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Renaissance Renaissance album cover
3.77 | 435 ratings | 32 reviews | 17% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1969

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Kings And Queens (10:55)
2. Innocence (7:05)
3. Island (5:57)
4. Wanderer (4:00)
5. Bullet (11:24)

Total Time: 39:21

Bonus Tracks on 1997 Renaissance Rec. release:
6. The Sea (3:05) *
7. Island (3:38) *

Total Time: 46:04

Bonus tracks on 1998 Mooncrest release:
6. The Sea (3:05) *
7. Island (3:38) *
8. Prayer for Light (5:27) %
9. Walking Away (4:19) %
10. Shining Where the Sun Has Been (Jim McCarty & Keith Relf 1968 Demo) (2:52)
11. All the Fallen Angels (Keith Relf 1976 Demo) (5:28)

Total time: 64:31

* Different versions from the album's, previously released as Single A/B (1970)
% Soundtrack by Jim McCarty & Keith Relf for 1971 unreleased movie "Schizom"

Line-up / Musicians

- Jane Relf / vocals, percussion
- Keith Relf / vocals, guitar, harmonica
- John Hawken / piano, harspichord
- Louis Cennamo / bass guitar
- Jim McCarty / percussions, vocals

Releases information

ArtWork: Design by Jack Levy based on the painting "The Downfall of Icarus" by Claude Génisson

LP Island Records ‎- ILPS 9114 (1969, UK)

CD Line Records ‎- LICD 9.00421 (1987, Germany)
CD Renaissance Records ‎- RMED00167 (1997, US) With 2 bonus tracks
CD Mooncrest ‎- CRESTCD 033 (1998, UK) With 6 bonus tracks (#)

(#) Own entry in Compilations under the title "Innocence" and with a different cover art.

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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Buy RENAISSANCE Renaissance Music

RENAISSANCE Renaissance ratings distribution

(435 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(17%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(51%)
Good, but non-essential (26%)
Collectors/fans only (5%)
Poor. Only for completionists (1%)

RENAISSANCE Renaissance reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
5 stars Icarus Ascending

Who would've thought that the Yardbirds' spine members would've converted into a progressive rock band after the departure of their flurry of guitaris legends, such as Clapton, Beck and Page? OK, I'll admit that this reconversion has a little bit of a "jumping on the bandwagon" feel, but these guys were credible right from the start. With Page somehow taking the Yardbirds name with him (and wasting it away, preferring to call Zep his new band), Jim McCarty, Keith Relf and Paul Samwell-Smith (the latter on production) decided to change their musical direction and surprisingly chose the more difficult (and risky) choice of going "prog". Enlisting ex- The herd Cennamo on bass, and ex- Nashville Teens John Hawken on keyboards (through another ex-Yardbirds, Chris Dreja), it is obvious that it is the latter's involvement in the group that defined the group's new musical direction, through his classical penchants. Rounding up the line-up is the superb sister of Keith, Jane Relf that was a folkie at heart, which fitted well with Relf and McCarty's new direction; they'd formed a duo called Together after leaving the Yardbirds and recorded an album and this helped shape the Renaissance sound, as both writers were now composing on acoustic guitar and would write all but one track of this album together.

Indeed, Renaissance's typical sound is a unique cross of Classical, Folk and Rock, but away from the usual canons of the Prog Folk genre, dominated by Hawken's piano. The group's debut album was released in early 70 on the en-vogue Island label and came with an absolutely superb Fall Of Icarus artwork on a gatefold sleeve. Opening on their cornerstone or flagship piece, the 11-mins Kings And Queens, the album opens on the a symbolic Hawken piano overture, before the group kicks in, Cennamo's amazing bass often doubling Hawken's classical-borrowed parts, thus reinforcing his dominance. Jane's voice offers quite a nice contrast to her brother Keith, and they give a credible folkish feel. Although not flawless, this is nevertheless a full blown prog epic, with all the future clichés present. Great stuff. It is followed by a no-less impressive 7-mins Innocence, built in the same mould, which I like more. Somehow it is understandable that the group is so dominated by Hawken's keyboards, because Relf's lead guitar skills are not very developed as he always had to play previously behind future guitar legends. Live, it seems that Keith was a tad more prominent than in the studio mix.

The 6-mins Island is a much folkier (and delicious) track, even if it also featuring Hawken and Cennamo's classical borrowings, sung lead by Jane and an abridged version would grace an accompanying single, while the only track written by Hawken (with McCarty on lyrics), the 4-mins Wanderer is a bit of a departure and a foray into Celtic-type folk, with Hawken playing the harpsichord and Jane's awesome vocals in the second part. The album closes on the 11-mins+ Bullet, a moody and darker track that was designed for featuring Prokofiev themes in a slightly more psych/spacey setting with psalm-like backing-vocals and Keith's harmonica (regularly used in The Yarbirds)? I'm sure this piece was used fo frame individual solos live.

My personal favorite of the group (all eras considered), as three Yardbirds are involved (who would've thought that possible?). Relf , Mc Carthy and Samwell-Smith, the latter on production, evolve from blues caterpillar into prog butterfly. Intense and beautiful. Jane Relf has nothing to envy to Annie Haslam, either. If you haven't had a chance to find out about the original Renaissance group, do jump on the superb Repertoire mini-Lp reissue that comes with two bonus tracks, from a non-album single, where an abriged version of Island and the original The Sea tracks are well within the album's spectrum and added excellent value. This album also comes sometimes with other bonus tracks (and a different artwork), the Together pieces written by Relf and McCarty prior to this album, but these are simply not fitting with the album musical realm. Historically important, this album is an often over-looked gem by most Haslam-Dunford fans. Essential stuff.

Review by greenback
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This is the really first Renaissance album: the singer is Jane Relf, not Annie Haslam. A completely different bunch of musicians, compared to the Renaissance of the 70's. Jane Relf's vocals are not really always in the foreground: other musicians also sing on this album. For those who expect an Annie Halsam performance, then forget about it. The lead & backing vocals are interesting though. This record is definitely piano oriented: when there are piano or harpsichord, this album sounds quite classical baroque. On the first side, it is a bit disappointing to hear an outstanding first baroque part, followed by a rythmic piano rock ballad containing harmonica a la Zappa, and finally finished with a minimalist psychedelic instrumental part. This record, like the next one, has some psychedelic influences. The best moment is definitely the progressive part on Innocence: very structured and delightful! For 1969, this record is really avant-garde.

Review by Dick Heath
4 stars As memories now fade it is difficult to remember whether this album or King Crimsons "Court" was the first to be released in 1969, (and both by Island Records). However, fans at the time recognised both albums as ones introducing radically new musical ideas which were well played and well recorded LPs. These had moved on in sophisticationfrom the studio-controlled recording of the Moody Blues " Days Of Future Past" - BTW an album largely ignored in the UK at the time in terms of sales- or more roughly provided by Nice.

The original CD issue of the first Renaissance album was released by the German based, Line Records (catalogue no. LICD 9.00421) - reflecting that typical unwillingness on the part of Island Records to issue CDs versions of a lot of its back catalogue. (The Line Records version has no more tracks than the original LP).

Whilst the new comer to the Yardbirds, Jimmy Page, had taken the band's name (only to quickly evolve into Led Zeppelin), the majority of the Yardbirds became Renaissance. However, they had abandoned much of the R'n'B and instead discovered Beethoven, in the company Jim Hawken. As a result their music was a sophisticated hybrid of "Beethovenian blues rock".

Renaissance were picked up by the overground media, and to become more than just a band with an underground following. In particular, the previously straight Jim Mossman, presenting the new BBC 2 TV channel's art series, broke the establishment rules by having this group of "pop musicians" on his show, to discuss and play their music. The public became aware that young, long haired musicians were capable of making more than just 3 minute hits, forgotten 3 months later. Renaissance and this album opened doors, to be pushed further open with Crimson exposure to the masses through the Rolling Stones Hyde Park free show.

