Thursday, 24 May 2018

Renaissance “Illusion” 1971 + “Prologue ” 1972 + “Ashes Are Burning"1973 -(50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time-Rolling Stone) + "Turn Of The Cards” 1974 + “Scheherazade & Other Stories” 1975 UK Prog Symphonic Art Rock,Folk Rock

Renaissance “Illusion” 1971 + “Prologue ” 1972 + “Ashes Are Burning"1973 -(50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time-Rolling Stone)  + "Turn Of The Cards” 1974 + “Scheherazade & Other Stories” 1975 UK Prog Symphonic Art Rock,Folk Rock
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The history of Renaissance is essentially the history of two separate groups, rather similar to the two phases of the Moody Blues or the Drifters. The original group was founded in 1969 by ex-Yardbirds members Keith Relf and Jim McCarty as a sort of progressive folk-rock band, who recorded two albums (of which only the first, self-titled LP came out in America, on Elektra Records) but never quite made it, despite some success on England’s campus circuit.

The band went through several membership changes, with Relf and his sister Jane (who later fronted the very Renaissance-like Illusion) exiting and McCarty all but gone after 1971. The new lineup formed around the core of bassist Jon Camp, keyboard player John Tout, and Terry Sullivan on drums, with Annie Haslam, an aspiring singer with operatic training and a three-octave range.

Prologue Their first album in this incarnation, Prologue, released in 1972, was considerably more ambitious than the original band’s work, with extended instrumental passages and soaring vocals by Haslam. Their breakthrough came with their next record, Ashes Are Burning, issued in 1973, which introduced guitarist Michael Dunford to the lineup and featured some searing electric licks by guest axeman Andy Powell. Their next record, Turn of the Cards, released by Sire Records, had a much more ornate songwriting style and was awash in lyrics that alternated between the topical and the mystical.

Renaissance Ibiza The group’s ambitions, by now, were growing faster than its audience, which was concentrated on America’s East Coast, especially in New York and Philadelphia – Scheherazade (1975) was built around a 20-minute extended suite for rock group and orchestra that dazzled the fans but made no new converts. A live album recorded at a New York concert date reprised their earlier material, including the “Scheherazade” suite, but covered little new ground and showed the group in a somewhat lethargic manner. The band’s next two albums, Novella and A Song for All Seasons, failed to find new listeners, and as the 1970s closed out, the group was running headlong into the punk and new wave booms that made them seem increasingly anachronistic and doomed to cult status.
Their ‘80s albums were released with less than global or even national fanfare, and the group split up in the early '80s amid reported personality conflicts between members. During 1995, however, both Haslam and Dunford made attempts to revive the Renaissance name in different incarnations, and Jane Relf and the other surviving members of the original band were reportedly planning to launch their own Renaissance revival which, if nothing else, may keep the courts and some trademark attorneys busy for a little while……..Biography by Bruce Eder……….~

Jim McCarty (drums, 1969-70), Keith Relf (vocals, guitar, 1969-70), John Hawken (piano, keyboards, 1969-70), Louis Cennamo (bass, 1969-70), Jane Relf (vocals, 1969-70), Terry Crowe (vocals, 1970-71), Terry Slade (drums, 1970-72), Neil Korner (bass, 1970-71), Michael Dunford (guitar, 1970-72, 1973-87, 1998-2002, 2009-12), Anne-Marie “Binky” Cullom (vocals, 1970-71), John Tout (piano, keyboards, 1970-80, 1998-99), Annie Haslam (vocals, 1971-87, 1998-2002, 2009-present), Danny McCulloch (bass, 1971), Frank Farrell (bass, 1971), John Wetton (bass, 1971-72), Jon Camp (vocals, bass, 1972-85), Mick Parsons (guitar, 1972), Ginger Dixon (drums, percussion, 1972), Terence Sullivan (drums, 1972-80, 1998-2002), Rob Hendry (guitar, 1972-73), Peter Finberg (guitar, 1973), Peter Gosling (keyboards, 1980-83), Peter Baron (drums, 1980-83), Gavin Harrison (drums, 1983-84), Mike Taylor (keyboards, 1983-84), Greg Carter (drums, percussion, 1984-85), Raphael Rudd (keyboards, 1984-87), Mark Lampariello (bass, guitar, 1985-87), Charles Descarfino (drums, percussion, 1985-87), Roy Wood (bass, 1998-99), Mickey Simmonds (keyboards, 1999-2002), Alex Caird (bass, 1999-2001), Rave Tesar (keyboards, 2001-02, 2009-present), David J. Keyes (bass, 2001-02, 2009-present), Tom Brislin (keyboards, vocals, 2009-10), Frank Pagano (drums, percussion, vocals, 2009-present), Jason Hart (keyboards, 2010-present), Ryche Chlanda (guitar, 2013-present) 

Renaissance “ Illusion” 1971

After their debut album’s success (especially in France, Germany and Belgium), the group went in the studio for the follow-up in a state of disunion. Indeed, McCarty had become tired of touring, but chose to remain as a songwriter and studio member (and was trying to build as touring version of the band), and before Illusion was finished, the group had disbanded. Indeed Keith’s failing health was also forcing him to stop touring and wanted to concentrate on writing, Cennamo left for Steamhammer via Colosseum (both the latter would meet up again in Armageddon, Keith’s fateful end), Hawken coming and going from the group, then finally splitting for Spooky Tooth and later Strawbs, but was persuaded to finish the album. But by the time things had imploded, the album was still too short for release, and it is the reserve/touring group that produced the final track. So Renaissance’s Mk II line-up lasted one studio song, but would tour a few months and be filmed for a Belgian TV special.

Again recorded in the Island studios, but this time produced by Keith instead of Samwell-Smith, Illusion was released in early 71 with no promotion and only in Germany, but comes with a superb cosmic artwork gracing the gatefold sleeve, with a mystic inner gatefold artwork enhancing it. (I base myself on the Repertoire mini-Lp for this, because I’ve never seen the vinyl with my own eyes.) Most of Illusion is very worthy successor of the debut (might even be a tad folkier too) and remains well in its continuity (despite the acrimony about musical direction), even if not quite as inspired. And well beyond the track recorded by the Mk II line-up, you can (barely) see the future Mk III line-up peeking through, as Dunford and future external lyric-writer poetess Betty Thatcher each share a credit, but not the same track.
Opening on the rather-poor Relf-only written song of Love Goes On, while not catastrophic, is certainly not a good omen for things to come, but this is thankfully quickly over. The much better Golden Thread renews with the previous album’s style (even if it wouldn’t manage to find a space on it) and reassures the fans, and features a humming finale heard on Trespass. Next is a first collab between McCarty and Thatcher (nope, not talking politics here ;-))), the good but also ill-fitting (in the album’s context) Love Is All, a song that obviously was lifted (and rearranged) by Roger Glover’s Butterfly Ball project. As if not enough confusion, the Mk II track Mr Pine is next (I’d have included it last), but sort of announces sonically the future Prologue album with Hawken playing a rare (for Renaissance’s Mk I) Hammond organ. In the Belgian TV broadcast, it would be John Tout that would play this track and the other Illusion tracks they played. Face Of Yesterday returns to the first album’s soundscapes (and should’ve been grouped with Golden Thread, IMHO). The album closes on the lengthy (and over-extended) Past Orbits Of Dust, where the original group is joined by an extra organ player. This track is a bit jammy, comes with incantations, but also augurs Prologue’s more psychedelic soundscape.
Definitely not as good as the debut, Illusion is a confused and patchy album (for the reasons stated), but surprisingly still good and a definitely a Renaissance-worthy album, that should not be overlooked, but investigated in a second or third wave. And if you manage to find in its Repertoire mini-Lp form, you might want to go for it a little dsooner than expected, because it is a beauty….by Sean Trane …..~

This is the second Renaissance album: the last Renaissance album before they change all the musicians. This record is sometimes piano oriented, but less than the Renaissance of the Annie Haslam-era; those baroque piano parts are absolutely delightful and unforgettable! The omnipresent electric guitar is inoffensive. The female singer Jane Relf has a very good voice, even if Annie Haslam is better. There are tons of catchy & mellow backing vocals. Many parts have rather delicate psychedelic rock tendencies, not unpleasant at all! I even find a few Canterbury and Beatles influences in some parts. For 1970, this album is really sophisticated and avant-garde, like the preceding one. Compared to the previous one, the tracks are a bit less catchy and memorable… greenback …..~

I borrowed an edition (“Innocents & Illusions”) of the 'original’ Renaissance’s two albums including also some bonus tracks. The first album I had quite unsuccesfully listened already in my teens when I had just found the Haslam-Renaissance. Also that groundbreaking album finally sounded better now, but my real surprise was this Illusion. Its reviews here are mostly not very favourable but I was totally charmed. It has more folk flavour than the debut, and it has Jane Relf much more as the lead singer. Debut is perhaps proggier and has more classical references in John Hawken’s piano solos, but there’s no denying that Illusion is very beautiful folk-prog - even if 'Love Goes On’ and 'Love Is All’ are rather simple naive songs with lots of harmony vocals (nice songs anyway).
'Past Orbits Of Dust’ (14:39) is to me the most boring just as 'Bullet’ is in the debut. They are the most experimental but don’t exactly give worth their length. Highlights here are 'Golden Thread’ and 'Mr Pine’ (the latter penned by Michael Dunford, key figure in the 'new’ Renaissance) that beautifully bring together the prog and folk elements. The sound is full of warmth and the vocals of both sexes very pleasant throughout the whole album. (Though unprofessional Jane is naturally far from Annie Haslam’s skills.) If you’re not put off by naive folkish charm you’ll enjoy this!
The bonus tracks (4 to this album) are so nice too that it’s a miracle how they remained unreleased(?) at the time. PS. The text also gives a clear historical view on the first Renaissance and its gradual way to the other line-up. ; )…by Matti …~

