic call to conscience portrayed in the lyrics. Next, 'The Sisters' shines like a kaleidoscope of multi-varied gray tones, including some dense keyboard and string orchestrations, eerie chorales, an air of delicate exotic flavours, and even some Flamenco-like acoustic guitar soloing - one of the finest Renaissance pieces ever, as disturbing as it ever can get. But there is also a low point to this album, which is not very serious really. This low point is not related to what is contained in the album, but to what is announced: the listener may easily notice that the band have reached a certain artistic peak with their two previous albums, so in perspective the repertoire of "Novella" can be perceived as somewhat formulaic. Like I said before, the musical ideas are still very good (when not great), so there's nothing wrong here - it's just that the band are taking their initial step in their downhill road of musical exhaustion in front of our ears. But let's go on with the repertoire itself. 'Midas Man' is an anti-capitalist folkish ballad with clever twists provided by dark sounding synth, a wicked bass, and oppressive percussives (tympani, tubular bells), which seem to portray the destructive nature of greed. 'The Captive Heart' is more frontally delicate: Haslam's voice is featured due to the overdubbed various vocal parts (except for a couple of verses sung by her partners on backing vocals), which she delivers as majestically as always. 'Touching Once (Is So Hard to Keep)' closes down the album, starting with a similar sense of delicacy to that of the previous track, but it doesn't take long before it's developed further with the inclusion of exquisite orchestral arrangements, some tempo shifts and motif variations, pretty much like the opening title - there's even a sax solo during one of the instrumental interludes which provides some jazzy stuff to the fold. The strong, almost abrupt ending serves as a perfect climax. All in all, "Novella" is business as splendorous as usual, full of musical intelligence; and so, despite the fact that the band's musical ideology doesn't feel as fresh as it did in previous albums, it deserves a very good rating - somewhere between 3 ˝ and 4 stars.
Report this review (#20079)
Posted Friday, February 4, 2005 | Review Permalink
Matti
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars (I had to change 4* into 5 as soon as I became collaborator. This IS one of my favourites and sure it deserves the highest rate!) I have seen that most fans don't rate Novella very high and I have always felt sad about it. It is somehow very introvert album and it calls for true dedication from the listener. I can understand that it may feel 'boring' to casual listener who expects more dynamic approach. But this is the most artistic of their albums.

Each track is full of emotion that you can dive into almost in a trance-like manner. I just love those quiet sections in Can You Hear Me, and the (almost-too-sweet) slow-tempoed sentimento of The Sisters is touching. Midas Man is delicious in its simplicity and the feel of Early Music. Piano melodies of Captive Heart are lovely. The majestic ending track is everything you can expect from a Renaissance song - it only gets TOO grand in the end the same way as large symphonies often do. All in all, this is real ART rock done with perfection. If you find classical music boring, this is not your favourite Prog style.

Report this review (#20080)
Posted Thursday, March 24, 2005 | Review Permalink
Eetu Pellonpaa
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This charming little album introduced me to the sweet music of Renaissance, and I guess therefore I can't really feel strong negative feelings towards this LP. The first side is much better than the second in my opinion, "Can You Hear Me?" building from delightful operatic movements for singers and heavily orchestrated piano-driven rock band. I felt that the sound texture of this group is really "symphonic" especially when reflected to the tonal textures; massive vocal chorus, acoustic guitars on vast layers of (emulated?) strings, subtle drums escaping the basic backbeat rhyming, leaving only Jon Camp's powerful bass lines reminding the rock origins. The celestial voice of beautiful Annie Haslam is really adorable, and on the ethereal quiet sequences of the long starter it is crowned for its proper position. Grandiose orchestral masterpiece melts as a minor key painting from Spanish cloister, "The Sisters" reaching ultimate dramatics in the conclusion moment; Possibly overwhelming the capacity of accepting for many listeners. The second side of the LP is also decent, compositions not matching the richness of ideas and strength of drama from the first side though. "The Captive Heart" is quite nice tender ballad, melody which sticks easily to one's memory for decades. The music is maybe a bit naive, but it also gives some sort values of sincere romanticism for it, which I most happily adore. There are two versions of the album cover painting, which describes the essence of this music quite well: Annie telling lovely stories for little children listening very serious. The other version of the cover has more Slavic nun, the other one on the ProgArchives page at time of writing shapes the nun by emphasizing her figures with ideals of Walt Disney fascism. A lovely album for those open for kind happiness, also allowing to torment cool people with its drowning syrup.
Report this review (#20081)
Posted Sunday, April 3, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars Novella is perhaps the best, and most progressive, album by the band Renaissance. It is also the first of several albums that represent the peak era from the band. This 1977 release is the first to not sound obviously dated, like Ashes Are Burning and other early releases. It also showed an improvement in songwriting; away from the simpler mellow folkish songs, and more into a slightly stronger, slightly darker mode.

With only 5 songs on the album, it is obvious that they tend to be long. The opening song, "Can You Hear Me", clocks in at over 13 minutes. This opus features orchestra, choir, and music song that varies through numerous sections.

As usual, the beautiful singing of Annie Haslam and intricate acoustic guitar of Michael Dunford are highlights. This album and Song For All Seasons are the best examples from the band.

Report this review (#20083)
Posted Monday, May 9, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Enough cannot be said about "Novella". Not only was this the album I was introduced to Renaissance with, but it absolutely has stayed with me as their most excellent to date.

The music is absolutely HAUNTING, its so good! Execution, musicianship, songwriting... what else could your heart desire. There are only a few places in musical history that i would have sold my soul to be where they were being created and "Novella" is one album that I'd have to give it up for. Just to be IN THE STUDIO listening to Annie sing these tracks for the first time gives me goosebumps!

There isn't a bad track on the album although on the second side you can tell they've taken the jamming a little too far and too long.

I've listened to everything else Renaissance but this is the album to OWN.

Report this review (#20084)
Posted Thursday, May 19, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars The sixth work of announcement in 1977 "Novella". Symphonic rock work by which mixed chorus supports clean Vorcal with orchestra. There is no big change in the style. This music has a more universal, more solemn image.The sound of this work is solemn music where even a kind of mutable feeling is drifted by piercing. It is an album of the type to which a moving degree gradually becomes strong by repeatedly listening.

Report this review (#43642)
Posted Sunday, August 21, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars Good release. Perfect for grey days.

I've enjoyed all of the band's recordings from the 1970s and find myself usually reaching for this one first because of the dark old-world mood prevalent throughout.

"Can You Hear Me" starts dynamically enough, then settles in to become an apparently uneventful piece, before it sneaks up on the listenner and turns out to be quite engaging with it's surprise-attack arrangement featuring a large orchestra. It seques into "The Sisters" which is a masterpiece of restraint with beautiful nylon guitar work, haunting keyboards and a tale of sorrowful missionaries in a barren land.

I can see where "Midas Man" would be considered boring because it tends to plod, but the 12-string-driven arrangement is chilling on a good audio system. This track got significant airplay on WMMR and WIOQ in Philadelphia when the album came out and was as close to a single as the album has.

"The Captive Heart" is a modest but absolutely gorgeous little song featuring fluid, lilting piano from Tout and multi-layered voices from Haslam and Camp.

Finally, "Touching Once is so Hard to Keep" is the big, bright, highly orchestrated number that would have sat well on any of the earlier offerings and sounds less somber than the rest of this collection.

Clearly, some people have panned this album as boring. I can only see why at a very superficial level. All tracks demonstrate high attention to detail, are beautifully performed and have strong, unique melodies.