A groundbreaking album, indeed a seminal album, as nothing like it had been heard before. Hawken's strident grande piano, played mostly in forte is the dominant lead, lifting musical ideas from the likes of Beethoven concertos. Yardbirds' blues tempers this and Jane Relf provides a sort of clarity or purity with the vocals. And that artwork on the LP sleeve: a picture of Icarus's fall, long lingered in the mind.

As a footnote: This line-up of Renaissance did start to record a second album, "Illusion" soon afterwards, some of which was previewed on a BBC Radio One live gig. However, this was not to be an immediate follow-up LP to capitalise on the band's initial success. Renaissance (as they truly were to rock muisic), lost their name and found themselves as Illusion, in competition to the new variant of Renaissance. Keith Relf moved on, did his own thing, formed Armageddon, joined Medicine Head and alas died in a tragic accident.

Review by Gatot
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Following the break-up of The Yardbirds in early 1968 drummer Jim McCarty and guitarist/vocalist Keith Relf formed TOGETHER, an acoustic based group. This short lived then became RENAISSANCE in early 1969 with the addition of John Hawken (keyboard), Louis Cennamo (bass) and Jane Relf (vocal). So, this is the PRE ANNIE HASLAM period of the band. Musically, I would say this debut album has significant contribution in laying strong foundation of progressive rock music altogether with King Crimson, ELP, Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd. RENAISSANCE has its own identity than the others. This debut album sets an important milestone for RENAISSANCE music direction in the future.

The opening track "Kings and Queens" proves to be the landmark for future releases of the band. The structural composition of this song is of relevance with later releases compositions. This track is heavily influenced by classical music through its piano sound at intro part. It's a wonderful and dynamic piano play at intro. The drumming section enters nicely altogether with acoustic guitar fills. When the drumming style change to a jazzy kind of beat it reminds me to JON LORD's solo album "Sarabande". (Hey, this album should be in Progarchives page. It's definitely prog!). You may observe and compare it on the musical segment just before the male vocal enters the scene. I like the drumming style and piano when they accompany vocals. So dynamic. One other thing is that this track is melodious. This track is really prog to the corner! Yeah, it's a beautifully crafted song, I think!

"Innocence" has simpler composition than the first track. Piano still dominates the music. It has some jazz and blues component in its composition. Are you aware of Dutch's blues band CUBY + THE BLIZZARDS? If so, this track is composition-wise similar to the works of CUBY. I like the piano solo in the middle of this track. Excellent! (This piece has influenced the music of my home country band BADAI). The end part of this track reminds me to the musical nuances of King Crimson's "Lizards".

"Island" is again an acoustic guitar and piano based song with female vocal of JANE RELF as lead with male vocal as backing. The bass guitar play is dynamic throughout the track. Stunning. The inclusion of piano solo in classical style has made this track more attractive. "Wanderer" is a more uplifting track with great piano and harpsichord sounds. I like the melody of harpsichord just before and during the singing of JANE RELF. It reminds me to the kind of RICK van DER LINDEN of TRACE music. It's not the same, but the musical nuances are similar. This track has great melody!

The album is concluded fabulously with an epic track "Bullet" with 11:24 minutes duration. Again, the band gives a wonderfully crafted composition. This time the opening sound of piano is set to welcome the latin-like voices. KEITH RELF takes the lead vocal function backed with jazzy piano and drumming style. The overall composition of this song is more of in an avant-garde music, I think. It has high and low points with some musical exploration of sounds at the end of the track. I think this album is a masterpiece. My CD is a Repertoire version with two additional tracks: "The Sea" and "Island". Sonic quality is of 70s recording. I highly recommend you to purchase this CD. Gatot Widayanto, Indonesia.

Review by Eetu Pellonpaa
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars I was quite interested to hear how the first incarnation of Renaissance sounded, and the marvelous album covers boosted this enthusiasm. I believe though that as I had been charmed by the following more famous line-up's romantic style on music creation, this more personal and lesser grandiose art rock didn't impact me very much, actually I felt disappointment when listening to these ancient artifacts. Possibly most annoying element on this band's musical idiom is the furious but still pedantic and unemotional piano. Jane Relf's vocal contributions are in quite small role at the band's sound. It is how ever interesting to listen how a classical symphonic feeling has being tried to be evoked with a quite small repertoire of instruments. Sadly these efforts did not succeed very in my opinion. There are some psychedelic improvisational jazzy sequences on the tracks too, which were not much present on the music of the forthcoming second line-up.

Some better parts of the opening track "Kings and Queens" resemble Procol Harum's piano driven sound, and the composition has a quite good verse. "Innocence" continues the style of the first song, some mesmerizing verses hidden among the serious, sacral art rock song. Some chamber music associations rise from the lifeless piano, which is thrown into the soup of bluesy dope rock along with some jazz maneuvers, the promising dish not tasting very good for me however. I managed to see a film of the band performing "Island" from the Beat Club television broadcast recordings, which was interesting experience, allowing to see the stiff fellows doing their thing. The composition is more folk rock oriented tune for the lady singer, her voice being very thin and fragile. Though I adore meditative spiritual music, this hymn sounded more like a cheap gospel tune. The latter half of the composition holds some direct quotations of Beethoven's piano sonatas, which I did not feel relying in pleasant context. The following song "Wanderer" grew as the most pleasing track of the record for me, harpsichords giving a relief for the piano expressionism and the rhythm holds pleasant groovy qualities. There are also some classical music quotations here again, and I guess the composition fitting better to Jane's vocal range, as the slightly deeper notes make her voice sound much more pleasant than on the previous "Islands" song. An association of psychedelic folk lullaby arose also in my mind for the characterization for this composition. The final mini epic "Bullet" continues to wander along the bluesy traits, and I continued to rip my pants whilst listening the male singer's voice resembling the voice of Boz Burrell. For my taste, the blues elements here don't manage to create anything wonderful, as the players can't kindle a good groove burning from the musical potentials, and both solos and melodic passages felt very conservative and unimaginative. The last moments of this song surprisingly offered a very peaceful non-rhythmic aural space of echoed vocals. It's a shame that these kind of innovative and tasteful details are counted on the album in very few numbers.

I guess this album could interest those music listeners more, who aren't so keen on the more famous second version of this band. Also my negative feelings arose certainly from my disability to digest the majority of the stylistic solutions of this record. But I believe checking out these semi-classic records is a worthy act, especially if my criticisms didn't feel promising, and if you can get a listen of them without spending any of your hard earned money on them. I managed to do my listening from an old vinyl, so I didn't get a change to be depressed by the bonus tracks; a potential act of allowing pearls for a swine.

Review by hdfisch
3 stars I've got this classic since many decades in my vinyl collection and must say that I liked it a lot in my younger days (I've to add that I had a preference for somewhat softer music in my youth) but meanwhile it had grown already quite a lot of dust on my shelf. Admittedly I've never been a fan of the Haslam-version of Renaissance though I've listened once a few times to their supposedly best albums before I discarded them soon after as too mellow and extremely harmonic.(probably just not my "cup"). Thus this debut here remained my fav album by this band but honestly I couldn't claim that I'm getting into ecstasy during listening to it. Certainly it had been quite unique at its time of release and some of its most memorable melodies are arousing warm nostalgic feelings in me. On the other hand I can't find much exciting in the music presented here. The two longer tracks are for sure still the more interesting ones though I've to say as well that I find the classical quotations in "Kings & Queens" rather annoying than enjoyable. "Bullet" is clearly the better and more adventurous one of the two and actually the most experimental stuff ever heard by Renaissance. From the shorter tracks is "Wanderer" for me the nicest one providing a pleasant Baroque touch with its harpsichord sound. Overall this one had been a remarkable and for its era innovative debut which might sound a bit dated to some modern ears. It might be considered an essential classic due to its early year of release but since it can't fascinate me that much anymore I'm hesitating to rate it with 4 stars (***1/2 really)! Anyway still a pleasant listen every now and then!
Review by Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars A seminal album of prog

I first came across Renaissance via an early 70's Island Records sampler called "Bumpers". The track selected from their first album for inclusion on the sampler was the appropriately named "Island". The choice of that track was fully justified, as it is the best track on this self titled album, and indeed one of the finest pieces in their archives. The track has two, possibly three distinct phases. The first is a three verse, three chorus song featuring Jane Relf's wonderful crystal clear vocals (Renaissance' signature vocalist, Annie Haslam, was not yet on board). It has a real late 60's, early 70's feel to it, Relf stretching her vocal talents to their upper limits. Phase two is a classical piano solo. I'm sure it is actually based on a classical piece, and although no direct reference is made to the original composer (something Renaissance would be guilty of again in the future), the sleeve does at least accredit "classical interpretations" to John Hawken and bassist Louis Cennamo. The final phase sees Relf return to vocalise over a gently building theme, before the piano solo melody returns to close the track. All this in about six wonderful minutes.