The second album from Renaissance is almost as good as their debut which I really love. This one is more refined and the sound quality is really good. The music is still evolved around John Hawken´s beautiful piano. Keith and Jane Relf still share the vocals.
The moods Renaissance create on the album are really great, and with the exception of the two short and rather hippie like songs Love Goes On and Love is All, the album is a masterpiece in my ears. I think the technical level of these musicians are outstanding, and I can only listen in awe of how soulful the playing is.
Don´t miss out on this album if you like symphonic prog. This is excellent music. I have to note here that the ending epic of the album Of Orbits and Dust is a real masterpiece. This is just the way I like my prog rock. Challenging and melodic. The only reason I don´t give this 5 stars is the aforementioned Hippie songs. They should have left those of the album and put in another prog rock song instead, that would have made it perfect. It´s just my opinion, maybe you want be bothered as I am……by UMUR …..~

If you’ve even been confused about the two line-ups of Renaissance and how the story played out, you need to look no further than our band page here which has a forum thread called “A Renaissance confusion” written by Joolz which spells out this complete history in full detail. This first version of the band which produced the first two albums is considered somewhat illegitimate by some fans of the famous second line-up. In a way, the feel of the albums is bit like that of the Yes discography, where those first two Yes albums are often overlooked by casual fans. And like those first two Yes albums, the first two Renaissance albums stand on their own, delivering music that by all means should appeal to Haslam-era fans and symphonic fans in general.

I prefer this second album just a bit over the debut and the music seems a little more consistent and Jane’s vocals a little bit more confident. There’s plenty here to enjoy for symphonic fans: long lush piano and keyboard workouts, great guitar and bass playing, and the delightful vocals of Jane Relf. While perhaps not as technically note perfect as Haslam, I actually prefer Relf’s singing voice as I find it less dry and just as suited to the music. The album has two short poppier tracks (Love Goes On, Love Is All) that may have been made for radio and granted these will seem silly and dated to young ears. They have a clear hippie, period feel to them though I’ve come to enjoy them. The other 4 tracks range from 6 to 14 minutes in length and vary from average to quite impressive on the quality scale. “Golden Thread” may be my favorite with John Hawken’s phenomenal piano playing and lovely classical melodies. “Face of Yesterday” is more of the same, very beautiful singing with great bass playing. On the 14 minute “Past Orbits of Dust” they are perhaps their most experimental trying out slightly jazzy guitar and bass parts and some spacey jamming. They will also throw in some hand percussions, vocal experimentation and wrap them in a heavier package.
On the recording and creation of this material original bassist Louis Cennamo would recall “We were just pushing the music in any way that we was very creative and we were free to take the music in nearly any direction we wanted. John’s classical training was the basis but the rest of us explored any ideas that added to the sound. John and I worked very hard to add many new interpretations to the melodies and ideas that Keith and Jim brought to the rest of the band. Some of their ideas were quite developed when they brought them to us but some were not. So, John and I were free to create the kind of elaborate melodies that were so integral to the sound of Renaissance. Other times, everyone would just experiment and we’d test any and all ideas that came to us. The band was getting on quite well and we were developing a strong bond and admiration for one another. It was a beautiful time really – one which I look back fondly on. [Louis Cennamo] I find the quality of the music on "Illusion” as beautiful, varied, and interesting as the stuff that would come later though to be fair I’ve only heard some of the Haslam-era stuff. The Renaissance Records CD issue features pretty good sound quality for the period along with a band Finnforest …….~

The original line up of Renaissance fell apart during the recording of this second album. Jim McCarthy was the first to leave. Then, he was followed by Keith Relf and Louis Cennamo who left the band to form a new group called Armageddon. John Hawken kept the band alive recruiting new members like Michael Dunford, but after several short lived transitional line ups, he also departed with Jane Relf. Later and after the disband of Armageddon, immediately after the tragic dead of Keith, the rest of the original Renaissance line up regrouped and formed a new band called Illusion. This new band released two studio albums “Out Of The Mist” and “Illusion” and also was disbanded in 1978. So, the new Renaissance group that would arise in 1971 is based almost in a completely new line up.

“Illusion” is the second studio album and the last of this line up of Renaissance and was released in 1970. It was originally released only in Germany. “Illusion” had a very difficult birth and was a very difficult album in the history of Renaissance. Despite the serious problems with the line up for the band’s second album, it hardly had any kind of effect on the music. “Illusion” can be considered almost as strong as their debut album, only partly with different musicians. On both albums, the sound is identical and they both contain a fine blend of rock, prog, folk and classical music which make of them mature releases. “Illusion” is even an incredible album, although not as aggressive as their debut, “Renaissance” is. In my humble opinion, it’s almost at the same level of their previous one, in terms of quality.

“Illusion” has six tracks. The first track “Love Goes On” written by Keith is a very short song very simple and pleasant to listen to despite being a little repetitive on some parts. It isn’t for sure one of the best musical moments of this band but I’m convinced that we are in the presence of a good song and a very decent song to open the album. The second track “Golden Thread” written by McCarthy and Keith is better than the previous song and is composed in the same vein and style of the previous album. It’s a fantastic song where Jane shines with her vocal performance. It has a beautiful and lovely classical melody and has also a phenomenal piano performance and a beautiful choral work. This is without any doubt one of the highlights of the album and one of my favourite songs of this line up of Renaissance. The third track “Love Is All” written by McCarthy and Thatcher is another short song very simple and pleasant to listen to, in the same vein of “Love Goes On”. It’s, for me, better and more beautiful than “Love Goes On” and has beautiful vocal performance, a lovely chorus and a beautiful piano work. It’s a song oriented to pop, but it’s extremely beautiful and nice to listen to. The fourth track “Mr. Pine” written by Dunford is one of the most beautiful and sophisticated songs on the album. It starts as a medieval piece that turns into jazz and rock styles, and that, in the end, returns to the medieval style. This is really a truly progressive song with so many musical changes that it almost seems to be various songs into only one song. This is another highlight of the album and it’s also one of my favourite songs on it. The fifth track “Face Of Yesterday” written by McCarthy is a slow piano based song and is another beautiful and pleasant song to listen to and where Jane has her greatest vocal moment on the album. Finally, she can show to us all of her great vocal talents and that at times she even makes us believe that we are in the presence of Annie Haslam. In reality, this is a great song with a superior and unforgettable vocal work of Jane. This is the kind of songs that can only raise the overall quality of any album. The sixth track “Past Orbits Of Dust” written by McCarthy, Keith and Thatcher is a completely different song from the others, as happened with “Bullet”, the last song of their previous album “Renaissance”. It’s an extensive psychedelic piece of music with a jazz touch, very experimental, and like with “Bullet” it’s also a little bit lengthy and boring to my taste. As with “Bullet”, “Past Orbits Of Dust” is also my less favourite song on this album. Anyway, “Illusion” remains almost as good as their previous eponymous debut studio album.
Conclusion: I don’t agree with most of the people about this album. Sincerely, I’m absolutely convinced that “Illusion” is an underrated album in the history of the progressive rock music. It’s possible that in some musical parts, it isn’t as brilliant as “Renaissance” is, but otherwise, it’s in a certain and strange way, more balanced and cohesive than “Renaissance” is. “Illusion” remains as an excellent album, very melodic and with some great progressive parts, and the vocal performance of Jane is, in my humble opinion, better than on their previous debut album. It’s truly a pity that during the most of the songs of the first two albums of the band, she was mostly confined in a subordinate vocal role and not in a more important role. She deserved much more, because he has a brilliant voice with a beautiful timbre. So, this is really a nice album with great moments that can’t be missed by any true fan of the progressive symphonic style….. by VianaProghead…..~
This album says “Flower Power” to me. It has an upbeat atmosphere to it, in spite of being rather laidback. Not at all like the new Renaissance band to come. This sometimes seems to be a Renaissance more suited to Sally Oldfield than Annie Haslam. But the singer of this version of Renaissance is neither.
She seems like just some girl from the late 60’s/early 70’s who sings casually, rather than professionally, or perhaps a refugee from The Swingle Singers. She occasionally puts forward some very nice Bach Rock, but she has no forcefulness at all. And that is a good description of the band as a whole as well at this point.
The atmosphere of this album is kind of like listening to Progressive Art Rock under water. You know what you’re hearing ought to sound good, but you just feel like there’s something between your ears and the full tone of the music.
Still, it’s a nice listen if you’re in a mellow mood. And certain bits and pieces that would be reworked into later Renaissance songs are of interest……Perri Rhoades ….~

1970 was a rough year for Renaissance. Jim McCarty and Keith Relf were both feeling the pressures of touring just as they had with the Yardbirds, taking a toll on Relf’s health and the fact that McCarty hated to fly did not make playing abroad an easy task. In June 1970 both Relf and McCarty resigned as performing members of the band and Louis Cennamo left soon after to join Colosseum.

Before the split the original band recorded half an albums worth of material for a follow-up to their 1969 debut and were contractually obligated to produce a second album. A new band formed around original members John Hawken and Jane Relf which included guitarist Michael Dunford, vocalist Terry Crowe, drummer Terry Slade and Neil Korner on bass. The new members, with the exception of Slade, had previously been in The Nashville Teens with Hawken. This line-up contributed one track, “Mr. Pine”, a tune penned by Dunford and lyricist Betty Thatcher, a song writing partnership that would provide the bulk of the material for Renaissance’s second incarnation. Still there was not enough material for a full album. As a result the original band re-formed and recorded “Past Orbits of Dust” with session musician Don Shinn substituting for Hawken.