Report this review (#46017)
Posted Thursday, September 8, 2005 | Review Permalink
daveconn
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars At a time when the epic storytellers were beginning to unravel (Genesis, Gentle Giant, ELP), Renaissance gave us the compelling Novella to consider. Among the handful of Renaissance albums I've heard (Ashes, Prologue, Live), this is the most effective at building and sustaining a magical mood. The opening "Can You Hear Me?" is one of my favorites from them, a blend of Genesis and Moodies and even a little Yes delivered in the band's by-now distinctive voice. In a sense, Novella signalled that the reinforcements had arrived. The original prog invaders had suffered dissension in their ranks, and while acolytes argued over what lineup constituted classic Yes or whether King Crimson and Roxy Music would ever regroup, Renaissance was quietly putting out some of the best progressive rock of the era. Not too quietly, thankfully, as Novella charted higher in the US than any Renaissance album to date. By keeping the lineup consistent, Renaissance had assembled an arsenal of sounds: Annie Haslam's voice, John Tout's refined keyboard passages and Michael Dunford's acoustic guitar (Renaissance was one of the few prog bands to forego electric guitars) had become readily identifiable. The songs this time are also uniformly excellent, augmented with tasteful orchestration from Richard Hewson. The way that "Can You Hear Me?" and "The Sisters" flow together is lovely, the echoes of Crimson's distant Court wafting in the background. The second side consists of three independent songs, beginning with the cautionary tale "Midas Man," anchored by Jon Camp's bass playing. "The Captive Heart" begins with a piano passage that recalls Tony Banks, though the lyrics (written by Camp?) err on the side of hyperbole. In fact, those lyrics not written by Betty Thatcher might be the only chink in Novella's armor. "Passing over timeless wastes of ecstasy" (from Touching Once) and "The captive heart has lost and won a thousand lovers" (from The Captive Heart, natch) are lines that sink despite Annie's voice. The fertile "Touching Once (Is So Hard To Keep)" closes the album on a magical note much as Novella began, including orchestral touches that invite favorable comparison to Tull's A Passion Play. If I'm tempted to rank Novella as top-shelf prog, others aren't (presumably those whose tastes veer from the pastoral side of prog). These are dulcet songs, belonging to a bygone age even in 1977, but a captivating chapter in the story of Renaissance.
Report this review (#47582)
Posted Tuesday, September 20, 2005 | Review Permalink
pacificoasten
4 stars This album is probably the peak of the 'classical' era of Renaissance. Just six songs on the album. They all flow into each other quite nicely. It is quite different listening to it on CD. I suspect that the formatting was intended for the vinyl LP where one has to turn over the record after the third song. I notice that Jon Camp (Bass Guitar, Bass pedals, etc.) was credited with lyric (& music?) writing. The lyrics definintely show a change from Betty Thatcher Newsinger. I recommend listening to the whole album all the way through.

I wonder if anyone has noticed that on "The Sisters" Jon was playing a double bass for the first half of the song? I only noticed this on the CD with headphones on. It was quite nice to hear actually. For those of you who enjoy Renaissance I would strongly recommend this album for your collection. For those of you who are new to Renaissance I would not recommend this album as your first purchase. The musicianship and song construction is top quality with some ARP 2600 synthesizer work tastefully inserted by John Tout. The Moog Tarus Bass pedals are quite good too (Jon Camp). Their is more vocal backup by Jon Camp which I feel is better than the previous albums.

From "Ashes are Burning" to "Novella" would define the Mark II lineup of the band. The strong influence of Baroque/Folk/Jazz styles comes out promiently. It is quite enjoyable! This is a highly recommended choice for those who know Renaissance.

Report this review (#54181)
Posted Tuesday, November 1, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars So, is this the best Renaissance album? It's difficult for me. There are so many other great ones, my favorites ranging from Scheherazade/Carnegie Hall/Novella/A Song For All Seasons. All are straight five star albums, no doubt about that. What makes Novella so special is that is has this long orchestral feeling over it, some call it boring, but I really like that lengthy exposure. And besides that, it contains the most fantastic track ever, "The Sisters" which leaves you with tears when you listen to it: Haunting String Ensemble, dazzling vocals by Annie and a beautyful acoustic guitar solo make this track very, very special. So when asked, what's the best 77 album, this one even tops Going For The One! If you have the chance also check out the BBC Sessions disc which has Can You Hear Me and Touching Once, but without the orchestra, so you can check out what fantastic musician these are, indeed very underrated...
Report this review (#73155)
Posted Sunday, March 26, 2006 | Review Permalink
Zitro
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars 3.75 stars

After an ambituous album with a 25 minute long song, it seems like the band, already matured, decided to release a "safe" prog album with minor experimentation and focused on the trademark sound of Renaissance with an emphasis on classical music over folk.

Let me tell you that while this album is not very fresh, it is excellently composed, has perfect production, has no weak spots, has Annie at her absolute best, and sounds grandiose. The inclusion of an ochestra works in their favour, even if it drows the band a bit. The orchestra is not used to amplify the sound, it melds with the music. In other words, Novella's orchestra inclusion was intended in the first place and doesn't sound like they just added bits here and there to amplify the sound at the last moment of the recording.

Can You Hear Me is the long song to make proggers happy and wanting to buy the album for reading 2-digit minute durations. While I admit that this song could have been cut a minute or two, it really is a great epic with soaring vocals, a full orchestra, and wild bursts of beautiful and energetic music in the middle part (especially that mind-blowing part in minute 10 that moves me as much as the immortal church organ part in Close to the Edge). The next song The Sisters just feels like the 2nd part of the epic as it is connected to it seamlessly. This may be my 2nd favourite Renaissance track (after Ashes are Burning). It has a melancholic sound, interesting chord progressions, beautiful melodies/harmonies , amazing acoustic guitar playing, and a thousand more things to talk about. This is a masterpiece of a song that may leave you in tears.

The second side of the album is very solid too. Midas Man is my favourite of the three. It is folky and classical and mostly acoustic, but it sounds threatening with the tubular bells, bass, and wild piano runs in the background. Overall, an effective haunting track. The Captive Heart is the least interesting song, but it succeeds at being a short ballad with beautiful vocals that rests the listener from the more intense previous tracks. Finally, Touching Once , has a lot to offer with its genre-mixing nature of folk, jazz, medieval, classical, prog, and probably a couple of other styles. It is dynamic, shapeshifting, and offers a satisfying climax full of power.

A brilliant record that will move you and amaze you. Renaissance are at their best and while this album is quite formulaic, it features Renaissance's strengths and none of its weaknesses.

Highlights: Can You Hear Me, The Sisters, Midas Man

Let Downs: None

My Grade: B

Report this review (#80653)
Posted Wednesday, June 7, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars A criminally underrated album. Not as good as the two studio efforts to preceed it but certainly it isn't the indication of a downward slide that most fans take it to be. The albums has a lovely mix of loud, orchestrated pomposity and brooding tones not usually heard in Renaissance's work. The Sisters and Midas Man are some of the bands best work, sounding more like a band than an orchestra (and I mean that as a compliment). Then, showing the opposite end of the spectrum is Touching Once. The song practically drips drama until it ends in one of the most stunning endings in Prog history. Group this album with those that precede it, not those that follow.
Report this review (#83314)
Posted Monday, July 10, 2006 | Review Permalink
Joolz
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Scheherazade And Other Stories was such an artistic peak for Renaissance that anything following is likely to compare unfavourably. And so it proves - Novella continues with the same formula of marrying intricate orchestrations with their unique 'acoustic' line-up, it is slick and professional, all songs are good and instrumentation is superb. Taken in isolation it is an exquisite experience, yet it doesn't excite or reach the soul in quite the same degree as its illustrious predecessor.

Make no mistake, though, this is still a marvellous Renaissance album, awash with all the trademark features in their proper places: Annie's clear voice, Sullivan's understated drumming and perfectly integrated orchestration courtesy of Richard Hewson. There are some subtle swings afoot: Dunford's acoustic guitars are far more prominent than previously, often as in Midas Man providing the dominant motivator of the song; by contrast, Tout's piano plays a smaller role, even to the extent of being completely absent from Can You Hear Me?; Jon Camp has also upped the ante a little, his bass playing more adventurous and melodic than before; and rich harmonies abound more than ever, in various combinations.