"Island" constitutes track three of five on the album, and for me it is by far the best. The opening track "Kings and queens" is an 11 minute piece which centres around a basic vocal theme sung by Keith Relf and piano recitals by Hawken. The piece is less accessible than might be expected by those more familiar with the Haslam era Renaissance, but it is well worth the effort. Bearing in mind too, that the album was not released in the 1970's but in the late 1960's, the piece is astonishingly courageous and innovative. This album predates by some time many of the bands and albums we acclaim as the pinnacles of prog.

"Innocence" leans slightly more towards the band's Yardbirds roots, especially in the Keith led vocal section which kicks it off. Hawkins takes over midway though, transforming the rock based first half into a classically influenced piano piece. Interestingly, despite his significant writing contribution, John Hawkin only receives one co-credit on the entire album for the brief "Wanderer", which he dominates. The final track, "Bullet", it a more orthodox blues influenced number, with harmonica and jazz tinged piano. The off key vocals actually now sound very contemporary, but the track as a whole can be just a bit too indulgent.

In all though, a wonderfully inventive album which has never gained the recognition it warrants as a cornerstone of the genre this site is dedicated to. If for no other reason, every prog fan should hear this album to further their understanding of how prog came about.

The striking sleeve illustration is "The downfall of Icarus" by Gennison.

Review by Finnforest
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This is an early progressive album from 1969 with two ex-members of the Yardbirds in tow. It has a definite 60s feel to it and reminds me of bands like The Moody Blues and perhaps the Yes debut album. It is something of a piano lovers dream featuring extensive work by John Hawken. He plays harpsichord as well and this is really his album in terms of carrying most of the songs.

The album begins with a long piano intro by Hawken on "Kings and Queens" serving notice that we are in for something different. But I don't feel it ever gets off the ground as it keeps harking back to this sing-songey chorus with rather cheesy lyrics. There are a few nice guitar and percussion flourishes towards the end but for a 10 minute track there was quite a lost opportunity here. Next is "Innocense" which begins with trippy guitar and features more nice piano but also some rather lackluster vocals. Track 3 is called "Island" and is one of the more successful. Jane Relf delivers an enchanting vocal on this one against some gorgeous bass and guitar work and again, more piano! The song is a bit poppy in the first half but features enough quality playing throughout to make it tasty. Track 4 is "Wanderer" featuring harpsichord runs with a very classical feel, this being co-written by Hawken. At two minutes the delicate vocals begin and some nice bass work. The piece is nice although a bit one-dimensional. The album closes with the 11-plus minute "Bullet" which begins with dramatic piano before an excursion down a bluesy, slightly funky street with almost chanting harmonies on top. At four minutes in Relf starts jamming on harmonica and if briefly sounds like Canned Heat! That stops and we move into a quiet murky experimental area with some free play reminiscent of the open section during Moonchild. At nine minutes things get more bizarre with some cascading vocalizations by Jane. By the end it sounds like Popul Vuh so obviously this is the weirdest track and a great way to close a prog album.

It's an interesting album and an important one for '69 with the classical elements but the composition is less than perfect in my opinion. I can't get as excited about this as some of the other reviewers have, with all respect.

The Repertoire re-issue features two bonus tracks (The Sea and Island) along with nice liner notes, a couple of photos, and the trippy album artwork.

Review by Tarcisio Moura
2 stars Renaissnce MK I was founded by ex Yardbirds members Keith Relf and Jim McCarthy plus Keith´s sister Jane and classical trained musicians Louis Cennamo and John Hawken. The resulting album is far from being a masterpiece. In fact it sounds today silly and tedious most of the time. It was clear they did not know where to go. Still some hints of their future music are here, notably on Island. The problem is they did not write consistent songs to go with the incredible musicanship they had. And vocalist Keith Relf did not have enough guitar skills to match his colleagues (the lead guitar runs are pathetic, when he tries to do so).

All in all I still see this album is a tentative, not always succeed, to make a new sound. I see it as a blurry blueprint of what was to come. Today it´s really hard to believe that anyone but hardcore Renaissance fans enjoying it. It dated badly and it is more a curio then anything else. Or if you are a fan of pointless jams (Bullet is the obvious exemple), maybe you´ll like it. I don´t, so I´ll stick to their albums from Prologue onwards.

Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars I am totally new to Renaissance. I had heard about them but never checked them out. Well I have started to buy their discography from an end and therefore I will start by reviewing this their debut album.

I must say I was totally blown away by this album the first time I heard it. On repeated listening my awe has not lessened. This is a downright fantastic album. I didn´t know music like this was created in 1969. I don´t remember listening to anything like this from that time before. Prog rock dominated by classical piano and both male and female vocals. It´s very symphonic and the mood to my ears are like another of my fave bands Genesis. Renaissance are far more skilled as musicians than Genesis were in their early days though. The piano player John Hawken is a very competent musician. He knows his way around the piano. The bass player Louis Cennamo is clearly jazz schooled. Even though Renaissance´s music isn´t in that vein, he manages to put his mark on the album. The rest of the musicians are very good too. The vocals from Keith and Jane Relf are beautiful and powerful.

The music is very varied going from classical inspired rock to more bluesy prog rock. The male and the female vocals of course helps to the diversity. I understand that this the first incarnation of Renaissance and that they after their sophmore album split and that the lineup for their third album was completely different than on the first two. Since the second incarnation is the most famous one, I can´t wait to listen to albums from them, when this is so great. This is just my style of music.

This is highly recommendable to any prog rocker. A very essential album to the genre. Masterpiece.

Review by kenethlevine
2 stars After the Yardbirds, Keith Relf and Jim McCarthy consciously wanted to produce a different type of music, more acoustic and more adventurous, in the vein of the extended material that was coming into vogue at the time. They recruited Keith's sister Jane, bassist Louis Cennamo, and keyboardist John Hawken. It turns out that this debut sounds like something between the Yardbirds and the yet unborn second coming of Renaissance. From that perspective this is a very interesting album, dominated instrumentally by Hawken's piano and Cennamo's crafty lines, but from a compositional perspective it is a dud. Moreover, the production is poor even for the period, the compositions are rambling and unappealing, and Keith Relf really can't sing. Even Jane is relegated to the sidelines most of the time.

This lineup did much better when they reformed as ILLUSION in 1977, and, as such, "Island" points in the direction of later tunes like "Isadora" and "Madonna Blue". "Wanderer" is a fairly short but impressive harpsichord workout. Not coincidentally, these are the tracks on which Jane sings lead.

If you thought that the Haslam Renaissance was a bit too structured and precious, or if you are an unabashed fan of John Hawken (later of Strawbs), then you might enjoy the level of improvisation and occasional grittiness found here, but otherwise this is purely one for the historians.

Review by ZowieZiggy
2 stars I discovered the band in 1975 with their great "Scheherazade" and then built up counter clock wise.

To be honest, I have never been too enthusiast about their debut album. Of course, I was biased since for me "Renaissance" means a female vocalist. And even if Jane Relf is featured as such, she is hardly heard as lead vocalist. But when she is like during "Island", all the "Renaissance" magic is there. But these moments are too scarce throughout the album.

It is of course a pleasant one, but far from their great classical / prog combination of their golden years. A matter of line-up, I guess.

Still, a song as "Wanderer" features some of their classic sound. Medieval intro and great vocals from Jane. This is probably the most "Renaissance" piece of work available on this debut. A highlight.