In the autumn 1970, Jane Relf was replaced by American vocalist Binky Cullom. Due to Hawken’s dissatisfaction with Cullom, he was replaced by John Tout. By late 1970 Renaissance had no original members and this line up toured briefly to promote the upcoming album, which for the most part, they had not played on. Relf and McCarty remained active with the band as non-performing members with McCarty as a songwriter and Relf as a producer. Relf’s continued involvement with the band was short lived, although McCarty would continue to contribute material as late as 1974. Illusion was released in Germany in 1971, although it would not be released in the UK until 1976. Until the CD era, Illusion remained one of Renaissance most obscure release, often not appearing in their official discography.

Despite the constant shifting personnel, Illusion is an incredibly even record, although not as aggressive as their debut, Renaissance. The classical influences are also toned down concentrating more on the folk aspect of their sound. The four tracks initially recorded for the album (Love Goes On, Golden Thread, Love Is All and Face of Yesterday) are the strongest material on this album. Mr. Pine has it’s moments, although it sounds unfinished and not fully realized. Past Orbits of Dust starts out an excellent track, but soon devolves into pointless jamming and eventually just loosing steam rather than really ending.

Overall Illusion is an excellent album and every bit as strong as their debut, and just as flawed. Later reissues include the bonus tracks “Walking Away” and “Prayer For Light” recorded by Jim McCarty and Keith Relf for the 1971 movie Schism and a 1976 Keith Relf demo “All The Falling Angels” which were previously available on the Innocence reissue of their 1969 debut. Chronologically these songs make more sense on this album, although stylistically they are more at home on their debut……..tagomago ….~

Recorded in 1970, this is soft and moody prog, with male/female vocals, and dry, almost baroque-ish mat'l. As I was listening to this, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that this was an unfinished version of the album; that it wasn’t yet fully worked out the way the band would have liked to have seen it. It almost seems as if the founding members had kind of lost interest in this particular style of prog, and their hearts weren’t totally in it. Whether or not this is true is pure speculation on my part, but Island (UK)’s reluctance to release it probably fueled the band’s dis-illusionment (if you’ll pardon the pun), and there ultimate disintegration. This finally saw the first light of day on Island’s German branch in 1972. I actually like it more with subsequent listens. There is not quite as much classical piano as found on their debut. Track A4 even sports a mid-section featuring a riff that would ultimately be developed further by Renaissance 2 on their “Prologue” album……..tymeshifter ……~

2nd album by the legendary British Prog group Renaissance, founded in 1969 by ex-Yardbirds vocalist / harmonica player Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarthy. Joined by keyboardist John Hawken and bassist Louis Cennamo and fronted by female vocalist Jane Relf, Renaissance soon became the epitome of the emerging Progressive Rock and their amazing debut album was destined to become a cornerstone of the genre. A perfect mixture of Classical Music, with long acoustic piano cadencas, Jazz, Folk and Rock, the album’s beautiful melodies and innovative atmosphere of mystery and grandeur created, perhaps for the first time, the splendor of Prog at its best. There’s little need to expand about this album, as in time it has become an absolute classic and any Prog fan wouldn’t consider this album not being included in his collection. An absolute must!….by…..Jazzis…..~ 

This is the second Renaissance album: the last Renaissance album before they change all the musicians. This record is sometimes piano oriented, but less than the Renaissance of the Annie Haslam-era; those baroque piano parts are absolutely delightful and unforgettable! The omnipresent electric guitar is inoffensive. The female singer Jane Relf has a very good voice, even if Annie Haslam is better. There are tons of catchy & mellow backing vocals. Many parts have rather delicate psychedelic rock tendencies, not unpleasant at all! I even find a few Canterbury and Beatles influences in some parts. For 1970, this album is really sophisticated and avant-garde, like the preceding one. Compared to the previous one, the tracks are a bit less catchy and memorable… greenback….~

The second Renaissance album is the least-known in the group’s entire output, having originally failed to get released anywhere except Germany. Although it is a much less bold, more smoothly commercial album, Illusion was also the work of at least three distinctly different lineups representing the group, Jim McCarty dropping out from playing after an illness, and Keith Relf and Louis Cennamo exiting the performing lineup soon after, while Jane Relf played some gigs with John Hawken acting as leader of a new ensemble. It was around this time that the words of lyricist Betty Thatcher started turning up in the group’s work and on this album, and guitarist Michael Dunford started writing as well. The results here aren’t quite as hard rocking as the previous album – acoustic guitars supplant electric and Jane Relf’s vocals are hooked around a mix of art rock and art pop melodies, without any trace of the psychedelic or freakbeat echoes of the previous album’s work. One song, “Mr. Pine,” contains an instrumental bridge that Dunford later folded into “Running Hard” in a more developed guise. The lighter textures anticipate the sound of the later lineup of the group, while some of the pop-oriented material harkens back to what Relf and McCarty had in mind for a sound in 1969… Bruce Eder…..~

When Illusion appeared in this beautiful year 1971, RENAISSANCE’s initial training disintegrated. Keith Relf and Jim McCarty left first, followed by the others. But the training was able to record a good part of this new album in the time when it was united. These are the newcomers who completed the whole thing: the musicians credited here in additional (sutout Michael Dunford who will become a permanent member thereafter) finished “Mr. Pine” and a certain Don Shin recorded the electric piano part on “ Past Orbits of Dust ”. So it is a group in change that rages on this record which has, and this is very noticeable, been published only in Germany in 1971.

One might fear that Illusion is a mere offshoot of studio falls from the first album, something that is rarely conducive to the unity of a set. But rest assured, without even knowing the history of the group, the disc gives the impression of a normal work, without real apparent defect in the way the titles are arranged. Only the voice of Terry Crow (on “Mr. Pine”), just as beautiful as that of Relf, ​​allows to notice a change.

Illusion may also give the feeling of being better than its predecessor, perhaps not as a whole, but it contains moments of bravery that are of greater value than those of the first. The example that comes directly to mind is “Golden Thread”. It is simply the most beautiful piece written in this first period by RENAISSANCE. It is introduced by the piano which, progressively seconded by the other instruments, delivers a small orchestral melodic wonder. The beauty of the piece is however far from stopping there, the passages with chorus being also of great strength.

It would be unfair, however, to summarize the bombshell, the album contains other very good moments. With potential potential singles “Love Goes on” and “Love is All”, RENAISSANCE tries to pursue the hippie dream buried a few months earlier. These songs are filled with positive lyrics and music that is no less, well in a folk-rock genre. The group’s singers form beautiful choruses, especially on “Love is All”. Apart from this, we can note the song of Terry Crow on “Mr. Pine” (element of choice in an excellent piece although a little disconnected), or the first part of “Face of Yesterday” whose spirit bucolic charmer is not without evoking the first album, or even the Trespass cousins ​​Genesis. Just like the previous album, Illusion possesses with “Past Orbits of Dust” its experimental range. At the same time repetitive and more appreciable than that of “Bullet”, the instrumental part remains punctuated with very interesting sung moments. Nevertheless, the almost fifteen minutes of the song would have won to be better exploited, it is again not this facet of RENAISSANCE that we retain the most.

Despite the fact that I confess to retain a preference for Illusion in this first period (probably because of “Golden Thread”), it seems to me more reasonable to put it on an equal footing compared to the previous album, because at the level of inspiration, we play in the same category….by…. MARCO STIVELL…..~

Ex-Yardbirds Keith Relf (gtr, vocals, harmonica) and Jim McCarty (drums) had become less than enamoured with the Yardbirds R&B sound, and wanted to explore gentler music. After two singles as Together the pair recruited vocalist Jane Relf (Keith’s sister) and bass player Louis Cennamo and finally, after playing with him at sessions designed to form a country rock band (!), John Hawken (ex-Nashville Teens). Hawken’s classical influences (not apparent necessarily from his musical pedigree to date) were allowed to emerge and this cemented the union. The band, now called Renaissance, played their first gig in May 1969, developing a live show which eventually went down onto record as their first, self-titled studio album, produced by Paul Samwell-Smith. There were only five lengthy tracks, one of which “Island” was edited down for single release, backed by a non-album track from the sessions.

Now it gets confusing. This line up of the band started sessions for another album entitled Illusion, but the sessions were interrupted first by European tour obligations,then the illness of Jim McCarty, followed by his unexpected departure from the band, which triggered a general falling out. A different keyboardist was drafted in for “Past Orbits Of Dust”, but in the end Hawken was the last man left standing in Renaissance, and he brought in various former contacts to resurrect the band before leaving it himself.

The Illusion album was released in Germany at the time, though not in the UK at first. It emerged in 1971 on Island’s Help budget label but was quickly withdrawn; it finally had a full scale vinyl release in 1977. It is now available on CD in various guises.

After Hawken’s departure, the name carried on with a line-up which involved none of the founding members, achieving some commercial and critical success, with the talented Annie Haslam taking the lead vocal role. Hawken moved on to play in various other bands including Spooky Tooth, Juicy Lucy, Third World War and Vinegar Joe, before taking up keyboard chores in the Hero And Heroi/albtrack/ghosts version of the Strawbs in 1973.

On leaving Strawbs in 1975, Hawken rejoined members of the original Renaissance - as the Renaissance name was in play with the other line-up, they renamed themselves as Illusion and began to record. Tragically, in 1976, Keith Relf died, electrocuted whilst practising guitar at home. The remaining members carried on and produced a new studio album in 1977 “Out of the Mist”, which had some chart impact in the US. Island helpfully released the lost Renaissance album Illusion in February 1977 to add to the confusion. A further album by Illusion, titled Illlusion followed in 1978.