Overall the album has a smooth mellow feel with a lovely flow that washes the listener along on waves of bliss, sometimes surprisingly creating a mood of spacey atmospherics sandwiched between more dynamic and energetic sections. In old LP terms, the first side is the most successful, two tracks that seem to belong to each other. Even though they do not appear to have any lyrical connection they both deliver and develop a similar dark and broody mood: Can You Hear Me? deals with a figurative barren wasteland of city life and how it strangles the soul, while The Sisters paints a more literal and direct picture of despair and loss of faith. Yet, while Can You Hear Me? is a majestic shapeshifter full of classic Renaissance dynamics, the simpler Spanish-tinged The Sisters is a spiritual descendant of At The Harbour [Ashes Are Burning] and Ocean Gypsy [Scheherazade And Other Stories].

The remaining tracks are almost as good. Midas Man, a comment on capitalism and class differences, is not a complex song but massed acoustic guitars build a mood that is developed by various atmospheric devices. The Captive Heart is simply Annie singing a heart melting ballad accompanied by piano and inventive harmonies. Touching Once (Is So Hard To Keep) is a final Prog piece notable for a moody breakdown with some more spacey effects, and a faster workout including a sax solo amongst staccato and bombastic orchestration. Curiously, these last pair have lyrics written by Jon Camp rather than regular lyricist Betty Thatcher.

Novella represents the final flowering of Renaissance at their creative best before outside pressures caused a change of direction in succeeding works. It would not be recommended as a first choice for a Renaissance virgin, but is highly regarded nevertheless.

Report this review (#97522)
Posted Tuesday, November 7, 2006 | Review Permalink
NJprogfan
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars I would have to agree with one of the other reviewers of this album, it is very haunting and sublime. There are moments inside "Can You Hear Me?" where the melody shrinks to barely a whisper, then BAM, the choir comes roaring back which started out the song. Excellent! A very good, long composition which melds into the next song, "The Sisters", a spanish infused song with some of Annie's finest singing. "Midas Man" was a minor hit here in the states back in '77, very catchy and really aggresive, (mild compared to other bands :- ). The only song I'm not too fond of is the ballad, "The Captive Heart", very nice, but nothing more. The final song harkens back to the style of the first, bombastic and orchestrated to the max with horns no less. This album reminds me very much of Genesis's "Wind And Wuthering", autumnal and baroque. It is a solid 4.5 star album and their last really fantastic album. A must for symphonic fans!
Report this review (#107291)
Posted Friday, January 12, 2007 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars I guess I was a bit too hard on this one when I first wrote this review. I am probably Renaissance´s biggest fan (well, at least I feel like that), but there is no way to conceal it when they started to faulter, and to me Novella was their turning point, for the downfall. It is not bad, but simply a bit uninspired. It looks like they ran out of ideas after Scheherazade and kind of lost their strong sense of direction they had until then. And it seems overproduced, with lots of orquestrations and choirs that tries to bring some life to the long epics, but can´t help them that much.

There are very good moments like the opening track, Can You Hear Me, the beautiful and deceptively simple Captive Heart and some parts of Touching Once, although the feeling is a little forced sometimes on that last one. The best track however is the classic Midas Man. A truly magnficent song: full of power, inspiration and with a terrific instrumental arrangement that enhances its beauty. Oh, how I wish the whole album had that magic touch! No wonder this is the only Novella track that is present on most anthologies and compilations.

Novella is recommended for the ones that are already Renaissance fans. The band has done far better records, and the next one, Song For All Seasons, with all its flaws, is more inspired and convincing. I rate this one between 3 and 3,5 stars. Good, but not really essential.

Report this review (#112544)
Posted Sunday, February 18, 2007 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars The end of an era

"Novella" was probably the last truly progressive album by Renaissance, although they would go on to find commercial success with the subsequent "A song for all seasons". As someone who found "Scheherazade" to be an over-ambitious release, for me this is a case of the band being back to what they do best. The album marked Renaissance's move to a major label (Warner Brothers) who must have been delighted with the product they were presented with.

There are just five tracks in total, the opening "Can you hear me" being a 13˝ minute epic which gives our Annie the chance to display here vocal dexterity in full. The striking orchestration and choral arrangements complement the intricacies of the composition superbly. "The sisters" is a beautiful, slightly understated song with a desperate message.

Side two opens with the albums two shortest tracks. "Midas man" and "The captive heart" are typical Renaissance album tracks. They reflect the quality of both performance and song writing which the band have achieved repeatedly down the years. "Touching once" dominates this side though, and offers another fine if slightly predictable Renaissance epic.

While Michael Dunford and his writing partner Betty Thatcher dominate the writing credits again, John Camp is co-credited with no fewer than 3 of the tracks (and about two thirds of the album), and John Tout one.

An excellent offering from Renaissance who remain more than capable of providing the quality of music others can only aspire to.

Mention also needs to be made of the delightful sleeve, which includes fine illustrations by Pamela Brown (someone should have told her how to spell "Wembley"!) and a band portrait by Amy Tuttle.

Report this review (#118255)
Posted Friday, April 13, 2007 | Review Permalink
progrules
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars This is a short album, so it's going to be a short review. I already knew two songs by Renaissance before I bought this one in a final attempt to start liking this band. In vain, I should have known. And still.. I like classical music and Renaissance plays with an orchestra. But obviously that's too simple. I'd almost say: Renaissance abuses the orchestra, they don't come to impressive compositions and performances.

The female singer, Annie Haslam has a clear voice but she doesn't touch your soul; I don't know why, but I experience it every time.

Usually I like the longest songs best, it often proves that the most effort is put in them. But even that doesn't work with this album. It's the concept that causes that I have nothing with Renaissance and never will. So two stars only this time.

Report this review (#140465)
Posted Tuesday, September 25, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars wot can you say:

pure melodic genius from first to last:

Can you hear me call is a stunning opener-john touts keyboards, mike dunfords guitar work and annie haslams vocals blend perfectly on this opener.

it is a beautifully constructed track, a pearl.

The Sisters follows the same lines but this time dunfords guitar is more subdued. annie Haslams vocals are still spellbinding though. This track is 7 minutes of pure brilliance.

Midas Man, wot a stunner, the bass is as i recall quite heavily featured on this, and it works a treat, not much more to say treally.

side two on the vinyl pressing kicks off with:

The Captive Heart, a beautiful almost anit-love song about keeping someone close to you but at the same time not knoeing wot you feel.

Annies singing is beautiful and all the guys play to perfection.

Last track is Touching once(is so hard to keep), a nine minute opus of such epic playing and singing it rounds the album off perfectly.

Annie and the boys served up a treat with this recored, ignore it at your peril, if you do ignore it youll miss out on late 70's prog at its finest.

Report this review (#148036)
Posted Monday, October 29, 2007 | Review Permalink
Gatot
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars An excellent symphonic prog album with orchestra .!!

I have been searching the CD of this album for such a long time because the only version that I got in the 70s was just a cassette and I don't know where the cassette is right now. Lucky that during my business trip to Bandung (180 KM from Jakarta) I found this one and the "Azure D'Or" album in CD format from secondary market with a cheap price. So I bought these two CDs with other 18 CDs that I found very interesting "worth" owning CD, including The Battles "Mirrored". On "Novella", of course I have been familiar with Some of the songs like "Can You Hear Me" or "Midas Man" or the concluding track "Touching Once" from the compilation of live albums. But, for legendary prog bands like Renaissance, owning the full-fledge album ini a CD is a MUST for me, so . I have no doubt at all to purchase this CD especially with an unbelievable price!

The opening track "Can you hear me?" (13:39) was written by Jon Camp, Michael Dunford and Thatcher. It starts bombastically with an beautiful orchestra which remarks the grandiose side of this song. As far as taste concern, this is one of may favorite tracks by Renaissance for couple of reasons. First, I like the structure of the song where I can see some changes, even though not dramatic, in moods and styles to accentuate the story behind the lyrics. Second, I like its melody which flows beautifully from start to end. Third, I like Annie Haslam voice which turns very high (register notes) at interlude section when the music turns slow. Fourth, the music is very suitable for contemplation in search of God - the Almighty, the merciful. "Fly like a song, fly while you're singing. A song without you, is a bird without winging. Some city flights leave in the morning. Some city nights end without warning. Can you hear me cal?". What a great lyrical chorus line.

