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Renaissance - Novella CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.75 | 394 ratings

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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.
daveconn | 4/5 |


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