The Enchanted Caress CD is of interest to Strawbs fans too: the sleeve notes tell us “These 1979 unreleased demo recordings intended for a planned third album are their (McCarty, Jane Relf, Hawken et al.) legacy…financed, produced, written and co-sung by Jim McCarty, England’s musical answer to Brian Wilson…Included as a bonus is the guitar masterpiece "Slaughter on 10th Avenue” produced and arranged by Jim McCarty featuring John Knightsbridge’s superlative guitar with Strawbs members Tony Fernandez on drums and Chas Cronk on bass. An additional highlight is the inclusion of Keith Relf’s last unreleased recording. “All the Falling Angels” features Keith on lead vocal and Louis Cennamo on bass…“……..~

“Illusion” is the second studio album of Renaissance and was released in 1971. The line up on the album is Jane Relf, Keith Relf, John Hawken, Louis Cennamo and Jim McCarty. The album had also the participation of Terry Crowe, Michael Dunford, Neil Corner, Terry Slade, Don Shinn and Betty Thatcher, on the lyrics.
Renaissance’s second album proved to be hard to complete. Although "Illusion” is billed as the second album by the original line up of Renaissance, it’s actually more complicated than that. In the late spring of 1970, as touring began to grind on them, the band gradually dissolved. The founding members did complete the first three songs and “Face Of Yesterday”. But then the band began to fall apart, with McCarty, then Keith Relf, and then Cennamo, leaving in rapid succession. Then, Hawken made what would turn out to be a key personnel change, and organized a new line up to fulfil contractual obligations and completed the band’s second album which was left unfinished. So, apart from Jane Relf and Hawken, the new band mostly consisted of former members of Hawken’s previous band The Nashville Teens. So, Hawken brought to the band the guitarist Michael Dunford. In turn, Dunford brought Terry Crowe on male vocals, Neil Korner on bass and Terry Slade on drums. This line up recorded “Mr. Pine” and hit the road with Jane. However, the original band was still under contract, so while Hawken toured, Keith Relf assembled the rest of the originals, with Cennamo bringing in pianist Don Schinn, to record the album’s closing track “Past Orbits Of Dust”, a lengthy piece.

“Illusion” was also the beginning of Renaissance’s protracted collaboration with poet and lyricist Betty Thatcher after co-writing two songs with Keith Relf and McCarty. She would work with the band throughout its entire classic period (1972–79) and beyond. Thatcher was brought to the band by her friend Jane Relf. This will be very important later, when Renaissance’s career started to take off. On a more positive note, guitarist Michael Dunford joined the band and would prove to be an important member in the songwriting department of the future Renaissance incarnation.

So, as we can see, “Illusion” had a very difficult birth and was a very difficult album in the history of Renaissance. Although the serious problems with the lineup for the bands second album, it hardly had any kind of effect on the music. “Illusion” can be considered almost as strong as their debut album, only partly with different musicians. On both albums the sound is identical and they both contain a fine blend of rock, prog, folk and classical music which make them mature releases. “Illusion” is an incredibly even record, although not as aggressive as their debut, “Renaissance”. The classical influences are also toned down concentrating more on the folk aspect of their sound. The four tracks initially recorded for the album “Love Goes On”, “Golden Thread”, “Love Is All” and “Face Of Yesterday” are probably the strongest material on this album. “Mr. Pine” has its moments, although it sounds is unfinished and not fully realized. “Past Orbits Of Dust” starts out as an excellent track, but soon devolves into pointless jamming and eventually just losing steam rather than really ending. Overall and despite what all I said, “Illusion” is an excellent album and every bit as almost strong as their debut, and just as flawed. The best moments of the album left no doubt about the potential and ambitions of the group, but they had still not yet managed to develop it into a totally convincing whole.

So, with “Illusion” ends the first era of Renaissance. With both albums and their subsequent releases, which aren’t as different as we could have thought, were launched the seeds for later female fronted progressive acts like Magenta, Mostly Autumn and Karnataka. Anyway, Relf and McCarty remained active with the band as non performing members with McCarty as a songwriter and Relf as a producer. Relf’s continued involvement with the band was short lived, although McCarty would continue to contribute material as late as 1974. So, “Illusion” remained as of the Renaissance most obscure release, often not appearing in their official discography. We can call it the “Great lost Renaissance album”.
Conclusion: “Illusion” represents the end of an era. When the four surviving members of the original Renaissance reunited in 1976 after the tragic death of Keith Relf, he was electrocuted at home playing guitar, and the Renaissance name was still in use by their successors in the band, Annie Haslam and company, named the new band, Illusion. Their first album “Out Of The Mist”, included a reworking of the song “Face Of Yesterday”, while their second album was simply titled “Illusion”. By The other hand Hawken became a member of the Strawbs in 1974. However, this is another story. What really import is that “Illusion”, can be quite a fascinating listen and it’s really much more than a simple historical curiosity. So, while listening to both albums, I realized that the music they recorded doesn’t differ that much from the subsequent albums that Renaissance recorded, and both contain enough progressive rock elements, as well………by e210013 …..sputnik……….~

Yeah. This is the 'Great Lost Renaissance Album’, and I’ve been damn lucky to find it. For some strange reason, back in its time the record was released only in Germany: why the record company thought it useless to promote it is one of these little progressive mysteries that require some serious research. It wasn’t released in the UK until 1976, and I doubt if it was ever issued in the States. In fact, I don’t even know if it’s been issued on CD at all, except for Russia; I guess the Japanese probably have it (the Japanese have everything on CD), but truth is, you have to sweat really hard if you want to lay your hands on the album at all. Fortunately, I didn’t have to sweat all that much…

On with the show. This, absolutely legitimate, second Renaissance album is actually quite different from the somewhat patchy, insecure debut. On the surface, it’s structured more or less the same: a couple lengthy, bombastic epics surrounded by a bunch of happy shiny classical-pop songs. But deep inside, it’s far more mature and complex than Renaissance. The band’s lineup is the same, but this time around, they’d gathered a large bunch of session players to back them up, including two future 'classic Renaissance’ members - Michael Dunford on guitar and Terry Slade on drums. This results in a far more deep and rich sound texture, and little John Hawken is no longer the indisputable centerpiece of the band. Illusion, in fact, is far more guitar-oriented than Renaissance: both electric and acoustic sounds abound, and this is definitely the merit of Dunford: it’s easy to recognize the main patterns of the 'classic sound’ on songs such as 'Mr Pine’ (written by Dunford in person, actually) or 'Past Orbits Of Dust’. But even Hawken is more adventurous on here, no longer contenting himself with quotations from his favourite classical composers: apart from the first section of 'Golden Thread’, the compositions seem to be more or less original. Another important element is the first apparition on record of lyrics by that infamous Cornish witch Betty Thatcher - she contributes lyrics to two of the songs, thus beginning her long-time collaboration with the band (she’d write most of the 'classic albums’ lyrics until 1981, when the band became much too pop-oriented to need her mystical ravings any more).
'Mature’ does not mean 'artistically perfect’, though - I don’t find the songs’ quality any more satisfying than on the debut album, to be quite frank. And, for my money, Keith Relf takes too much of the vocal work in his own hands. The two shortest tracks on here, aptly entitled 'Love Goes On’ and 'Love Is All’ are high quality 'sappy anthems’, quite ear-pleasing and well-harmonized, but they’re not really what I’d expect to get from this particular lineup. That said, the 'pa-da-bap pa-da-bap pa-da-bap pa-da-ba love-goes-on’ chorus is irresistibly infectious, and the Keith/Jane harmonies on 'Love Is All’ is probably one of their loveliest duets together, especially when it’s joined by the majestic solo on the electric guitar.
Much more interesting is Dunford’s 'Mr Pine’, a medieval-styled ballad that, in parts, sounds exactly like the kind of stuff Genesis were excelling in at the time - especially the opening and closing section, that sound not unlike a certain part from 'Supper’s Ready’ (the one that goes 'I know a farmer who looks after the farm’ - note that 'Supper’s Ready’ was written after 'Mr Pine’). While it’s far from the longest track on here, it’s also the most complicated, with most of the vocal sections being stuck in that gloomy, harpsichord-based intro and outro; in between them is stuffed a certain 'progressive jam’, not spectacular, but quite nice, mostly based on Hawken’s masterful organ playing. The whole impression is gloomy, creepy, at times downright scary, especially when Dunford (or Relf?) hits the ominous electric notes on the fade-out in the middle, and then the harpsichord part steps in again, finishing the song as solemnly as possible.
Still, my favourite is not 'Mr Pine’ - after all, there’s nothing really exceptional about the number, and Genesis could usually pull off the creepy-medieval genre much better (it doesn’t hold a candle to such tracks as 'Musical Box’, in particular). What is exceptional in this early Renaissance are the blissful vocals of Jane Relf, and she has but one definite showcase on the album - the gorgeous ballad 'Face Of Yesterday’, all drenched in classical influence, but so much the better: her singing here is almost as good as on 'The Island’, and I don’t request anything else. Nothing.
Out of the two lengthy epics, I quite favour 'Golden Thread’ - it’s fast, energetic, adequately bombastic and, while Keith takes the main vocal spot, the echoey, double-tracked harmonies of Jane that introduce the main body of the song are superb. By the way, what’s that vocal melody at the very beginning derived from? It reminds me very much of the main piano melody of Procol Harum’s 'Homburg’, and this can’t be a coincidence. Ooh, how I wish I did my classical homework better in the past… However, 'Past Orbits Of Dust’ is a major flaw of the record, and the one for which I really couldn’t give it more than an eight. At fourteen and a half minutes, they drag the bleeding corpse for far too long: the song is much, much too monotonous. The main melody is based on a couple simplistic electric piano riffs, which keep repeating themselves to death, and the Byrds-ey harmonies on that one don’t impress me too much, either. Even worse, the last three or four minutes of the track are just filling up space - it seems as if the band simply doesn’t know when to stop and keeps hitting disjointed, rambling notes when the rhythm has already died down, just to kill time. Perhaps the idea was to create something like a 'totally mind-blowing experience’ at the tail end of the record, but, once again, such things were much better made by Genesis who actually knew how to get the best of such minimalistic playing (remember the coda to 'Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’, eh?) And all the backwards guitars and stuff like that don’t really help much. Congratulations, gentlemen, as in the case of 'Bullet’, you blew it again. Wait for the 'classical Renaissance’ to correct your mistakes when it comes to fifteen-minute epics.
In any case, Illusion can be quite a fascinating listen - as 'the great progressive album from the band that never was’, it’s much more than a simple historical curio, and I’d advise you very much to lay your hands on it if you get the chance. The band was all but gone after the release, and Dunford and Slade were left on their own, with Jim McCarty as 'spiritual mentor’ to help them recruit new members. As for Jane, McCarty and Cennamo, by the mid-Seventies they ended up in the 'tribute’ band Illusion that released two albums which nobody knows about or gives a damn anyway. I’ve seen them, though, as they were released on CD in Russia, …..~ 
Love Goes On 2:49
Golden Thread 8:14
Love Is All 3:38
Mr. Pine 6:58
Face Of Yesterday 6:04
Past Orbits Of Dust 14:38