"The sisters" (7:12) was written by Dunford, Thatcher and Tout and it starts beautifully with a soft piano work followed in a wonderful ambient by floating singing style by Annie Haslam. This mellow opening has an excellent melody and I'm sure it will satisfy most of listeners as it's quite accessible. Again, the voice of Annie Haslam is really wonderful. The keyboard solo that accompanies piano during interlude is also stunning. Dunford's acoustic guitar fills provide excellent nuance to the song. It's truly an excellent song!

"Midas man" (5:46) was written by Dunford and Thatcher and it has a good combination of acoustic guitar, keyboard that accompanies Annie Haslam singing. The song flows naturally with a good melody and some enhancement of orchestral arrangement by Richard Hewson. This song is quite standard in terms of the kind of Renaissance music and I have been hearing this song regularly.

"The captive heart" (4:16) was written by Camp and Dunford with wonderful piano solo as intro part with classical style. Annie Haslam voice enters and the piano keeps playing as rhythm section. The main components of this song are basically just vocal and piano and it's a nice song.

"Touching once (is so hard to keep)" (9:26) was written by Camp and Dunford and it kicks off with an orchestral work, arranged by Richard Hewson. This is another excellent track by Renaissance with great accentuation in singing style where Annie's voice moves dynamically throughout the song from normal singing to the narrative style. The beauty of this song is on its orchestral arrangements and the melody. I am sure this song will favor most listeners as the music is accessible and enjoyable. I like the maneuvers created by the orchestra's string section in some transition pieces. It's really an excellent track.

Overall, this is of course one of the best Renaissance albums that you should have. The composition is tight and it blends nice melody, vocal harmonies and orchestra arrangements into great music offering. It would best be enjoyed during night time with LOUD volume as you would get subtleties of the music perfectly. Highly recommended. Keep on proggin' ..!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Report this review (#151672)
Posted Sunday, November 18, 2007 | Review Permalink
Gooner
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars "Novella" by Renaissance is the band at their creative peak. Everything else that followed it was downhill, although "A Song For All Seasons" still has few gems - "Novella" is Renaissance at their prog, rock best! While its predecessor "Scheherazade and Other Stories" was a noble attempt to fuse orchestra and band, I found it to be a blueprint of ideas and a little too ambitious for its own good(or as the British say: "Twee!"). All those ideas come to fruition perfectly on "Novella". "Novella" has always given me the impression that this was Renaissance's Genesis - "Wind And Wuthering" LP. It has that same kind of mystique about it. The sidelong suite "Can You Hear Me?/Sisters" is reminiscent of the best parts on ELP's "Works Vol.1", while discarding the fluff. "Midas Man" was a minor radio hit in Canada and the U.S.A. but always seems to grow on you like ELP's "Lucky Man", whereas "Lucky Man" had that MOOG..."Midas Man" has a subdued moog and THAT VOICE! The remainder of the album is like a classical/jazz non-rock, which I believe is a showcase for Annie Haslam. Great album and an "almost classic". The vote for the Renaissance classic goes to "Ashes Are Burning", IMHO...but "Novella" is a 2nd best starter if you can't find the aforementioned. Recommended highly.
Report this review (#152257)
Posted Thursday, November 22, 2007 | Review Permalink
kenethlevine
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog-Folk Team
4 stars "Novella" sees Renaissance sticking with lengthy orchestral tracks even if there is no Scheherazade to be found. While the previous three albums possessed immediate appeal, here we find a more subdued Renaissance, a bit harder to get into and to really focus on. Yet ultimately, one's focus is well rewarded. Still no electric guitar is used, and it almost seems like the group is frozen in time.

The disk begins with the longest non-suite of the group's studio repertoire, the stunning "Can you Hear Me". The operatic flourishes that mark the song at several points contrast with more understated orchestral themes and even some intriguing organ over acoustic guitar passages. The vocal melodies projected by Annie are varied in tempo and hearken back to "Can You Understand". In fact the album is like the shy sister of "Ashes are Burning". "The Sisters" is a beautiful Spanish folk tune in which Mike Dunford's appropriately Spanish guitar solo is especially notable.

For me the masterpiece here is "Midas Man", a foreboding tale of a man who turns all to gold and is irreversibly corrupted in the process. Arguably the best song they ever did, it is luxuriously layered in swaths of morose 12 string guitar, piano and orchestral effects. It is so atypical of Renaissance in almost every way, except for the elegance and class. I feel a sea change in myself when I really listen to this one. The rest of the album returns to a more standard Renaissance format. "The captive heart" is reminiscent of "Let it Grow" from "Ashes", but it demonstrates the band's growing interest in multi layering Annie's voice. "Touching Once" is like the opposing bookend for the album opener but is its poor cousin, in spite of some decent orchestration and even impressive brass arrangements.

Overall, the story of "Novella" is one of a band that pushed onward against all odds in 1977. Unfortunately, the audience for this form of music was dwindling and Renaissance didn't have the luxury of mega status to tie them over. Music had become bolder and more in your face, yet Renaissance sounded meeker. That would be wholly rectified with the followup, even if it only marginally prolonged their survival.

Report this review (#162668)
Posted Monday, February 25, 2008 | Review Permalink
ZowieZiggy
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars I was not any longer with "Renaissance" in 1977. So, I discovered this album much, much later.

It is often tempting to recreate a great album. To conserve old fans, to be praised by the critics (although.) and maybe to get new ones (fans, I mean).

While you listen to "Can You Hear Me", it sounds as if it comes straight out of the great "Sheherazade.". It is amazing how well the band copes with orchestrations, classical passages and wonderful vocals of course. I have always admire Annie.

This band has lots of things I usually don't like (see above) in their style, but when I listen to them; I can't help : I just like the combination. Don't ask me why because I have no clue. The great opening track (Can You Hear Me) is absolutely on par with the best numbers out of their previous album. Did you say symphony? The highlight here.

The only thing I could reproach to "Renaissance" with this album is probably the lack of inventiveness, innovation. But lots of bands (the majority) are encapsulated into a specific style. "Renaissance" is just another one them. But so pleasant, so unique.

The good (but not excellent, let's be honest) "The Sisters", almost comes out of the same mould. Somewhat more melancholic and less inspired probably. The work on the Spanish guitar towards the end is an excellent addition but the closing part might appear as a soundtrack. I can understand that some people might get irritated by the pompous aspect of these "Sisters".

As usual, Annie's voice is magical (but I'm biased). She IS the reference for many female vocalists (mainly in the prog-folk genre). And that's only justice. She turns an average song ("Midas Man") into a good one. But there is nothing to do with "The Captive Heart". Mellowish to death. The first (and only) poor song from this album (and the shortest one as well).

The band gets back to better intentions with the closing and long "Touching Once". But this track is not as good as the brilliant ""Can You Hear Me". Too pastoral, uninspired. Still, as a whole this album is another good "Renaissance" effort.

Three stars.

Report this review (#165837)
Posted Sunday, April 6, 2008 | Review Permalink
b_olariu
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Inspiration is still present or????

Novella is a controversial album for me, because is among the most uninspired albums of them in the '70's, with all that is not a bad album, but to mellow and far from what they releases in the first half of the '70's. Anyway i prefer the next one over this and even Azure D'or is better in my opinion. The first track Can you hear me?? is a real winner, remainds me of some pieces from Turn of the cards or Ashes are burning, great symphonic prog, and why not the best track from this album. The rest are good but less enjoyble than on previouses albums. So a 3 star for this, Renaissance was and is one of the most important bands in history of prog music with a big contribution in developing the prog mouvement, but with an album like that is hard to keepit high , specially in the late '70';s when punk and disco was all over. So a good album but not something special either.