I can't consider this album more as a curiosity for die-hard fans. The hectic closing number "Bullet" won't change my mind. Two stars. Great works will come later.

Review by SouthSideoftheSky
4 stars The start of a new renaissance!

This self-titled debut album by Renaissance can rightfully be called one of the very first Symphonic Prog albums ever. I think that this is an album that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as King Crimson's In The Court Of The Crimson King in terms of historical significance. It was albums such as these and a few others that started the progressive Rock movement in the late 60's. The band could hardly have chosen a better name for themselves as what we have here is truly a renaissance of sounds from the past (i.e. Classical music and traditional Folk) revived in a Rock/Psychedelic framework. It is clear from the very beginning of the first track that this music is something special (compare with other albums from the 60's and you will hopefully know what I mean). The piano here is aggressive and played with great skill and passion by the underrated John Hawken. I'm certain that this album was a big influence on Rick Wakeman in his early days. Like Wakeman, Hawken would also later become a member of Strawbs and play on some of that band's best and most progressive albums.

Kings And Queens, as the album's first track is called, is a very progressive song that runs for 11 minutes and takes many twists and turns. It features excellent piano, bass, drums, electric and acoustic guitars, male and female vocals and a strong and memorable melody line. This is not only this album's best song but also one of my all time favourite Renaissance songs. It is hard to believe that this was released in 1969; Renaissance were clearly ahead of their time and this sounds quite fresh and exiting even today. The next song, Innocence, features a slightly more 60's sounding chorus, but the rest of the song has the same sound and style as Kings And Queens with some jazzy and some Classical bits. Again, the piano work is great! The lead vocals are about equally distributed between Keith and Jane Relf, or rather they often sing in unison and harmonise with each other to great effect. Their voices complement each other very well. The Annie Haslam fans will probably miss her voice here, but personally I like the vocals of the two Relfs just as much.

Island and Wanderer are perhaps the tracks that most resemble the Haslam-era Renaissance material. The vocals on these songs are by Jane Relf alone and she sings them in the Haslam-style. These songs are folky yet classically influenced with very pleasant melodies. Here we have in addition to piano also lots of wonderful Harpsichord by Hawken. Finally, the album closes with another 11 minute song. Unfortunately, this song tends to drag a lot and lacks any strong melodic features to make it memorable; clearly the album's weakest part. It features some rather tedious moments that drags this album down a bit.

Overall, I find this album much underrated and historically important as a very early Prog album. Personally, I even prefer this self-titled debut over some of the albums by the Annie Haslam line up! Even if it is a bit rough, compared to later albums this one has more electric guitars, vocals that are more fitting for a Rock band and more room is left for instrumental workouts.

Essential for historical reasons and a very enjoyable listen too!

Review by octopus-4
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR RIO/Avant/Zeuhl,Neo & Post/Math Teams
4 stars The only negative thing that I can find on this debut album is the production. The sound quality is not very good, but the compositions and the excution are great. Extremely skilled musicians some of them coming from a totally different band as the Yardbirds were.

When I bought this album, coming from "Live At Carnegie Hall" I wasn't aware of their story, so I remember being very surprised to see that the bandmates were totally different from those I knew while the music was very similar and recognisable.

The opener is a long complex song that starts with a long piano intro. From when they start singing it's a bit hippy, we are in 1969, but when the singing stops and the bass opens a new section we here the mute singing of Jane Relf for the first time on a classical piano. Then percussions and bass lead to a piano solo, that later alternates with bass and drums. What we have here is a distinctive piece of Renaissance's music that will surprisingly persist after a total change in the lineup. Then the singing restarts. we have two stanzas and a chorus. Piano and classical guitar, then the coda. All those things in 10 minutes only.

Also on the second track the main vocalist is Keith Relf. The song is good. It has the classical influence that's typical of this band and great piano and bass parts. It's apity that the sound quality is so poor. It just lacks of continuity when changes from one section to another. The piano instrumental part and the following sung part have something of Mike Oldfield.

The B side starts with "Island". It's the first song to feature Jane Relf as lead vocalist. She's not so particular as Annie Haslam, but like her has a great high-pitched voice. The classical final is something that I know but I can't identify. I think is an arrangement of a piano sonata but I can't remember the author.

"Wanderer" sounds very familiar to those like me have discovered Renaissance in the middle of the 70s. Without reading the cover sleeve I couldn't imagine that it's not Dunford/Tout stuff. Jane is the lead vocalist here, too. As will happen 30 years after with Mostly Autumn, the girl sings really better than the guitarist.....

The closer is a complex track. "Bullet" is quite an epic starting with the Russian flavour that will later be characteristic of songs like "Mother Russia" to evolve in a bluesy-hippy song. The vocalist is Keith Relf. It's an acid track and his voice here fits well even if not nice as Jane's. There are similarities between this track and "Kings and Queens" from a musical point of view. This one is the most bluesy, strongly influenced by the Yardbirds sound. The central section pays a small tribute to psychedelia without losing the classical mood. A long unnecessary bass solo occupies a big part of the song. Parts of it are impressive, but it could have been cut down a bit. At the end of the bass solo it's pure psychedelia. Something that I really like, but hard fans of symphonic prog maybe don't. This is how the track fades out. What is missing here is a return to the main theme as in epic trahcs like Pink floyd's Echoes.

Regardless those little defects. this is an excellent album and still one of my favoruites from this band (even if they are two different bands really). Not yet at the heights of their most famous albums like Sheherazade, anyway an album that deserves its place in any collection.

Review by Warthur
4 stars In terms of lineup, the first incarnation of Renaissance was essentially a completely different band from the Anne Haslam-fronted crew, due to a series of line-up changes that left the band like the proverbial axe whose handle has been replaced three times and whose head has been replaced twice! But the original group did just about manage to scrape out a couple of albums before they imploded, and this one is a fine piece of early symphonic prog. Pianist Jim Hawken's playing is prominent in the mix, and the ethereal vocals of brother and sister team Keith and Jane Relf have a quality to them which hadn't been seen much before in rock music - their performance is more like that of choirists than rock singers, and that undoubtedly was a big influence in Haslam's style once she took on vocal duties in the band.

An excellent album all round - not quite a classic, but well worth getting lost in. Four stars.

Review by ClemofNazareth
4 stars Renaissance were a fascinating band from the progressive rock heyday of the late sixties and early seventies who, like fellow British acts Babe Ruth and Manfred Mann's Earth Band, were undeniably English but enjoyed much more success in America and particularly the Northeast U.S. than back home. There were of course different reasons for this in each band's case. With Renaissance the previous success of several members in the Yardbirds and the fact that the later 'classic' seventies lineup built around Annie Haslam and John Tout kept the group name despite the absence of any original members may have accounted for some of the ambivalence shown toward their seventies releases, all of which were commercially and critically well-received in the States but few of which managed to chart back home (the worldwide hit album 'A Song for All Seasons' being the notable exception).

But before all that came this first lineup of the band, formed in early 1969 from the ashes of the Yardbirds by former members Jim McCarty and the late Keith Relf, along with former Yardbirds bassist Paul Samwell-Smith who would produce the group's first studio effort. McCarty and Relf had a notion of putting together a rock band that would focus on blending their interests in both contemporary folk music and classical arrangements and invited John Hawken based on a recommendation from a mutual friend to try out. Hawken, who showed up with several members of his own former bands, ended up joining the group along with one of those friends, bassist Louis Cennamo. Relf soon passed on most of the vocal duties to his hanger-on little sister Jane and Renaissance was born.

The band had already been on the road to play live several times before entering the studio to record their debut, which along with a brief stint as the acoustic folk duo Together with McCarty had given Keith Relf enough time to become familiar with the guitar he would play as opposed to harmonica which had been his trademark with the 'Birds. This first album seems a little self-indulgent today, although in 1969 given the rapidly evolving music scene it was not much more than one more band throwing something completely new against the wall to see if it would stick. Prior to bands like Renaissance and ELP there weren't a lot of groups trying to mix folk sensibilities and rock instrumentation with classical pieces and classically-inspired arrangements. Certainly folk-rock well past its infancy and progressive music was a tour-de-force in the rock world, but much of that and more conventional rock was based on blues rhythms and structures or, in the case of folk-rock, on country music. This was something quite different.