Renaissance  "Prologue" 1972

I bought this album back in the early 70s (attracted mainly by the “far out” cover art), then soon acquired copies of later LPs “Turn of the Cards” and “Scheherazade.” I found the former to be disappointing (though “Mother Russia” is a great track), and the latter to be too overtly classical for my then teenage tastes. (I might well love Sheherazade now, but, alas, I sold it when my turntable and I parted ways….) In any case, “Prologue” is the only Renaissance album that I replaced on CD, and I was delighted to find it.
I find myself in agreement with Andre, an earlier reviewer, who wrote that Kiev (a beautiful song) and the title track were “highlights” of this album. I give the disc a higher rating, however, because I find that “Spare Some Love” and “Rajah Khan” are at least equally praiseworthy. “Spare Some Love” offers some positive advice (clearly expressed in the title) that we could all benefit from trying to follow. That it does so within the constraints of a catchy five-minute piece of prog/folk rock only makes its message the more palatable. The closing track, the 11+ minutes “Rajah Khan,” however, is to me the most original and powerful song on the album. It opens with blistering electric guitar (a sound notably absent from later Renaissance releases) that segues into an Eastern-flavoured opus, with vocalist Annie Haslam (who possesses a truly wonderful voice) chanting atop excellent and varied music that is driven by the piano of John Tout and the guitar of Rob Hendry. The disc’s other two tracks, “Sounds of the Sea” and “Bound for Infinity” are very nice in parts, but a tad uneven, and prevent me from giving this recording a five-star rating.

If you want to hear a harder-edged Renaissance, before their “classical” and later mainstream pop manifestations (a regrettable, if predictable path for prog bands struggling to survive at the end of the 70s), then give an ear to this unique CD!….by Peter …..~

After the collapse of the original group, McCarty’s back up plan obviously didn’t last very long (check out the K&Q DVD to see why it didn’t) either, the ex-Yardbirds gave it another go and kept Dunford, calling back external lyric-writer poetess Betty Thatcher, he built another group that would indeed record the album and play it live (this hadn’t been, the case with the MkII), but still not be involved in the songwriting, Jim keeping a rein on that with Dunford. Finding Annie Haslam was a masterstroke enough and while keeping Dunford & Thatcher team, John Tout on keys, the group is now taking shape of the classic line-up that would go on to great success. Rounding out the line-up, John Camp (bass) and Terry Sullivan (drums) make the illusion (pun intended) almost a reality (thus making the album’s title a little prophetic), with Rob Hendry on guitars, but the latter’s sober contributions are rather minimal as Renaissance remains a KB-dominated band

Prologue was released in 72 on the small sovereign label and came with a splendid fantasy artwork mixing nature and technology, but unfortunately it only attracted North American crowds, so the band concentrated their efforts there. Musically McCarty kept the same line and philosophy and in many ways, you’d be hard pressed to hear much difference between the MkI and Mk III line-ups at this point in time, except that Haslam is much more present than Jane was on vocals. Opening (understandably so) on the instrumental title track (except for some vocalizing), Tout attacks with a piano solo much in the line of Hawken (this means between Prokofiev and Rachmaninov), before the band kicks in the typical Renaissance fashion, with Camp also doubling the piano as Cennamo had in the previous albums. The following track hints again at Russian composers, chanting the Kiev gates, even if at first the track is a little cheesy, the middle section moves frankly in complex (all being relative) prog territory.

Share Some Love could pass for a radio-friendly love folk ditty, but if you listen to the band’s solid back up of Haslam’s voicing of tepid Thatcher lyrics, you’ll see that we’re again in the typical Renaissance mould. The 11-mins+ Rajah Khan is rather different (the title is a hint) as there are some psych rock-raga remains (see Past Orbits on Illusion) and guitarist Hendry does provide some welcomed sonic changes, especially in the guitar intro and Haslam’s more eastern vocalizing, even if not radically different. The quiet Bound For Infinity is also noteworthy, with probably Haslam’s best vocal performance of the present album.

While the band’s metamorphosis is not yet complete, Prologue is an all-important transitional album, certainly more essential (at least in the band’s history) than Illusion was, and personally I prefer it to many of the upcoming albums, precisely because there is a different-sounding track (Khan), which won’t happen again for a while…… by Sean Trane …..~

This is the first Renaissance album with Annie Haslam on the lead vocals. It is definitely a complex & refined piano oriented album, although the tracks are loaded with other instruments. The electric and acoustic guitars do not take so much room. The bass is not as powerful & bottom as on the next album “Ashes are burning”, but it must all the same not be neglected. And more, this bass is very well played and quite refined. The other musicians provide excellent backing vocals, and Annie often just gracefully sings without word. The style involved is baroque piano. There are no orchestral arrangements. Surprisingly, apart the piano, the keyboards seem to be very rare here. The very good drums are used about 50% of the time. The last epic track, Rajah Khan, having much less piano, more guitar, has some irritating parts, like the psychedelic intro, made of unpleasant electric guitar sounds (Is the end a copied Ravel’s Bolero part?). That is why I remove 0.5 star… greenback ….~

A slightly misleading title for this album, as it was actually the third release under the Renaissance name. In fairness though, the line up completely changed prior to the release of this album, which saw Annie Haslam take on vocal duties for the first time.

Renaissance were forerunners for present day prog bands such as Karnataka and Mostly Autumn, complete with predominantly female vocals. “Prologue” was a major step forward for Renaissance from their rather patchy debut album, containing as it does a number of very strong pieces.

The opening “Prologue”, and the closing “Raja Khan” are similar, in that they are both essentially instrumental tracks, even though they have female vocals. There are no lyrics, the vocals merely leading the melody, the way they do on Pink Floyd’s “Great gig in the sky” for example. Both are excellent tracks, well performed, and refreshingly original. The other tracks have more orthodox vocals. “Kiev”, my favourite track, is somewhat unusual in the it has a male lead. The track tells a lovely story, bisected by one of Renaissance classically based piano pieces.

A superb album of lush melodies, full of originality, great song writing, and great performances. The LP sleeve is very original too….by Easy Livin ….~

Prologue for me was the best album by Renaissance in the seventies along with Ashes are Burning and Scheherazade. It has a perfect combination of piano and guitars, great vocal balancing between male and female and some good themes.’ Sounds of the Sea’ is so melancholic and Annie Haslam’s vocals work a treat.’ Spare some Love’ really rocks. There is something about ’ Bound for Infinity’ which is quite intangible that makes it so perfect ( a bit like Dusk on Genesis , Trespass). The psychedlic ’ Rajah Khan’ makes for a climatic finish to the album with Haslam’s chants giving the whole mood a supernatural feel. Excellent Prog rock with the undeniable classical influences… Chris S …..~

A new start for the band is introduced with the dynamic Prologue track, a song with could be an introduction to the feelings and sounds of early 1970’s also. John Tout’s grand piano shimmers now with more grandiose power than the keyboards on the earlier records, and Annie Haslam’s trained soprano voice reaches really celestial heights. Jon Camp’s powerful bass lines elevate also among the trinity of instrumental characteristic factors dominating the sound of this newly formed group, along with the romantic and bombastic melodies of the compositions, forming a great stage for the virtuosic musicians to be displayed. The songs of the first album with the new musicians also reveal quite frankly the state of searching point for directions, giving birth for some peculiar experimentations visit the turntable. As for example the closer “Rajah Khan” is a singular composition on Renaissance’s repertoire, droning a long voyage in psychedelic flavors from amplified guitar and wordless singing rejoicing in orientalist melodies, and having Curved Air’s Francis Monkman visiting the open playing with his synthesizers. The second song “Kiev” is slightly naïve minor folk rock ballad, containing more adventurous instrumental middle section. “Spare Some Love” has some qualities hinting that the early albums of Yes had been listened and adored; Some instrumental movements and bass and drum maneuvers feel here really recognizable. The orchestrated “Time and A Word” album might have also been an inspiration for searching enlargement to the synthesis of classic symphonic music and folk-oriented art rock sounds. Both “Sounds of The Sea” and “Bound for Infinity” aim possibly to the easiest artistic choices, creating very mellow and lovely melodic surroundings for Annie’s charming vocals. I personally feel open for these elevating pop prog gospels, and enjoyed this album maturing them as much as the following classic recordings of this fabulous group….. by Eetu Pellonpaa …~