Report this review (#178503)
Posted Thursday, July 31, 2008 | Review Permalink
BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars My favorite album from one of my favorite prog bands. "Can You Hear Me?" followed by "The Sisters" comprise, IMHO, one of those rare events in music: a perfect side. (Side A from the vinyl LP). And prog at its very finest. "CYHM?" has one of those unforgettable intros Tout et al are so known for and "Sisters" has, next to "A Trip to the Fair" (Sheherezade And other Tales), my favorite Annie Haslam work along with those incredibly effective horns and the wonderful Spanish guitar phrases. An amazing piece of music! I enjoy John Tout's original work so well and the spaces and the prominent acoustic guitars make this such a timeless collection of songs. And then, of course, you have Annie---the most beautiful voice ever to grace the grooves of prog music---here sounding very relaxed, yet mature and confident. Though "The Captive Heart" and even "Midas Man" both lack something---a vocal or melodic hook, if you will---they are so well performed, mixed and produced (at least on the CD I'm listening to these days) that I can be a bit forgiving. Also, "Touching Once" is lacking some lyrical power but musically the construction is definitive prog and contains absolutely mesmerizing interweaving of all band members with orchestra. (Love those horns, strings and choir after the Peral-Jam-stolen guitar cord progression at the 5:35 mark.)

A definitive album also for the subteleties which, IMO, are what distinguish prog: the fact that the music demands and deserves close and repeated listening. Music shouldn't have to bang you over the head to get your attention. IMHO, "Novella" is one of Prog's finest if final moments; one of the top 50 prog LPs of all-time.

Report this review (#192570)
Posted Wednesday, December 10, 2008 | Review Permalink
rogerthat
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars It is generally held that Renaissance slipped into decline from the late 70s onwards. And for some reason, this album gets clubbed with those releases that are supposed to be less than edifying. Yet, it is very much in keeping with the style of music of the previous albums, almost a bit too much, if anything.

Not that there's no growth or change. This is the only album of Renaissance Mk-ii that prominently utilizes acoustic guitars. Dunford always had some presence on their material but was usually buried deep in the background as Tout and the orchestra took centrestage. Whereas Sisters even has a solo by Dunford. Midas Man too has pleasing layers of guitar. There is some resemblance here with Roy Wood's approach on Annie Haslam's first solo album Annie in Wonderland released in the same year. That album too beautifully utilized acoustic guitar and harp, evoking a lush romanticism. The effect is not quite so ethereal on Novella but it's nevertheless an interesting development.

Can You Hear Me has one of the most annoying 'time-wasting' sections in the band's repertoire, wih practically nothing happening for 2 minutes. It's almost as if they are waiting for a suitable opportunity to reprise the string-vocal motif and get back on verse. That excepted, their orchestration is more assured and effective here and also less cliched. Especially, Touching Once (Is So Hard to Keep) is fabulous, the best of their orchestral pieces (Trip to the Fair and Things I Don't Understand being piano oriented), passing from shades as varied as playful to mysterious to triumphant.

That they are able to achieve that quite seamlessly is also on account of the vocals of Annie, who is at her peak here. She turns in an unusually extroverted, bold performance on Touching Once and does all she can to lift Can You Hear Me to some memorability. She overcooks Sisters, one of the very few times that I've felt baffled by her approach to a song, but compensates well with the ballad Captive Heart. It is in fact on Captive Heart that her growth and maturity is most evident. Where she could be a touch flat or not adequately engaged on the pop ballads before, she sings with a lot of presence on this song, careful at the same time not to overpower it. The recording is the best for any of their albums, richer and fuller than Scheherazade but without the overproduced gloss of A Song for All Seasons. Annie's voice in particular sounds significantly richer, an aspect that actually turned me off the album initially.

Where this album suffers, though, is it needs some application from the listener. Even fans may not be won over immediately by this but over time, it turns out to be quite substantial, arguably the most substantial release of Renaissance mk-ii. Barring Touching Once, it is all downbeat which also can make it less appealing initially but this is the most satisfactory execution of the quintessential mk-ii style.

Report this review (#194584)
Posted Sunday, December 21, 2008 | Review Permalink
Gerinski
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars The benchmark had been put very high with the 3 previous albums "Ashes Are Burning", "A Turn of the Cards" and "Scheherazade" and surely this is why "Novella" is frequently rated quite lower, but in truth this is also a wonderful album and a worthy enough successor of the "magic 3".

The opener "Can You Hear Me" is archetypal of the music Renaissance was making in that period, what we can call "orchestral symphonic pop" (nothing at all of commercial pop, but I do not dare using the term "symphonic rock" since there is nearly nothing of rock in here, not even one clean electric guitar, the only electric instruments being the bass and soft keyboards). A long suite with plenty of classical influences, many dynamic changes with the drums constantly coming in and out, alternating very soft passages with more upbeat ones, in the same style as the previous albums. As usual the bass of Jon Camp is also very good.

"The sisters" is a soft orchestrated ballad featuring all the instruments and nice nylon guitar fills, with a slightly melancholic feeling. Musically it is not outstanding but the vocal melody is very beautiful and the absolutely gorgeous voice of Annie makes it shine.

"Midas Man" became the most played song of the album but for my taste is the weakest. It's based on strung acoustic guitar supported by the other instruments and orchestra, the drumming limited to a bass drum marching beat.

"The Captive Heart" is a very soft ballad featuring only piano, the lead voice of Annie and some backing vocals by the guys. The classical piano intro is superb and the vocal melody and Annie's angelical voice are again extremely beautiful.

The last song "Touching Once" retakes the style of the opening track, again a long symphonic suite with substantial orchestration, but this one with a more theatrical, Broadway-musical feel. Some sections sound like it could be a song from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar. Again good dynamics with many mood and tempo changes, vocal interplays and also a sax solo.

Maybe the compositions are a bit less memorable than those on the previous 3 albums and less catchy than those on the follower "A Song For All Seasons" but this is still a great album full of beautiful melodic orchestral symphonic music with unbeatable vocals.

The production is good but not bright enough for my taste, something that would be much improved in "A Song For All Seasons".

Report this review (#283955)
Posted Saturday, May 29, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars Probably "Novella" is more a Folk prog album that other. But my perception is also that "Novella" isn't a Prog album, but a POP album with some Folk moments with Prog treatment of songs because with big structure and various times and atmospheres changes. In this sense this album is also Prog but in my opinion the more Prog tracks are "Touching Once (Is So Hard To Keep)", "Midas Man" and "Can You Hear Me" (in order of revelance). The music is, in this album, too similar to Yes and this fact is not good with the acoustic and orchestral sound of Renaissance.

But "Novella" remain a great album, in order to music. With good atmospheres (also if too light).

Report this review (#373283)
Posted Wednesday, January 5, 2011 | Review Permalink
octopus-4
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl,Neo & Post/Math Teams
4 stars I listened to "Can You Hear Me" for the first time from a tape in a car. The album was just released and I had never heard anything of Renaissance before. I asked him who the band was, he picked the tape out of the reader, and told me Renaissance..... The day after a copy of Novella was in my hands.

Later I purchased the whole discography (I took some years) and this means that this is a good album. Without knowing anything of their previous masterpieces this has been good enough to make me search for other albums of the band.

Now that I'm more deeply into Renaissance I can see the differences between this album and Sheherazade, for example. The music here seems to be more inspired to British folk and medieval music than to Russian classics. It's still symponic, anyway. I have to admit that Can You Hear Me is surely not at the same level of things like Ocean Gipsy, Mother Russia or Ashes Are Burning, but it's a good symphonic prog long track in any case. The long slow volume instrumental part could have been shorter, but it's not much boring. It contains a lot of good moments.

"The Sisters" is a slow song with a Spanish touch given by the trumpets.It has sad and dramatic lyrics. I don't know who the sisters are. It's one of the rare tracks on which Mike Dunford reserved some room for his guitar. His classical training is evident in his touch on the classical guitar.