The real star on most of the album is pianist John Hawken who has a lengthy piano solo backed by McCarty on drums and not much else for nearly a third of the opening track, the ten-minute plus "Kings and Queens". Hawken's arrangements are clearly classically- based but incorporate a faster tempo and repetitive passages much more aligned to rock song construction than classical. The bookend sections of the song include a grooving blend of Keith Relf's rhythmic electric guitar and McCarty's percussion along with Relf's occasional vocals. McCarty and Jane Relf also provide harmonic backing vocals midway and toward the end of the composition. Even today, more than forty years later, this innovative blend of classical piano, rock tempos and folksy vocals is impressive.

The band follows "Kings and Queens" with the slower-tempo "Innocence", again centered on Hawken's piano work and Keith Relf's vocals and electric guitar. The folk-rock interests of the band emerge here with more extensive vocals and introspective lyrics leaning toward a 'meaning of time' theme. The interplay between the various musicians seems to wax improvisational at times, but clearly the overall score was well-composed and moves resolutely toward another classical Hawken piano solo about halfway through before returning to a folksy tempo including a bit of harmonium to close the piece. The sound here is somewhat dated but just the sort of thing that serious progressive rock fans tend to gravitate toward.

"Islands" was one of the first pieces of music McCarty and Relf worked on while putting the band together, and in fact was one of the numbers Hawken and bassist Louis Cennamo auditioned to. McCarty has said in later interviews this is the song that led Keith Relf to decide to include his sister in the band since her voice better suited the wide vocal range of the song, and in fact this is the first track where Jane Relf takes center stage on what ends up sounding a bit like a duet between her and her brother. The tone here is very much rooted in folk-rock, light and airy with transcendental lyrics. Hawken adds another piano solo, this time one that is mostly lifted right from Beethoven's Sonata No. 13 (Pathetique), plagerism that Hawken readily admits to and which greatly enhances the Romantic-era mood of the song.

Hawken gets most of the songwriting credit for "Wanderer", which at four minutes is easily the shortest track on the album. The song basically showcases Hawken's prowess on both piano and harmonium, often overlaid on each other. Jane Relf owns the vocals here with an unmistakably folk-nuanced soprano delivering vague, poetic lyrics that seem to have been an afterthought.

The album closes with the most rocking tune in the set, and also the only song with a blues-based rhythm and chanted vocals delivered by both Relfs and McCarty, with I believe McCarty assuming the lead role and Keith Relf adding a little harmonica in the early portion of the song. Hawken has another lengthy piano solo here, but this time he's accompanied by both members of the rhythm section and for the first time bassist Louis Cennamo really makes his presence known with some fat but sporadic picking. I have to say that this number suffers a bit from excessive noodling in the middle section though, and could have easily been contracted by at least a couple of minutes. Then again, life was a lot slower in the sixties so maybe this is just a case of modern-day expectations and not necessarily an indictment of the song.

I knew nothing of this band or this album back when it was released. The album made a minor splash in the UK but did nothing in the States although the group did hit the road for an extensive U.S. tour that garnered them some fans but also eroded the group's confidence and would eventually lead several members to depart. Too bad, as this is a great album and it would have been interesting to hear what this lineup sounded like were they given enough chance to gel. Most of them would hang on in one capacity or another for the group's second album, but after that the band would dissolve one member at a time until only Hawken was left. He left too but would ensure the group was stocked with replacements rather than shut the light out behind him. This album is an excellent example of progressive rock circa the late sixties and would be a solid addition to any prog- rocker's collection. Maybe a bit of a stretch at four stars, but that's where I'm going to go.


Review by AtomicCrimsonRush
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Renaissance produced some high quality albums over the years and this debut kicks off to a rollicking good start. This lineup was short lived but is a consistent force on this album. Keith Relf is a fine guitarist and harmonica player. Jim McCarty and Jane Relf are percussionists, with Jane also on vocals, John Hawken is wonderful on piano and harpsichord, and Louis Cennamo kepps it together on the bass. Obviously Renaissance fans familiar with other albums would miss the soaring crystalline high octaves of Annie Haslam, but this is where the band began and it is a terrific debut with very progressive moments. The Yardbirds sound is noticeable as members of the band Keith Relf and Jim McCarty were involved with the iconic sixties group on the earlier albums. Kings And Queens begins the album with manic piano lines and majestic sounds lasting for almost 11 minutes. The drums soon lock into a progressive hypnotic time sig and the male vocals are well sung; "fantasy turning into truth." There are classical influences and psychedelic sounds in equal measure, with free form improvisational sections. The structure is innovative taking detours into other styles and then bringing it back to the main motif.

Innocence is a 7 minute track with hypnotic guitar figures that are exemplary to the psychedelic sound of the sixties. Island is led well by Jane Relf who may not be on a par with Annie Haslam but still can reach high notes and sings beautifully. It builds to a great piano led instrumental break with Beethoven nuances and the bass follows along precisely all the complex musical figures.

Wanderer features a chaotic time sig and some medieval sounds on harpsichord, that have an old King Arthurish feel, as did many Renaissance albums to come. Jane produces gorgeous vocals again with very high octaves.

Bullet is another lengthy track of almost 12 minutes with jamming and improvisational instrumentation. It closes the album with a massive sound of guitar, piano and pounding drums. Keith Relf takes on vocals and sounds decidedly bluesy. Overall this is a solid debut signifying great things to come from one of the most influential prog legendary bands standing at the dawn of prog.

Review by Matti
4 stars This debut album has gained both praises and low ratings here. I think I'll go for 3½ - 4 stars, even if this line-up inevitably pales in comparison to the one with Annie Haslam. Like Led Zeppelin, Renaissance (Mk 1) was raised from the ashes of YARDBIRDS, but shares quite a little with that band, besides guitarist Keith Relf and percussionist Jim McCarty. Probably the central member is keyboardist John Hawken - who would later play in Strawbs. And of course the singing sister Jane Relf, whose amateurish vocals bring this symphonic prog closer to Folk Rock.

This album shouldn't be compared with classic Renaissance masterpieces such as Ashes Are Burning, Scheherazade or Novella. It was only 1969, [symphonic] prog still taking its first steps, therefor this work really should be mentioned when talking about important early prog albums. Classical music influences were hardly better - as seamlessly - integrated into rock before this (well, there was The NICE, but mr. Emerson mostly just stole existing compositions into rock formula). Moody Blues's Days Of Future Passed (1967) was quite another case: the orchestral interludes/extensions were more or less separate from the songs, and neither Deep Purple's Concerto was Symphonic Prog as we know it. Hawken does cite some compositions (Beethoven) briefly, but his own piano or harpsichord melodies are great too.

Of course being a pioneering album doesn't necessarily mean it's a masterpiece. There are many weaknesses, starting from a rather muddy production. Actually compositions (and vocal performances!) are also weaker than what soon would come from e.g. Yes, King Crimson, Genesis and Renaissance (Mk 2). The 11-minute opener 'Kings & Queens' is the strongest track and deserves a prog classic status. Especially Hawken shows his capacities as a pianist. The slightly slower and folkier 'Innocence' is less memorable, and again sung by keith Relf instead of Jane, who gets the lead vocals only in the dreamy and romantic 'Island', and 'Wanderer' which is the closest one to Haslam-era Renaissance. 'Bullet', the longest and admittedly a weird proggy track, has too much bluesy jamming for my taste.

This is an album I listen to very rarely, but those rare listenings are quite pleasurable. The group made a second album Illusion -which is folkier than this - before that peculiar complete change in the line-up took place. A change in the band name would have made sense too: maybe in that case this group would be better remembered?

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars I originally found this album, and "Illusion" at the used record stores that I frequented in Boston and Cambridge way back in the seventies. I was looking for albums by the Renaissance of "Turn Of The Cards" and such, and knew nothing about the early history of the band. In fact, reading the liner notes on "Illusion", and the point where they say they had to change the band name due to "contractual hassles", I presumed this was a completely different band.