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). Relf and McCarty virtually abandoned Renaissance and their places were gradually taken by fresh musicians who contributed and then helped form a whole new version of Renaissance - the band which then recorded “Prologue”. The chief songwriters were acoustic guitarist Michael Dunford and Cornish poetess Betty Tatcher. The band also found a talented, operatic trained, vocalist Annie Haslam who later become the permanent lead singer that form the “sound” of Renaissance. [excerpted from CD sleeve notes; written by Chris Welch, 1995].
The music of Renaissance is most well known for its rich symphonic textures heavily influenced by classical music, stunning vocals, and poetic lyrics. The album opener “Prologue” indicates how strong the classical music influence (Bach) in this piano and vocalese style based composition. Practically there is no lyrics in this opening track and the music stream sounds like opening a “play” in any theatrical performance. “Kiev” is a nice and melodic song with classical touch featuring male vocal with some elements of blues music. This style of music is brought forward by the band to other seminal album “Scheherazade and Other Stories”. It’s a cool composition. “Sounds of The Sea” features Annie Haslam’s melodic vocal in relatively slow tempo and classical music based texture. “Spare Some Love” is using acoustic guitar as opener and main rhythm section combined with piano and keyboard; augmented with percussion. Annie sings as lead singer with backing vocals by other band members. “Bound for Infinity” is a melancholic song featuring soft piano touch and transparent-powerful voice of Annie Haslam. “Rajah Khan” is a very interesting track which has middle east nuance through the use of mandolin by Rob Hendry (replacing Mick Dunford who was not in the band for “Prologue”). Curved Air’s Francis Monkman fills the synthesizer solo in this track. Annie demonstrates her operatic talent through vocal line that is very ambient, with a floating style. Cool. It’s probably the best track of this album.

Highly recommended album that emerged during the glory days of prog music in the seventies. Keep on proggin’..!…by Gatot …..~

This was the first album with the majority of the new line up in place, the band having undergone a total metamorphosis since the second album. And it’s clear that the nucleus of greatness is there though not yet having reached its full potential. Annie Haslam’s exquisite voice has purity, clarity and an incredible range, though some say she lacks a little in emotional variation, which may be valid. Melodically, the band rely heavily on John Tout’s keyboard wizardry and his piano playing is of an exceptionally high standard, heavily classically influenced. The guitar is perhaps more prominent on this album than the successors, since Rob Hendry was replaced by composer in chief Michael Dunford after this album, and Rajah Khan benefits greatly from his playing, the best track on the album. Jon Camp’s Rickenbacker often plays in the upper part of its range to fill out the sound. Most of the tracks are soft, melodic and soothing, Prologue excepted. This and Rajah Khan forego conventional lyrics and use the voice as a supplementary instrument, as Camel later did on the Snow Goose. It sounds wonderful. If you like music which is melodic and superbly played, like Genesis, Mostly Autumn or Camel, buy this. Those who like heavier, more experimental fare may want to look elsewhere. 4.25*….by Tony Fisher ….~

Prologue is the sound of a band in transition. Members had come and gone with monotonous regularity as Renaissance strove for a settled line-up and their own place in the scheme of things. By 1972 none of the original band remained, though Dunford and McCarty were still actively involved behind the scenes. A new quintet of Haslam (voice), Camp (bass), Tout (keys), Sullivan (drums) and Parsons (guitar) undertook a brief tour before entering the studio to record their first album together, but sadly, young guitarist Mick Parsons was killed immediately prior to recording so Rob Hendry replaced him in the studio [Hendry left the band soon after recording the album].

Lovers of classic Renaissance will immediately recognise this material with its intricate piano flourishes, complex arrangements, lyrical bass runs and Annie’s unmistakeable voice. Most of the elements are in place but with rough edges that would be honed to perfection on later albums: the sound is looser, less polished, and Annie’s voice is not yet fully matured. Perhaps the most noticeable difference is the use of electric guitar, mostly as a rhythm accompaniment, only occasionally coming to the fore as a lead, but its absence would later be a key aspect of the definitive Renaissance sound. Likewise, there is no orchestra here and virtually no keyboard other than piano so the sound is much sparser than will be evident in later years.

Performances are dominated by piano, it is all over this album like a rash. John Tout’s playing is exceptionally assured from big dramatic statements to delicate trills and subtle accompaniment. He reigns supreme as the spotlight instrumentalist, even more so than in later years. Camp’s bass is also well to the fore, as it should be, full of light and inventive touches yet solid and dependable. Sullivan’s drumming is excellent without being obtrusive - in other words, he does all the right things for the context without overpowering the rest of the band. Hendry’s guitar work doesn’t always gel, probably because he didn’t have the benefit of touring with the band before recording. In places he sounds like he doesn’t quite know what to do and I am not keen on the lengthy passage introducing Raja Khan. Annie’s voice is already wonderful, but perhaps lacks fullness, a richness that would develop with time.

The album is topped-and-tailed by a pair of lengthy Prog 'instrumentals’ by Michael Dunford, of which the title track would remain in their repertoire as a concert favourite for many years. Both include Annie’s voice as an additional instrument - they call it vocalese, singing without words - which works fine in a strange sort of way. Prologue, despite being credited to Dunford, is very much a Tout tour-de-force, heavily influenced by classical pianist-composers with a touch of jazz and containing some of his best playing. Rajah Khan is quite a different beast entirely. Named after a dog owned by a former bass player, it is awash with eastern influences and references, including an “Indian man dressed in white robes” playing tabla and Jon Camp playing a tanpura [a fretless stringed instrument used as a 'drone’ in Indian classical music]. Rajah Khan is built around a main theme with Annie’s vocalese and an eastern sounding chord-less riff, followed by a bridge leading to a jam section. This format is repeated a couple of times and works well, with each jam section featuring a different lead. Overall, a good attempt at a lengthy, almost psychedelic Prog instrumental, but I don’t like the tedious 2½ minute electric guitar intro, nor a rather uninspired synth solo from Francis Monkman.

The remainder of Prologue features four conventional songs with lyrics by Cornish poetess Betty Thatcher. Kiev is a beautiful haunting melody sung by Jon Camp with gorgeous harmonies by Annie on the second part of the verse and bridge, but an up tempo instrumental break rather spoils the mood. Kiev’s lyrics invoke an image of a sad Dr. Zhivago world of an old man kneeling in the snow by the lonely grave of his son 'Davorian’. Today, the seashore effects which start and finish Sounds Of The Sea are rather predictable, but not so in 1972. With very personal lyrics about Thatcher’s affinity with the shore and sea, something with which I can identify, the song has a nice melody but its arrangement doesn’t have enough movement and feels under-developed. At more than 7 minutes it is perhaps over-long. Spare Some Love is a straightforward song with simple lyrics, nice chorus and harmonies, and another contrasting middle break. Finally, Bound For Eternity has an almost folk-rock feel to it, with lively instrumentation trotting along happily to a very slowly sung melody before raising its game for a “ba da da” chorus.

Clothed in a weird Hypgnosis sleeve, Prologue’s presentation is fairly minimalist - my CD is a Russian issue which may explain the numerous spelling mistakes in otherwise interesting notes by Chris Welch. At worst this is an accomplished album, a solid base-camp for Renaissance’s assault on the slippery slopes of Prog, mostly displaying an astonishing maturity, showing great skill in songwriting, arranging and handling their instruments, yet at times exposing an endearing naivety. It is this naivety which gives Prologue its special charm, which makes it stand out a little from the remainder of their 70s output, and which makes up for the lack of lush orchestration.
Not quite a classic, but still highly recommended….by Joolz …..~

Renaissance was one of the very few groups that the new incarnation of the former band gets so much better it completely overshadows its preceders in all aspects. It was only fortunate that every member of the original Renaissance would be replaced by such gifted, talented and creative musicians. But, as all Renaissance fans know, the new singer made all the difference. Annie Haslam is debuting here but she´s already soaring through the album like few vets would (or could) do. My God, what a beautiful voice! Best female singer ever to grace a rock band!
Many friends of mine at the time dismissed this album as not ´truly´ Renaissance album, since its sound is not really the classical acousticly driven music the group would achieve in the next offering, the classic Ahes Are Burning. Certainly the group was still trying to find their sound and the music here is still a bit hard edge, more electric here. Still even at such an early age I could sense I was hearing a unique and groundbreaking band. And Rob Hendry guitar licks are good, making one only wonder what they might sound had he stayed a little longer.

Highlights? all the songs, really. Its a matter of taste not of quality. Choose your pick. Mine are The title track, Kiev (the best Jon Camp vocal performance ever), Bound For Infinity and the simple, but effective, Spare Some Love.