"Midas Man" is the song that I like less. It's question of tastes, not that it's a bad song. Effectively the chorus is everything but bad, but this song doesn't work a lot on me.

"The Captive Heart" is another of the "Piano and Voice" songs that Renaissance were used to place at least one for album. Somebody could find it too mellow, but I like Annie Haslam's overdubbed vocals on the chorus and the piano base.

At the end of the album a quick return to Russia. "Touching Once" is the only song on this album that's fully reminiscent of the previous great works, even if the chorus reminds more to the flower power. Probably the fact that the bass is played on this track at high volume as Jon Camp was used before is the reason why it sounds like the old good songs.

In few words, Novella is an excellent album which suffers of the fact of being preceeded by three masterpieces (I include the Live at Carnegie Hall). It's not a masterpiece itself, but not so bad as it could seem if you arrive to it after Turn of the Cards or Song of Sheherazade.

I'm not ashamed of rating it with 4 stars.

Report this review (#379255)
Posted Thursday, January 13, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars Novella is certainly not as original as their previous albums, but that, by no means, implies an general drop in quality. The production is impecable, the band is precise, the piano and vocals, as usual, superb and, most important, most of the songs themselves are excellent, with beauty and variety. That is particularly true to the first side of the old LP: Can You Hear Me? and The Sisters.

In fact, Novella does indeed have a distinctive feature: the (acoustic) guitar work is much more evident then in the previous albums, even though the more symphonic songs (the opener and the closer) are still structured around piano and orchestra.

Can You Hear Me? is an excellent opener, an worthy sucessor of Renaissance's epic songs.

The Sisters is spanish flavoured, with spanish guitars and a dramatic interpretation from Annie. It is very distinct to everything the band had done before, and, most important, it works. Great song.

Yet, there are some hints of worse things to come. Midas Man also has prominent guitars, but also, less auspiciously, some synths. It points to the shift in the sound of the band - which is, is this case, not a good omen. The weakest song from the album, though it indeed became a standard for the band - probably because its length made it more radio friendly. To my ears, it's just pop rubbish - including the somewhat embarassing lyrics.

The Captive Heart, ont the other hand, compensates. It is simply beauty. A delicate ballad, with the traditional piano-and-voice structure that goes back to Prologue. It may not be exactly original, but it is not less beautiful for that reason.

The album closes with another epic, Touching Once (Is So Hard to Keep). Less impressive and remarkable than the opening track, but still a good song.

So, in the end, there is one flop (Midas Man) and another good yet derivative song (Touching Once...). The highlights are three out of five. not a bad percentage. But, I guess, there are really no major distinctive features to justify a 4-star rating, despite the more prominent sound of acoustic guitars. So, even though I like (and recommend) a lot side A, I think 3 stars is a fair rating.

Report this review (#418992)
Posted Sunday, March 20, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars This "novel" by Renaissance starts with some notes wich could have been an intro of a gothic rock song. And so I asked myself if Renaissance could have been an inspiration for what later became known as rock/metal; the metal scene whereby female vocalists are the cornerstone of the genre.

The song "Can You Hear Me" is a song in the same atmospheric sound as Scheherazade: an orchestral sound. Not just the first song, but the album as a whole is a lot like the second side of Scheherazade. I should call it symphonic pop and I really would've liked this record more if it had some dissonance in it. It's a bit too symphonic in my opinion. It all sounds nice with the pianoparts, the humming and the sometimes bombastic orchestral parts. It has some innerbeauty, but some songs like Midas Man lives on just that, while it has litle to offer on other aspects and remains just pop.

A moment I thought off disposing this record, but I must admit it's just too good for that. It will never be my favourit Renaissance record. I think the best song on it is "The Sisters" because of it's subtlety combined with good songwriting and the spanish guitar solo - which is only heard on this track - is doing a good job here.

Three stars...

Report this review (#485509)
Posted Monday, July 18, 2011 | Review Permalink
ClemofNazareth
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars This is one of three Renaissance albums I picked up a few years ago at a small New England used record store. At the time I was passingly familiar with the band don't recall ever setting down and listening to this entire album anywhere around the time it was released. Not surprising this slightly worn copy was in a New England record store though, as the band was quite popular in that part of the U.S. back in the seventies. In fact, that seems to be about the only place in the States they were popular, as this sort of music was not at all en vogue on the West Coast, and certainly not in the Midwest where arena rock was becoming something of a tour de force by 1977.

I've played this thing numerous times over the past couple of years and so far it just hasn't clicked with me or at least to the extent some of their other albums from the same period have. To be fair, following 'Turn of the Cards' or 'Scheherazade and Other Stories' would have been quite a tall order given the novel blend of pop, folk and classical music the band put forth with those albums. 'Scheherazade' in particular was almost an overly ambitious undertaking with its sidelong epic retelling of the 1001 Arabian nights story. And it doesn't seem that the band tried to top those records with this one, but instead simply put together a half-dozen comparatively short works that showcased their immense technical talents but failed to capture the same sense of majestic artistry of their prior two records.

The opening "Can You Hear Me?" may qualify as a mini-epic in length at more than thirteen minutes, but while John Tout's piano and Terence Sullivan's percussion are quite good, the overall arrangement consists mostly of instrumental ebbs and flows with Annie Haslam delivering fairly repetitive vocals. The orchestral arrangement, and particularly the strings, adds depth to what is mostly piano, bass and drums, but in the end the song comes off sounding more like something befitting a musical score more than a rock album, even a progressive one.

The segue into "Sisters" is a smooth one though, and the two songs almost meld together as a single work thanks mostly to Tout's lead-in piano and the choral backing that augments Haslam's angelic singing. The keyboards carry the middle portion of the song before Michael Dunford finally makes his presence known with a lengthy passage of outstanding acoustic guitar fingering. Once again the piece is technically near perfect, and even Haslam's somewhat forced vocals toward the end are carefully measured and were probably meant to sound slightly strained and tense. This is one of the stronger songs on the album thanks to Haslam's vocals and Dunford's guitar, but not at the level with their finest work.

"Midas Man" is a well-known Renaissance tune that again benefits greatly from Dunford's acoustic guitar work and orchestral backing, but even after many times listening to it I don't feel particularly inspired. And "Captive Heart" demonstrates the power in the harmony of Haslam's singing and Tout's playing, but at just over four minutes this barely qualifies as a complete Renaissance work.

The band finally kicks up the tempo with a rocking rhythm and an almost dizzying array of tempo shifts on the closing "Touching Once (Is So Hard to Keep)", but again there is not enough musical or emotion depth to really capture the listener's imagination.

I really do love this band and am enjoying (re)discovering their music decades after it was recorded. The group spared little expense in creating this album and the production quality is outstanding. I believe it was also their highest-charting record. But compared to their debut and the two that preceded this one, 'Novella' doesn't quite make the cut at the same emotional level. A very solid three star effort but unfortunately not one of their best.

peace

Report this review (#516564)
Posted Tuesday, September 6, 2011 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars Renaissance were able to squeeze four studio albums out of the style established on Ashes Are Burning, and whilst I personally consider Turn of the Cards and Scheherazade to be rather inessential, I can see why those who are particularly taken with their classic-era approach might be inclined to prize them highly. I can't say the same about Novella, the fourth album in this style, which sees the band out of ideas and - to my ears - playing without much in the way of flair and enthusiasm. The acoustic guitar lines, the dramatic, operatic vocals, the bold and brassy piano - it's all present and correct, but good god is it tired by this point.
Report this review (#552370)
Posted Tuesday, October 18, 2011 | Review Permalink
Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars Here is yet another in a string of excellent symphonic prog albums from Renaissance. But I'm sorry to say that at this point they were nearing the end of their excellence. Oh well.

The album starts out with it's best track. Can You Hear Me finally veers away from Renaissance's usual piano intro, and substitutes it with a great orchestral start. This is one of those essential songs from the band.