Now this album, containing none of the band members we know from Anni Haslam's Renaissance, is actually very symphonic for 1969. The start of Kings & Queens, in fact, is pure symphonic rock. And while the tone gets more psychedelic after the intro, the building block for the classic Renaissance sound is there. Innocence again is a blend of psychedelic and symphonic tendencies. And Island, with Jane Relf's vocals and classical piano interlude, would fit perfectly on a later album. Wanderer and Bullet are also excellent examples of piano driven early symphonic prog, with more psych mixed in.

As I mentioned above, I have the original LP version of this classic, so I don't have the luxury of the bonus track. But still, it's worthy of four stars.

Review by Einsetumadur
4 stars 13/15P.: Ex-Yardbirds Relf, McCarty and Samwell-Smith, augmented by Relf's sister, future Strawbs keyboarder John Hawken and virtuoso bass player Louis Cennamo team up for an incredibly innovative record which melts classical music, psychedelic rock, R&B and a slight pinch of jazz to an unexpectedly punchy opus which might be to progressive rock what The Who's My Generation is to hard rock.

Often in bands the wheel of change turns pretty steadily - be it King Crimson, Yes or (to some extent also) Deep Purple. And in other bands it additionally even turns 360 degrees around in some mere months: examples are Manfred Mann whose band line-up changed two times in two years, or Renaissance. So, if you know this band from Northern Lights or Scheharazade, and if you happen to put this kind of symphonic rock into the depths of your record shelf in favor of more exciting sounds, give Renaissance's debut album a try. Speaking for myself I appreciate big parts of Renaissance's mid-70s stuff quite a lot (the astounding live version of Ashes Are Burning, for instance, or the beautiful Ocean Gypsy), but since I've known the 1969 debut album it has been my favorite one by this group.

In a way, this album could be described as 'classic rock': you'll get to hear original compositions with embedded adaptations of classical pieces of music featuring the upright piano as the lead instrument, you'll find Elizabethan-like vocal harmonies (male+female) and tracks consisting of many parts. Yes, this is what Turn of the Cards sounds like, too. But this debut album, being recorded in 1969, offers much more rock elements, such as distinct hints at psychedelic rock (Innocence), folk (Wanderer), jazz (Kings and Queens) and.. er, avantgarde (Bullet). This sounds quite all right, but I want to rate this album objectively and so I have to admit that the fascination about classical music sometimes sounds like a child which has found a new toy; at first it uses the toy whenever it can in a pretty standard way, and at the earliest after some time it really experiments with it creatively. Not all, but some of the classical interludes appear somewhere in between the songs and are simply there. I don't mean the jaw-dropping classical composition techniques in the album opener, but rather the middle parts of songs 2 and 3. Of course, this album was recorded in the summer of '69 when progressive rock was still developing, and there's plenty of really well-conceived experiments here, but I could live without some of the classical piano solos here. Still I must admit that the more I listen to these interludes, as I do while writing this review, I find less and less points of criticism, but more and more details which make these interludes more than just average quotations.

Kings And Queens begins with a short high-speed bass guitar/piano invention. Yes, invention in the Bach-ian sense of the word. It does remind me of his baroque work, although it is surely too homophonic to be called a fugue. But still there are fine counterpoints played by the bass guitar, and the unisono playing of the two instruments is absolutely impressive, too: an unexpectedly upbeat introduction. After 40 seconds or so the mood switches to one minute of weird phrygian-mode noodling on F# and G major which sounds like the early Soft Machine, albeit without the brass and wind instruments: the four instrumentalists ad-lib freely on John Hawken's thick piano carpet (yes, he only plays the piano and some occasional harpsichord on this album, so don't expect symphonic Mellotron, Moog or Hammond organ walls as on the Strawbs albums on which he played). After this intransigent prelude things get slightly better digestible. Now there's a steady 4/4 rhythm (with McCarty's nearly R&B-esque stomping accents on the 1st, 2nd, 5th and 6th eights, cool!) with groovy maracas in the left channel and a slightly eccentric piano solo by John Hawken based on this phrygian scale again, but with some jazz chords thrown in between. At about 2:30 the vocals enter, at this place only Keith Relf's and Jim McCarty's male vocals, and the vocal melodies intensify this tense phrygian sound which reminds some of medieval church chorales and others of oriental music. The chorus is remarkable in two ways: at first it has clear pop credentials, a nice melody in the vein of the Moody Blues (think Ride My See-Saw), and secondly it allows a clever upward modulation to A and A# major which I never noticed before I played the song on the guitar the first time. This modulation explains why the tension increases in this song: it's the same uplifting effect as in modern pop hits when the chorus is sung one or two notes higher in the very end, or when the orchestra sounds rise in The Beatles' A Day In The Life. The next stanza, this time three notes higher, also includes choral backing vocals, but instead of shifting in the piece even more, the vocals part ends at 4:23 and is succeeded by an absolutely progressive instrumental work-out. The bass guitar starts "a cappella", or rather solo playing a slow arpeggiated 3/4 waltz line which the band takes up some time later, this time counterpointed by Jane Relf. A fairly wild piano solo leads us back into the vocal part and then into a lengthier mellow guitar solo which is successful due to its underlying understatement. After 10 minutes the finale of the piece is introduced by free drum rhythms and an eccentric polyphonic vocal coda. A tour de force, as one could call it.

Enough food for the brain - the three shorter pieces are rather food for the soul with really decent melodies, but just a wee bit marred by the instrumental parts which sometimes are too little related with the song itself. Innocence has a vocal part to die for, and it's one of the pieces in which the instrumental part is placed before the bridge. The chorus part is a strangely fractured 8/8 metre with an obscure minor-second chord sequence (||:Bb-A:||), a solo bass which trembles rapidly somewhere in the uppermost frets, and fairly psychedelic wah-wah piano chords - something which you don't get to hear that often. The stanza part is jazzier and more upbeat, but it doesn't abandon the wah-wah piano, which somehow is able to disestablish all borders between stanza and chorus; listen to the tune and you'll see what I mean. Jane Relf's reverberated operatic backing vocals are really moody, and curiously Keith Relf sounds quite a lot like Madcap Laughs-era Syd Barrett at 1:38. After 2 ½ minutes the instrumental part begins, and regarding that precise jazzy rhythm and that strange piano sound the melange doesn't entirely differ from the Caravan sound of the early 1970s. Afterwards John Hawken shows off with a variation of Beethoven's Sonate No.14 (Moonlight Sonata), which - unlike Vanilla Fudge's version - isn't rearranged at all, apart from a mainly forgettable supplemental bass part. But, something which isn't really obvious, he doesn't quote the sonata, but rather variates it. It's similar, but the substance is altered more remarkably than one might guess. A short pause, and the band go on with a 15 seconds short hard-rocking bridge after which then the vocal part is reprised. The concept sounds less off-key than it is, and my gut feeling is less critical than my mind about both the strange bridge and the Beethoven, er, 'inspiration', simply because it in total is quite monolithic.

Island has its focus on loveliness. Jane Relf takes over the lead vocals on this song which, after a sparkling piano intro, is closest to later Renaissance ballads à la Ocean Gypsy in all terms, apart from earthy sound. Some parts of the stanzas are simple, for instance the Barclay-James Harvest's-Hymn-like opening Esus4 chord, but the melodies - in most verses of the song doubled by a male singer one octave lower - are already of the Dunford/Haslam caliber: uncoerced and uncongested pieces of pastoral beauty. Louis Cennamo is pretty restrained here as John Hawken takes the role as the 'counterpointer'. The instrumental part is a serial connection of fragments from Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata. The negative aspect, comparing this with the Moonlight Sonata part in Innocence: more longer quotations and more sudden fragments without nice bridging passages. But the positive aspect: more band interaction. And that's inventive band interaction with rapid bass runs, swinging drums and vocal melodies which surely weren't part of the original Beethoven composition. Since there are not many felicitous rock adaptations of the Pathetique, again it is difficult for me to run that part down. The only thing which annoys me is that Herr Beethoven isn't credited anywhere; I don't like that.