A different record from the classic period, but a essential one. Maybe not as good as the next four albums, but still a must have for any prog lover. 4,5 stars… Tarcisio Moura …..~

Strange story around this band,formed in late-60’s by ex-The Yardbirds Keith Relf and Jim McCarty and initially produced two decent Folk Rock albums.Between the two releases the band suffered from line-up changes with both founding members quiting after the first album and actually the second album features songs from both the old and fresh line- up.Around 1971 the driving force behind RENAISSANCE was Michael Dunford,as well as new manager Mike Copeland.The two men helped RENAISSANCE survive despite the presence of a total new line-up,headed by female singer Annie Haslam and pianist John Tout.Finally the third (but first with the fresh members) RENAISSANCE album saw the light in 1972 on EMI,with music composed by Dunford.
The turn of the band’s sound to more Classical-inspired paths is evident from the excellent eponymous opener.Tout’s classical piano battles with its jazzy middle section in a perfectly composed track with Haslam duplicating with a series of dreamy vocal chords.“Kiev” seems like a ballad coming out of the band’s first phase with nice mandolin and soft vocals,but that stands only until the middle,where Tout takes over again with some dramatic yet demanding piano passages.Great work by the rhythm section as well,while Hendry delivers a couple of nice electric explosions.I wish the band would maintain this high level until the end of the album.“Sounds of the sea” is an exclusively piano-based atmospheric track,mainly composed around the voice of Haslam.Please notice the multi-vocal sections of this track,which remind me a lot of YES.Good but nothing extraordinary.

Time for the album’s second round,which opens with “Spare some love”.This is a track in a simple song format,featuring mostly acoustic instrumentation and carrying a typical late- 60’s UK Psychedelic sound,but Tout saves it with his lovely piano.“ Bound for infinity” features the best Haslam performance in a dreamy and romantic mood,obscure percussions by drummerTerry Sullivan,while Hendry’s style is very close to the warm work of GENESIS’ Anthony Phillips.“Rajah Khan” clocks at 11 min. and starts with an Eastern- influenced opening section with deep bass,before Tout’s piano and Monkman’ synths transform it to a psychedelic trip.After the middle the track gets more adventuruous with some decent interplays,nice electric guitars yet maintaining its ethnic feeling.

The truth is I would love to see the band insisting on the style of the first two tracks,that means a piano-centered rock format with intricate passages and some sparse oneiric vocals.Still the album is very enjoyable and recommendable by a band getting really close to establish their own style.3.5 stars,a nice addition to your ollection… apps79 ……~
During the mid 80’s I was crossing a musical existential crisis, I had already bought the scarce Prog material available in my dear Perú and couldn’t stand the music the great bands as GENESIS were releasing. Being that I knew very little about Prog, apart from the big 6 and a few bands like TRIUMVIRAT, I started to believe there was no chance to keep increasing my musical collection.

But one day a girlfriend came from USA and gave me this album by an unknown (for me) band called RENAISSANCE, she told me that the guy in the record store sold it to her as the best invention since sliced bread, so even when I was not too fond on female vocals for a masculine genre as Progressive Rock, gave “Prologue” a chance.

From the first note I realized that there was a lot of great music to discover, and even if no band ever released a new great album again, the 70’s had a huge amount of music to offer. and considered that this band defined perfectly what Symphonic means, the wonderful voice of “Annie Haslam” but over all the fantastic piano by “John Tout” made me want to get all the albums of the band, and in a few months did so.

“Prologue” is opened by the title song, a magnifiscent instrumental (with choirs) where “John Tout” really demonstrates what a capable pianist he is, starts playing in the style of “Rachmaninoff”, crosses through “Bach” but all in the spirit of good old Rock & Roll with a hint of Jazz, just delightful from start to end.

The choirs by Annie are just perfect for the song and “John Camp” gives an outstanding bass performance.Yes it’s true that no Classical musician would take this eclectic piece seriously, but who cares? This is Progressive Rock, a different universe for a different audience.

Despite the impressive piano introduction that makes Emerson pale, “Kiev” is not the usual RENAISSANCE song, sounds more like a late 60’s Proto Prog song with echoes of Psychedelia, well except when the piano retakes the lead with a hint of Rachmaninoff, great song.

As Certif1ed mentions in his review, the sea gull and waves sounds during the first 37 seconds of “Sounds of the Sea” is so predictable. that borders the laughable, but we are here for the music, so what really should matter for us is what happens after this 37 seconds and for almost 7 minutes more, and it’s incredibly beautiful, for the first time in the album, we can listen “Annie Haslam’s” voice in her full majesty, with some male choirs that enhance the effect. If we add the soft piano and very subtle percussion, we have an incredibly beautiful song, probably not the most elaborate expression of Progressive Rock, but……Who cares if the melody is so delightful?

“Spare some Love” starts with an unusual (for Renaissance) acoustic guitar intro (being that the piano is usually the main instrument), but after a few seconds the pristine clear voice of Annie joins the rest of the band and choirs to create another extremely beautiful song. By this point the KING CRIMSON or GENTLE GIANT fanatics may be a but disappointed because of the emphasis placed on the melody rather than complexity, but even when the changes are not so radical, the music is first class.

For the moment in which we can listen “Bound for Infinity” is obvious that “Annie Haslam” is going to be one of the brightest stars in Prog firmament, her confidence for a debutante in a band that has been together for three years is amazing, and along with “John Tout” are the center of attention.

The album ends with the bizarre epic “Rajah Khan”, with the addition of"Francis Monkman" (as guest) in the synths and the hallucinating and trippy performance of “Rob Hendrix” is the guitar and mandolin, we are before a strange blend of Psychedelia and Symphonic Prog, in some moments seems as of they were jamming, but the perfectly coordinated explosions of strength, piano sections and amazing vocal work proves us they have everything calculated, even when the excellent arrangements make the music sound as casual, a wonderful closer.

“Prologue” is not the best RENAISSANCE album, the new formation is just giving their first steps, but I consider this album an essential release, if not a masterpiece, very close to this status, so I will rate it with 4 solid stars…. by Ivan_Melgar_M ……~

A very good “debut” album from this second (or third?) incarnation of the formely folk-oriented group, Renaissance. The opening, title, song, in particular, is masterful–one of my favorite Renaissance songs of all-time (and its live version on the “Live at Carnegie Hall” album is equally impressive). “Kiev” and “Sounds of the Sea” are good songs that will find perfection in later songs (“Mother Russia” and “Ocean Gypsy”). The band’s overall shift to a classical music orientation is, IMO, a very welcome change. I will like it more in future when pianist John Tout lets go of his penchant for incorporation of known classical riffs and styles and begins composing from his own creative juices. The other great thing about this album: The World gets to welcome one untrained phenom who will shake people to the quick: I speak, of course, of prog’s First Lady, Annie Haslam… BrufordFreak ….~

So here is the album that introduced Annie Haslam to the prog world, and I have to say that this is personally my favorite Renaissance album. Unlike their next few highly praised albums (which are certainly worthy of praise), here we have the band playing as an actual prog rock group without the added orchestral instrumentation, and as a result there is a sense of exhilaration and young vibrancy within these songs that display a band doing as much as they can with what they have, especially concerning the opening title track.
The song Prologue is quite a thrill ride, with some fantastic bass rhythms, Annie hitting some glass-shattering high notes and that groovy acid rock guitar that kicks in at times. Some complain that the guitar gives the overall sound a dated feel, but since I’m quite a fan of those fuzzy guitar tones I have no problem with this. If it sounds like a product of its time, well, it was a hell of a good time for music, don’t you think?

The album has a nice variation of styles and even a bit of adventurous experimentation to boot. There are a couple of gorgeous ballads, including Sounds Of The Sea with its gorgeous chorus (another prime Annie moment). Spare Some Love is a groovy acid-tinged prog-pop number with a catchy hook and that 60s guitar during the chorus. Kiev and Rajah Khan definately fit the definition of “progressive”, with Kiev’s fantastic instrumental break during the middle portion of the song, and Rajah Khan’s trippy eastern vibe with strong musicianship.

Although there are those who say Renaissance’s golden age started with Ashes Are Burning, I personally consider this a worthy part of their classic era, a prologue yes, but definately every bit as vital as the next few releases. And yeah, I dig the fact that they still had some cool 'rock’ to go with their 'prog’ on this album. Great stuff and absolutely essential… Prog Sothoth ……~

A bizarre little album, resulting from a period of total chaos in the Renaissance lineup, sees a group of entirely new performers on the record - none of whom wrote any of the songs performed! All the songs on here were either composed by Jim McCarty or Michael Dunford, with lyrics by band lyricist Betty Thatcher; Jim had left Renaissance never to return by this point, whilst Dunford had joined after the completion of Illusion, then left before the recording this album, before rejoining after this one.
This, then, is a transitional album that sits partway between the classical-influenced symphonic prog of the former lineup and the folk-tinged symphonic rock of the classic lineup. The biggest difference between the sound here and the one which would be unfolded on Ashes are Burning is that Rob Hendry plays electric guitar, whilst Michael Dunford would use the acoustic guitar during the classic Renaissance period. The standout performances from here are from John Tout, whose piano work keeps everything hanging together from the start of the title track to the very end of the album, and of course Anne Haslam, who proves herself to be both a capable successor to Jane Relf in those sections of the album that are reminiscent of previous Renaissance albums and a powerful vocalist in her own right.

That said, it would only be on subsequent albums that Haslam would be able to work with material that was tailor-made to take best advantage of her vocal capabilities, and next to the classic Renaissance period which would be inaugurated with the following Ashes Are Burning this feels like a competent exercise in going through the motions, with the new lineup perhaps not feeling as close a connection to other people’s material as they would to their own compositions later on.