The remainder of the songs are very good, but cannot match the intensity of the opener. However, Midas Man is still an excellent track, with it's eerily placed minor notes. And Touching Once (Is So Hard To Keep), is another powerful track, although something about the melody reminds me of something that I just can't place.

Report this review (#707502)
Posted Tuesday, April 3, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars I bought this lp some days ago and now I realize I got the american cover, but it's also nice. This is Renaissance's seventh album and it was recorded 1976 and sold next year. The group consisted that year of the same people like on amazing "Scheherazade". What makes Renaissance interesting it that they didn't play the same music as other prog bands. They had no electric guitars and the music is very classical, it's a very distinct mixture of classical and popular music. Annie Haslam's voice reminds me of Maddy Prior's (of Steeleye Span) and of Turid Lundqvist (the swedish singer/songwriter in the 70s) and it's beautiful. It's perhaps little too much nice. I think this music lacks an edge.

I think the first and the last song is those most worth listen to. "Touching once(is so hard to keep) is the best with harmonic vocals(and dramatic) and after the singing the group surprises us with warbling and later an orchestra. "Can you her me call your name" is also very special, I like when they go from louder to quieter moments and the little crazy and fast intro. "Midas man" has an interesting text about a man with taste for gold. It contains nice acoustic guitar. "The captive heart" is a beloved love song with harmonies in the refrain.

As I mentioned before this is very nice music and perhaps it will grow for me and I will explore its inner beauty but now it's too sweat and unsharp. But this music is special. It's not folk prog even if the lyrics and vocals sound like that and it's not ordinary symphonic prog rock. A more precise definition could be progressive symphonic folk rock (with a wide definition of rock). I would be most content with the rating "good but not essential" but with the addition "closer to four than two".

Report this review (#958782)
Posted Monday, May 13, 2013 | Review Permalink
GruvanDahlman
COLLABORATOR
Heavy Prog Team
4 stars Truth be told I have never bothered much when it comes to the post-Turn of the cards albums. Somehow the band seemed to reach their climax on TOTC. That may be true enough but when I started to really examine the albums after TOTC I found there is much to treasure and enjoy. The voice of Haslam is for sure one of the finest in prog or even popular music, with it's crystal clear tone and remarkable diversity. Coupled with musicianship extraordinaire you can't really go wrong. Well, you can but that's not the point I am trying to make. My point being simply that Renaissance delivers, in one fashion or other.

Novella is by the looks of things a medieval album. That is bogusand untrue. Surely, there are folk inclinations alongside the rock and classical music but that's all part of the Renaissance trademark. I do like the cover. It's sort of classic prog pomp. The music is the main thing, obviously. From the opener Can you hear me (which is an epic tour de force) to the closing Touching once it all comes together seamlessly, creating a marvelous tapestry of sounds and magic. The majestic Midas man is alongside the opener the albums greatest tracks but the others are stunning in a regal form.

Novella may not be the obvious choice when you are about to explore the band but it is not a bad way either. The album bears are all the trademarks of this glorious band. Maybe it was their last true masterpiece and if that's true, they sure did go out with a bang. Renaissance kept on producing fine music but this is where they sort of came to a halt, focusing somewhat more on pop oriented stuff, albeit with a progressive touch. Never mind that, the album is great and deserves a listen or two. Do give it a try!

Report this review (#984936)
Posted Monday, June 24, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars There's no doubt this is an exquisite album. I have read reviews complaining that sonically 'Novella' has the same old sound as Renaissance's previous albums, but I have always felt it is different and has more of a diversity of moods, even more so than on other releases. I totally agree that Annie Haslam's vocals reach a peak here. 'Can You Here Me' opens with the typical strings, and piano but it has a lovely, quiet dreamy passage reminiscent of some Genesis pieces. 'Sisters' has the most harrowing, tragic theme and the most touching of all Renaissance music I have heard to date. It is absolutely beautiful and leaves me with goosebumps every time. The use of more acoustic guitar is noticeable on Novella as well as different keyboard sounds which were used on Scheherazade as well to create great atmosphere, on this album though the arrangements also create spiritual dimensions especially on 'Midas Man'. It is just brilliant and includes chants and other harmonies in the mix. The first half of the album is really reflective while the second half is brighter and more typical of the band's sound, melodic and uplifting. The closing and second epic piece has an excellent build up and the nice Russian style piano is showcased. Make no mistake Novella is a well written, eclectic release and the creative juices were still flowing in this group! It should be in a fan's collection.
Report this review (#1132250)
Posted Sunday, February 16, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars High Quality, if Slower.

Building on the symphonic approach they developed on their previous album (Scheherazade and other stories), Novella continues with extended pieces that develop over multiple sections, and that use the interaction between the music and lyrics to wax philosophically about life. This album has been faulted by some reviewers for being slow, and for sure it is slower (in tempo, and in getting to the punchline) than their earlier albums. It leans more on the progressive symphonic build-ups, and less on standard rock approaches. But what they sacrifice in rocking edge, they gain in subtlety and compositional development. This is the most mature-sounding album in the whole Renaissance catalogue. They very clearly are not interested here in commercial success, but instead on making lasting quality music. And it works. The album begins with "Can You Hear Me?", a tune which both harkens back to their earlier pieces like "Can you understand" and to the first tune on their previous album "A Trip to the Fair", in that it couples ambivalence and questions in the lyrics with pensive musical arrangements to create a piece of music that makes you think. This approach continues throughout the album, with "The Sisters", "The Captive Heart" and "Touching Once" all building on the pensive atmosphere. ("Midas Man", in the middle of the album is also pretty good, but not quite in the same league). It is true that I (also) would like to have heard more diversity in terms of tempo and soloing - this would have lifted the album even higher, perhaps into the five-star territory. Alas it does not, and does not reach the heights reached on their previous album. But it is still excellent as it is, among the best of Renaissance's albums. I give it 8.4 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to 4 PA stars.

Report this review (#1706956)
Posted Friday, March 31, 2017 | Review Permalink
VianaProghead
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Review Nş 171

"Novella" is the seventh studio album of Renaissance and was released in 1977. When we talk about the years of 1976 and 1977 we mustn't forget the arising of the punk movement. Those were times of great turbulence for all the progressive rock music. Renaissance was able to manage and to last longer, than most of the other progressive rock bands, before beginning their period of musical decline. During the period of 1977 and 1978, when bands such as Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant and Emerson, Lake & Palmer fell part way or whole way into pop mediocrity, Renaissance managed to come up with a great album "Novella", in 1977 and one very good album "A Song For All Seasons", in 1978.

The line up on "Novella" is Annie Haslam (lead and backing vocals), Michael Dunford (backing vocals and acoustic guitars), John Tout (backing vocals and keyboards), Jon Camp (vocals, backing vocals and bass) and Terence Sullivan (backing vocals, drums and percussion). The album has also the participation of Richard Hewson.