Wanderer, for a change, begins with the instrumental part and ends on the song part of it; it benefits quite a lot from Hawken's in-your-face sound achieved by double-tracking the cembalo and piano. The instrumental part is too jazzy in its main motif to be yet another classic quotation and the way how the band moves to and fro from more of these fast J.S.Bach-Invention-ish scales to medieval harpsichord fanfares - without that polyphonic stuff - and back to constructions not unlike Bach's Brandenburger Concerto does make an impression on me. Evil-minded people might suggest that the vocal part is only accompanied by the cembalo because the guitarist could not play it on the guitar. Yes, the harpsichord sounds as midrange-biased as a harshly recorded 12-string guitar, and yes, Keith Relf is neither pretty active as a guitarist on this album nor an outstanding guitarist, but the solo in Kings and Queen is too tasteful for a sub-par guitarist to compose and play. Anyway... The minor-key vocal part sounds like an ancient British madrigal because the percussion section is reduced to the tambourine and due to the dark cembalo, plus a very special detail. At the end of the verses Jim McCarty adds some fairly quiet, but effective strokes on the bell of the crash cymbal. It's not a lot, but the piece would be less haunting without it.

Now back to the 'heady' part again. Bullet is megalomaniac, without a question. But where else can you hear a grubby fusion of R&B, jazz, tribal stomping, Rachmaninov-ish piano madness and psychedelic vocal parts? The harmonic frame of Bullet is pretty simple and there's a lot of soloing around, but it never becomes boring. The timpani-driven intro with a dissonant unisono piano/bass line leads into the strange vocal part via a slapped bass fanfare. From one second to another the classical influences are vanished and we are totally in the districts of Relf's and McCarty's former band, the Yardbirds: bluesy piano, a shuffling R&B rhythm and some nice riffs - but on the top Relf or McCarty sing something like black mambo bamboo business under red sunlight while the backing vocals command hey lady sodom ramana until a distorted blues harp solo takes over ... when I first listened to that stuff consciously I really asked myself what the hell was going on there. I mean, the vocals are distorted, too. It might be because my CD version is pretty old, but it rather sounds like the singer is in total frenzy. Around 5:00 Rachmaninov slowly metamorphoses into Bartok with a pretty free-form drum backing and arhythmic piano clusters. Next, Cennamo plays a three minute unaccompanied bass solo, and he simply plays the bass guitar as if it was a mandolin: the rapid tremolo and the full chords he plays all the way through create tension quite similar to Soft Machine's Facelift intro. Quite like a boss, in a way. Although he plays some little baroque piano pieces on the bass guitar, the attitude is as anarchic as many of the better jazz recordings are. And at the place where you'd expect the next piano vamp or a big explosion the band carefully deconstruct the tension in a three minute vocal part with creepy falsetto tones played through loads of reverb devices with increasingly loud tape hiss. Kudos to Mr.Samwell-Smith, the ex-Yardbird who produced the band. Right now, as I am writing this, I ask myself: what could I criticize about this track? Frankly, I don't quite know. Maybe the bass solo could have been a tad shorter, after all it's more than three minutes long, but the self-assurance of the band is infectious: those who can play and who know a frame can also afford doing this stuff and forcing the listener to stay through the whole track. They were pretty successful in this case.

While writing this review I had to relativise my objections to the classical parts quite a lot, which moves this album quite close to the 5 star territory. There are just so many unexpectedly successful experiments, beautiful melodies, mind-blowing arrangements and this punky rawness which most of the classically influenced rock albums don't have (except for The Nice, of course). Regarding the year when this stuff was recorded this is an accomplishment which needs to be acknowledged adequately. Still, a really strong 4 star rating feels better this time, I don't quite know why. Remember that it might as well be 5 stars and get the album, favorably the expanded reissue - it's historically relevant and damn entertaining. Highly recommendable!

Review by rogerthat
4 stars Even though the albums produced by Renaissance mk-i and mk-ii are not necessarily so radically dissimilar (at least on the surface), lot many of their fans seem to split distinctly into the Relf-camp and the Dunford-camp (or Annie's band as Jim McCarty referred to them). I could not initially make much sense of this split until I hit upon their relative strengths and weaknesses.

Basically, the strength of Renaissance mk-i is the music, especially their mix of genres and the way the musicians play. Whereas, the strength of Renaissance mk-ii is the vocals. I can see where there is potential to offend fans of Jane Relf with what I just said, but the thing that stands out to me immediately in Renaissance mk-i is the music. They are much more heavily influenced by 60s American psychedelic rock and play with a lot more bounce and energy in general than the Dunford-led mk-ii (also a much greater reliance on syncopation). I can see why they would appeal a lot more to fans of 70s prog rock generally while it takes a measure of patience with folk-classical pretensions to enjoy mk-ii. Indeed, some fans of mk-i describe the original Renaissance as a band of and for hippies.

However, this romantic association with flower power is perhaps not entirely accurate. Make no mistake, mk-i does still have its similarities with mk-ii. I don't know about the views of ex-members of mk-i on this but members of mk-ii have at times referred to the new band as more a continuation of the original one than a clean break.

This is most evident in the role of piano in mk-i. As in mk-ii, it is the dominant instrument rather than guitar. There is also the tendency to break into long sections of music that get pretty close to outright classical quotations. On the more vocal-oriented tracks Island and Wanderer, the music serves as a rousing intro before giving way to a fairly generic verse-chorus routine. Again, pretty much like mk-ii, except mk-i run all this through a rock filter. So, make no mistake, guitars do play a much more prominent role on this album than on any mk-ii album and are quite frankly a lot more delicious. Maybe I notice this especially now because I have been listening to a lot of guitar driven rock lately but it is yet another aspect that would appeal to 70s prog rock fans in general and can be immediately recognised as germane to that 'sound'.

On mini-epics Kings and Queens and Innocence, this version of Renaissance pretty comprehensively distinguish themselves as compared to mk-ii. From a left brained prog geek point of view, Kings and Queens is a delight, possessing quite an appetite for unorthodox and bold choices while remaining piano oriented. This band may not space out their instrumental sections and play them so affectionately but for cerebral interest, Kings and Queens beats out Trip to the fair or Touching Once or you name it. Of course, it's all just my opinion. ;) Innocence is a lot more nomadic and less satisfactorily resolved as is Bullets (this one especially tests my patience a bit) but the band's rocking energy carries them through.

What doesn't carry so well, for me anyway, is the vocals, especially those of Keith Relf. I can relate to them from a 60s rock perspective but if I had to listen to 60s rock, I would much rather listen to a Jim Morrison than this kind of singing. It doesn't matter so much because about two-thirds of the album is more about the music than the singing. But it just holds back these tracks from standing out from the crowd a little more.

As for Jane Relf, she readily evokes female rock vocals of the era and it is understandable, again, why fans of 70s prog would take to her style. As for me, I am indifferent; she sounds pleasant while she sings and...that's it. There are moments of really nice singing here and there but I am not sure I would listen to an album just because it has Jane's vocals on it. Again, being that I am more interested in the music on this album, it doesn't really matter.

I have to admit that circa 2013, I find this album an enjoyable affair but not especially engaging or notable for my personal interests. But I do have to consider the release date and observe that it is a pretty remarkable album for one dating back to 1969. The eponymous Renaissance debut is already full fledged prog. There's nothing proto about this and would qualify as prog even if it had been released in 1974. With that in mind and out of gratitude for nearly 40 minutes worth of rocking, I rate it a 4.

Review by siLLy puPPy
4 stars If any group deserves to be labeled symphonic prog then RENAISSANCE surely fits that bill like no other. From the very first notes laid out on their very first album it was apparent that this band meant business and had the talent to pull it off. In fact, I can't think of ANY other entity in the rock world who released an album in 1969 who even came close to the virtuosic abilities of John Hawken's splendid piano playing allowing the whole thing to come together in a truly classical fashion reminding me of the truest fusion of rock, classical and Renaissance music with a touch of folk and psychedelia. I have read that parts of this album are actually reworkings of Beethoven. One of the things about this album is that despite being the pre-Ann Haslam era, Jane Reif manages to sound just like her at times.

So in the timeline of RENAISSANCE it begins from the implosion of the Yardbirds which led Keith Reif and Jim McCarty to begin this lineup which would then itself implode leaving no original members by the time we get to the classic lineup with Ann Haslam. So quite a miracle indeed that they would carry the torch so wonderfully of the sound that had been established on this debut that set the foundation of what RENAISSANCE would be known for, namely symphonic classically inspired rock that is beautifully arranged and addictive to say the least. Although this album isn't as fantastic as what would come it is certainly not one to ignore either. Musically RENAISSANCE was completely developed from the getgo but it would take Ann Haslam to make the sound complete.

Review by VianaProghead
4 stars Review Nº 82

Renaissance is a progressive rock band that emerged from the ashes of The Yardbirds, a band mostly known as the starting point of three of the best British rock guitarists, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. However, the history of Renaissance is essentially the history of two separate groups with two completely different line ups. The original group was founded in 1969 by the ex-Yardbirds members, the drummer Jim McCarthy and the vocalist and guitarist Keith Relf. With the addition of the keyboardist John Hawken, the bassist Louis Cennamo and the singer Jane Relf, the sister of Keith, the group was completed. The first line up of the group released only two studio albums, this debut album "Renaissance" and the following second, "Illusion". Their self titled debut working has mixed influences of rock, folk and jazz with some frequent quotations from various pieces of classical music. Despite be a very good album, it's quite an embryonic album compared to their classic albums from the 70's, the albums of the second line up.

So, "Renaissance" is the debut studio album of Renaissance and was released in 1969. The line up of this album is Jane Relf (vocals and percussion), Keith Relf (vocals, guitar and harmonica), John Hawken (piano and harpsichord), Louis Cennamo (bass) and Jim McCarthy (vocals and percussion).

"Renaissance" has five tracks. All songs were written by Keith Relf, Jim McCarty, John Hawken and Louis Cennamo, except "Wanderer" which was written by Hawken and McCarthy. The first track "Kings And Queens" is the opening track that clearly proves what will be the personal landmark of the future band's music. It's a long and complex song heavily influenced by the classical music and where its musical structure would be relevant on their later musical compositions. It's a song extremely very well constructed, very melodious and at the same time very dynamic. It's without any kind of doubt a truly progressive song, very beautiful and represents probably the best musical moment on the album. The second track "Innocence" is a much simpler musical composition than the previous song. Its musical structure is different from their debut track and it's more influenced by the psychedelic sound of the 60's than by the classical music. It's a very good song again centred on Hawken's piano work and Keith's vocals and guitar workings, and it has an interesting and typical psychedelic guitar playing from the 60's. The third track "Island" is another beautiful and melodic song and represents also one of the best musical moments on the album and is also one of my favourites. It's again an acoustic guitar and piano based song with great melody and where this time the main vocal duties goes to Jane, despite it has also a male vocal performance. It's true that Jane isn't Annie Haslam but she sings beautifully and she can also reach the high notes. The fourth track "Wanderer" is another fantastic song, this time more close to the medieval sound. Here we can listen to the beautiful sound of harpsichord and where Jane is once more fantastic and unforgettable with her high octave notes. This is, in my humble opinion, one of her best vocal performances. Despite being the shortest song on the album, it represents also one of the best and one of my favourite musical moments on it. The fifth and last track "Bullet" is a completely different song from the others. It's a moody and darker track, very long and influenced by different musical styles that ranging from rock, blues and psychedelic music. The musical composition of this song is performed in avant- garde music style with several musical explorations of different sounds. It's a song where we can clearly see a great appetite for free musical improvisation, an ideal track to be performed live with some individual solos. I think this is a track with high and low points and sincerely it's my less favourite song on the album and it's probably the main reason that I don't consider this album a masterpiece.

Conclusion: I know Renaissance since the 70's. However, for so many years, I only knew from them three studio albums, "Prologue", "Ashes Are Burning", "Scheherazade And Other Stories" and the live album "Live At The Carnegie Hall". All these albums are from their second and better known line up. So, unfortunately I ignored the original line up for too much. Finally, some time ago, I bought the first two albums of the original Renaissance and I must say that I was very pleasantly surprised with them. So, now I'm ready to say that, although I prefer the second line up of the group, both are great. In relation to this previous debut album I need to say that we are in presence of a great album. It's commonly accepted that "In The Court Of The Crimson King" is the first progressive rock album in history. However, "In The Court Of The Crimson King" and "Renaissance" were both released in the same year, 1969. So, it's difficult for me to say which of the two albums, the first one was. However, for me, about one thing I'm sure. Both albums introduced radically new musical ideas and both were responsible for the birth of progressive rock.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

Latest members reviews

4 stars Great Debut album, highly recomended. This is my First serious Review (or something like that), i listened the first album from a random band, that band was Renaissance. I knew what Renaissance are, but i've never heard a song from this album. Lets go to the first song. Kings and Queens: ... (read more)

Report this review (#2737973) | Posted by CosmeFulanito | Sunday, April 17, 2022 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Great Debut album, highly recomended. This is my First serious Review (or something like that), i listened the first album from a random band, that band was Renaissance. I knew what Renaissance are, but i've never heard a song from this album. Lets go to the first song. Kings and Queens: ... (read more)

Report this review (#2674909) | Posted by Idiotock | Friday, January 21, 2022 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Wow! Such an album in 1969? Impressive, very impressive! Strong classical influences (piano sound) intertwined with psychedelic melodies (vocal lines) and some jamming with MUCH better results than any The Nice album operating in somewhat similiar teritory at the time. The Nice had some great tr ... (read more)

Report this review (#2510537) | Posted by Artik | Wednesday, March 3, 2021 | Review Permanlink

5 stars I was realy attracted by the cover of this record: I had to have this one on vinyl. This was no mistake: this is far more obscure in it's sound then the later Scheherazade and other records in that period. This early prog does still sound a bit psychedelic, while it's also a blend of classical ... (read more)

Report this review (#650988) | Posted by the philosopher | Thursday, March 8, 2012 | Review Permanlink

5 stars A classic album of progressive rock The first album was then conceived as a masterpiece, fusing classical music with rock. The piano provides the context for this classic album and percussion progressive context, accompanied by a melodious female voice. The guitar and other instruments fudem t ... (read more)

Report this review (#455685) | Posted by João Paulo | Wednesday, June 1, 2011 | Review Permanlink

3 stars It took me quite a while to make the hearing transition from the better known second line-up of Renaissance to the first one. Having been familiar to the classic Annie Haslam era, it didn't take me that much to verify the sharp differences underneath the surface that, in my opinion, justifies the st ... (read more)

Report this review (#418993) | Posted by bfmuller | Sunday, March 20, 2011 | Review Permanlink

5 stars The first and best Renaissance album was published in 1969. In this time, there was just few bands like this. The classical rock was mainly presented by the Nice and.... well, Emerson. All other classical pieces like ELP, first Beggar's Opera, first Egg and others was published a year later. T ... (read more)

Report this review (#103914) | Posted by Hejkal | Thursday, December 21, 2006 | Review Permanlink

5 stars A masterpiece. It's difficult to evaluate the impact that this last branch of the Yardbirds has had on Western music. After Cream, Jeff Beck, and Led Zeppelin (and their offshoots) became dominant strains in guitar driven progressive rock, Renaissance's brilliant blending of true classical music ... (read more)

Report this review (#83485) | Posted by clearlight | Wednesday, July 12, 2006 | Review Permanlink

4 stars This is easily my favorite Renaissance album. It is simultaneously the most experimental and the most integrated of all of Renaissance's albums. The first track, "Kings and Queens," begins with a long piano riff that's edgy, and almost violent, yet progresses to a harmonic conclusion. "Inno ... (read more)

Report this review (#19949) | Posted by | Monday, January 31, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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