"Novella" has five tracks. The first track "Can You Hear Me?" written by Betty Thatcher, Michael Dunford and Jon Camp is an excellent song to open the album. It's a kind of a mini epic track extremely well performed especially by John Tout's piano and Michael Dunford's acoustic guitar, and once more the beautiful voice of Annie Haslam is absolutely perfect. The musical arrangements, which consist mostly of instrumental parts, are superb, and the addition of the orchestral arrangements is fantastic and complete perfectly well this piece of music. The final result of this fantastic work is a great progressive track. The second track "The Sisters" written by Betty Thatcher, Michael Dunford and John Tout is a soft orchestrated ballad with a very melancholic feeling and with a superb angelical vocal work by Annie Haslam with a great dramatic interpretation, very well supported by a nice choral work. It's a very beautiful song with a very special Spanish touch done by the performance of Michael Dunford on his acoustic guitar. Musically, it's a very simple track but with an extremely beautiful melody and where the gorgeous voice of Annie Haslam shines brilliantly in all its magnificence. This isn't a typical song of Renaissance, because in reality, this is very distinct to everything the band had done before, but it works perfectly well and once more we are in presence of a great Renaissance's song. The third track "Midas Man" written by Betty Thatcher and Michael Dunford is a beautiful classical track with a folky touch. It's mostly an acoustic song very well performed and with nice musical final result. This is mostly a song performed by the acoustic 12 string guitar of Michael Dunford and where we can hear, in some parts, the sound of the tubular bells. Because is essentially a repetitive song is considered by many a boring song. However, I think that is perfectly unfair because it has a very good musical arrangement which can be perfectly audible on any good audio system. The fourth track "The Captive Heart" written by Michael Dunford and Jon Camp is another beautiful track of Renaissance and represents, in my humble opinion, one the most beautiful songs made by them and where the voice of Annie Haslam is absolutely superb and unforgettable. It's a track with wonderful piano work with a classical style introduction. The main components of this song are the piano of John Tout and the voice of Annie Haslam supported by male voices on the back. This is a typical Renaissance's song strongly influenced by classical music and with a very nice touch of folk music. This track represents how a song composed with a simple musical structure can be as superb as it is. Only few bands can do that, and Renaissance is for sure one of them. The fifth and last track "Touching Once (Is So Hard To Keep)" written by Michael Dunford and Jon Camp can be considered the epic track on the album. It retakes the style of the opening track, a long symphonic suite, very classical and with great orchestration. This is another excellent song once more with great accentuation in the style of the voice of Annie Haslam. This is a very progressive track with several musical changes all over the song and where we can listen to, the sound of a saxophone. The main beauty of this song is on its nice melody and also on its superb orchestral arrangements. This is another great progressive track.

Conclusion: Despite "Novella" isn't as good as "Prologue", "Ashes Are Burning", "Turn Of The Cards" and especially "Scheherazade And Other Stories", it's without any doubt, a great album. At least it's at the same quality level of their first two studio releases, "Renaissance" and "Illusion". However, we mustn't forget that "Novella" was released in 1977, at the height of the punk movement. That movement would have, in a short time, disastrous consequences in Renaissance, as happened with Genesis, Gentle Giant and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, for instance. "Novella" can be considered the beginning of the end of an era in Renaissance's music. "Novella" can be also considered, perhaps, the last great studio album of Renaissance and also the last truly progressive album released by the group. Unfortunately, soon another great progressive band would be defeated by the immediate commercial interests of the record labels.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

Report this review (#1910597)
Posted Saturday, March 31, 2018 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
COLLABORATOR
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
4 stars The London based RENAISSANCE had an interesting journey early on but finally on the band's fourth album "Ashes Are Burning" hit upon a progressively infused symphonic folk rock type of sound fortified with Baroque pop. The album found the perfect mix of cleverly crafted tracks that teased addictive pop hooks into the progressively worked out epics. The album allowed them to move on to the bigger BTM (British Talent Management) label and with a larger budget, the following album "Turn of the Cards" allowed the band to go for broke and create a lusher orchestral sound that ultimately led to its pinnacle of perfection with "Scheherazade and Other Stories" in 1975 which found its way into the top 50 albums on the US Billboard chart, no small feat for a symphonic prog band in the prog's waning years.

After three albums with a similar approach the band decided that there is no need to fix something that ain't broken. It took two years to record and release the following NOVELLA with the lauded "Live At Carnegie Hall" released in between but the musical landscape had changed dramatically in that short time. Progressive rock was no longer fashionable and punk rock was having its day in the sun however RENAISSANCE was not the ordinary prog band and managed to stay relevant even as Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols were calling for anarchy in the homeland. NOVELLA was released in January 1977 and succeeded in hitting the top 50 album charts in the US mostly because of the loyal following that the band had attracted outside of the influence of radio, TV and other popular forms of media.

In many ways, NOVELLA sounds like a "Scheherazade Part 2" as the same lush orchestrated pop hooks find themselves twisted into lengthy progressively infused creations with different movements although there is nothing even close to the epic scope of the previous album's title track. NOVELLA is sort of easy listening prog with easily digestible melodic hooks, soft acoustic guitars, careful displays of piano arpeggios and lush orchestration and as usual Annie Haslam's vocals bring an angelic heavenly presence to the whole thing. The music sounds like it could be the soundtrack at the pearly gates to heaven! Whereas the previous album had only four tracks, NOVELLA had five with the opening "Can You Hear Me" approaching 14 minutes and the closer "Touching Once (Is So Hard to Keep)" at nine and a half.

It's easy to understand why so many are turned off by this album. It is recycling the whole narrative theme with the female story reader recounting tales only this time to children rather than kings however there is no doubt that this album was playing it safe and milking the formula for as long as could be tolerated. Apparently for some it was one too many of this style but for others it was a welcome return to the familiar and after all, the sounds that emerge from these tracks are quite pleasant even though the album may lack the dynamic flair of its predecessor. It has been stated that Annie Haslam could sing the phone book and it would sound like a gift from angels and there is probably some truth to that but personally i find this album to be a nice breezy listening experience despite everything said about it pretty much being quite true.

While RENAISSANCE would hang on for a couple more years with their unique brand of classically infused progressive pop and far outlive many of the majority of the prog universe, the band would ultimately succumb to the inevitable gravitational pull of the burgeoning new wave scene, however on NOVELLA all of the sugary sweet melodies and unthreatening orchestrated melodic hooks are still on display as if the world was the same exact place as when they hit upon this formula in 1973. While i'll admit this is a major step down from the sheer perfection of "Scheherazade and Other Stories," i can't help but loving this album despite it all. The instrumental interplay is just as tight and Haslam's vocals are soothing and as brilliantly displayed as what came before. While the tracks are less compelling than the three albums that preceded, they are still catchy as hell with all the RENAISSANCE mojo still firing strong. Yeah, not the band's best but certainly not as bad as many claim it to be.

Report this review (#2204306)
Posted Monday, May 20, 2019 | Review Permalink
Progfan97402
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Aside from the 1969 debut which was essentially a totally different band bearing the Renaissance name, Novella, was, for all practical purposes, the first Renaissance album I ever bought, in 1996, for $1 (it was the true original US Sire pressing with ABC distribution). What I didn't realize was this album was never thought of in a high of a light as previous one, but after getting familiar with those albums as well, I really can't see why this is not as highly regarded. Try listening to Camera, Camera (a later offering from them, from 1981, never a good year for prog), that's pretty awful. Novella pretty much sticks to the same 1970s formula they did before, but to my ears it may have not offered anything new to the table that you hadn't already heard on previous albums. The opening song, "Can You Hear Me" simply blew me away. It starts off orchestral, but then the acoustic guitars kick in and Annie Haslam sings and it's pure heaven. The strange thing is I swore up and down I've heard this song years before I ever bought this album or even heard of Renaissance (or Annie Haslam, for that matter). At that time, me and my family were living in rural Oregon some 20 miles outside Eugene, Oregon (living like hippies complete with split-window VW microbus minus the Grateful Dead stickers) and getting their local FM rock station KZEL 96.1 (which is still around to this day) and there's a chance they had played "Can You Hear Me". Maybe that's why I swore I've heard that song before, but KZEL, like just about all the progressive underground FM rock stations after 1975, too succumbed to the commercial AOR format (you're far more likely to hear "Carry On Wayward Son" by Kansas in early 1977 on that station than you would "Can You Hear Me" by Renaissance).

OK, on to other songs, the rest of the album never reaches the mighty heights of "Can You Hear Me", on the other hand they are still very good songs, particularly "Midas Man" and "Touching Once (Is So Hard to Keep)". In fact nothing on this album makes me want to move the tonearm of my turntable, which is great. Remember: try listening to one of their albums of the 1980s, which are far worse, then come back to Novella. It's miles better. Renaissance newbies probably should try Scheherezade or Turn of the Cards as they're generally regarded higher, but Novella is still worth having, and oh, by the way, "Can You Hear Me" is by far my very favorite Renaissance songs.

Report this review (#2278330)
Posted Tuesday, November 5, 2019 | Review Permalink

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