After the mayhem that had engulfed the band and transformed it into this completely different lineup, this album was crucial - had it bombed, I can’t see how the band could have continued. So it’s fortunate for us all that it’s a great success, and whilst it isn’t in the top rank of Renaissance albums, I’d say it’s a welcome change of course that provides much-needed consistency after Illusion, which was mostly hit-and-miss with a strong emphasis on misses…by Warthur …..~

So here is only the third Renaissance studio album and already the front lineup is devoid of any original members. Vocalist 'Binky’ Cullom and pianist John Tout had replaced the last vestiges Jane Relf and John Hawken respectively around the same time the band’s second album 'Illusion’ was being readied for German release. But Cullom would be replaced by Annie Haslam in early 1971 and though Tout would remain the rest of the players on that album were bounced by manager Miles Copeland shortly after Haslam joined.
By the time the band reentered the studio they had gone through a succession of bassists and settled on Jonathan Camp to fill that position for this album. Guitarist Mick Parsons, a young up-and-coming guitarist had been signed by Copeland but died shortly after in an auto accident and was replaced by another young and relative unknown guitarist Rob Hendry. Tout has said that Hendry’s presence felt “jarring” to him and it wouldn’t be long before Michael Dunford, who had continued to write songs for the band including two on this album, was asked to return to play acoustic guitar. Terence Sullivan was recruited on drums through Melody Maker following Slade and Cullom’s departure (they later married) and following a brief stint with a touring drummer whose name the rest of the band can’t even recall today. And although Betty Thatcher had been primarily an acquaintance of the Relfs she continued to expand her role as lyricist for the band, penning the words to all but the title track and closing “Rajah Khan” which were both Dunford compositions.

Speaking of “Rajah Khan”, most of this album is quite a bit lighter and less folk-oriented than the first two Renaissance albums with the exception of that track, which is by far the longest song on the album and much like “Past Orbits of Dust” on 'Illusion’ in that it seems to be highly improvised although does come off as more organized than 'Dust’ which had clearly been included as filler.

The band hadn’t quite hit their stride as a Haslam-fronted entity by the time they recorded 'Prologue’ but the differences between this and the last lineup/album is striking. Haslam clearly owns center stage on most of the songs and the dominance of Romantic era- inspired piano is mostly gone here. The band had also begun to reveal an odd and mostly unexplained fascination with Russian music and themes, as evidenced by the song “Kiev” and the opening piano piece on the title track which borrows heavily from Chopin’s 'Étude on the Bombardment of Warsaw’ written in tribute to the November Uprising.

Like the four tracks on 'Illusion’ that were written by the Relf/McCarty-led version of the band, these tracks have as much popular music influence as they do folk, and overall the movement away from the MkI version of the band’s classical/folk bent is even more pronounced on this album. While Tout continues in Hawken’s shadow to deliver strong piano passages in classical style, the emphasis is clearly more on creating songs with some popular appeal than on the purely experimental music-making Relf and McCarty had in mind when they first formed the group.

“Sounds of the Sea” is probably the closest the band gets to a folk-rock composition with its strong use of Haslam’s vocals, light harmony backing and piano amped enough to hear it but clearly intended to play second fiddle to Haslam’s singing.

The group also started to show some interest in unusual meters and odd notes, particularly on the two Russian-themed songs and “Spare Some Love” which also combines brief solo passages of bass and guitar along with exceptionally strong piano and bass sequences in the second half of the song.

The late Betty Thatcher gets some mention here as well even though she was never a member of the band. Her legacy as lyricist for some of the most famous Renaissance songs is well-deserved, but on this album the words she wrote for the middle four songs are fairly shallow compared to later works, although in the end it doesn’t really matter since Haslam’s rich delivery gives them deeper meaning then their raw semantics would indicate.

There seems to be a shadow of the former band’s legacy hanging over these songs, something many members of both assemblages have acknowledged over the years. That would be definitively erased when “Ashes Are Burning” really launched the Halsam/Tout era, but for now I have to say this is a good but not exceptional offering from the group. Three stars definitely, but the best was yet to come… ClemofNazareth ……~ 
Renaissance is a band with a peculiar early history. Founded by Keith Relf and Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, the band recorded two albums while experiencing considerable line-up changes. Relf decided to remain on as a producer and McCarty as a writer, and a new line-up was put together with Annie Haslam on vocals and Michael Dunford soon taking over the writing job, teaming up with poet Betty Thatcher-Newsinger. The Yardbirds alumni left and the manager re-organized the band and they prepared to record their first album, 'Prologue’.
The strengths of this album and indeed this new Renaissance are Annie Haslam’s five-octave voice, John Tout’s superb piano work, and the collaboration in song-writing between Dunford and Thatcher-Newsinger. I also find the bass is well in place and certainly of the progressive mould, as well the drums and percussion suit the classical tendencies of the piano-based music.

The opening track is a real seventies piano rocker with some great grooving bass over which some classically inspired piano is played. Annie provides a melody of 'do-do-do’s, which can be a bit tiresome a times mostly because it makes me think of seventies hippie rock that could have been used in a Wrigley’s gum or Coke commercial. But the music is quite a ride and it gave me a shiver the first time I heard it.

My favourite track is the next one, 'Kiev’. After a lovely classical piano intro, it turns a little dark before settling into the folksy piano and rhythm groove that carries the song. Bass guitarist Jon Camp takes the lead vocal here though Annie joins in for the chorus. The middle section features a galloping rock rhythm section and hectic piano playing. Classical themes race neck in neck with the rhythm section. The lyrics tell a story of a simple man living in or near Kiev. I feel there is also a bit of an Eastern European flavour to the music in parts.

The last track for side one is a slower and beautiful piece for piano and vocals. Annie truly is given the chance to showcase her vocal talents for the first time here and is accompanied by some harmony vocals from the male vocalists. The percussion is not heavy handed and only comes in to add some dramatic effect when required.

We start side two with 'Spare Some Love’, another bell-bottom swaying seventies hippie tune with the piano still at the forefront. There’s a short 'proggy’ section in the middle with the bass and drums and a bit of electric guitar. Once more, the bass guitar really stands out at times.

'Bound for Infinity’ is another slow piece but with some pleasant highlights and dramatic moments. Annie’s voice sounds brilliant, and there is some clean electric guitar that actually comes closer to centre stage here than what we’ve heard so far.

The final track is really a step away from the classical piano-led music so far. 'Raja Khan’, named after a dog, opens with an electric guitar instrumental that bears an Indian flare and resembles early Tea Party (a Canadian outfit that appeared in the 90’s). The main melody segments of the song are very rhythm-oriented and include 'vocalese’: more singing without words. Annie still sounds spectacular. There’s a synthesizer solo here, the first one on the album, and the bass guitar is again rumbling along. The music turns more piano prog-like, similar to 'Kiev’ and then there’s a kind of experimental part before returning to the main sequence of the song again. For the final stretch, a rock theme carries us home.

Though the album is not as streamlined in sound nor as highly rated as some of their later albums, I’m of the opinion that this is a very strong beginning for this new Renaissance. It is quite an enjoyable album to pick up from time to time and give a spin… FragileKings ……~ 
It seems like other forces were at work keeping this band together during all the turbulence surrounding one member after another boarding and disembarking the musical carousal known as RENAISSANCE. Strange indeed that both founding members and even the second wavers were now gone yet had written enough musical material to nourish the bands coffers leaving this album with no songs written by anyone on it. The management of this band was in control and decided that this sound was worth developing. That sound being based around the classically trained piano skills of John Tout and the newly acquired vocal talents of Ann Haslam.
I can’t think of a more appropriately named album than PROLOGUE for a band such as RENAISSANCE after all the turbulence of their lineup. It simply signifies a new beginning and almost the RENAISSANCE we all know. Not quite the classic lineup but Anne Haslam makes her debut here and what a fine performance it is. She more than shows her capabilities of replacing Jane Reif. Unfortunately this album really seems like a PROLOGUE to the following RENAISSANCE albums and feels like a teaser of what’s to come. A damn good album but not a classic. These songs just don’t seem as melodic and developed as the following albums that successfully utilized the perfect fusion of symphonic orchestration into their mix.

One of the strangest tracks in the RENAISSANCE canon and the best song on this album although seeming out of place is the outstanding song “Rajah Khan.” This is a track that I wish the whole album sounded like and sounds like an Indian inspired melody introduced by heavy psych guitars followed by Ann’s enchanting wordless vocalizations. There are many interesting developments in this 11 minute plus song which at times I find the bass reminding me of Steve Harris from Iron Maiden, a band I would never associate with RENAISSANCE. The vocal textures and Indian mood feel like a prologue to the grander idea fully unleashed on SCHEHERAZADE AND OTHER STORIES. 3.5 rounded up….. by siLLy puPPy ….~ 
  Some will say these are just the rough beginnings, and to a certain point I agree: Prologue is definitely NOT the quintessential album for the 'classic’ Renaissance lineup, as they were just starting to work on their formula and find the style that suited them perfectly. Or, rather, the style that they thought suited them perfectly - because, all scruples aside, this record is a blast from start to finish. If you’re a prog fan searching for elaborate, complex arrangements and stuff like that, better start with Turn Of The Cards or Scheherazade; however, if you come from the 'rock’ camp and wish to continue your musical education with less pain and more gain, be sure to make this your first Renaissance purchase. For starters, this is their one and only album that makes extensive use of electric guitars; the only one (at least, among the classics) to feature a fast tune; and, maybe the most important thing, the definite album to showcase Annie Haslam and her fantastic singing. Truly, folks, to the best of my knowledge and apprehension, her vocals on songs like the title track, 'Bound For Infinity’, or 'Sounds Of The Sea’ have never been topped - or maybe it’s just the vocal melodies that got less complicated after that. In any case, this is a record that requires some extended listening: it nearly passed me by at first, but it only took one serious moment of attention-paying to realize that there ain’t a single bad tune on this 'classical-rock’ masterpiece. I mean, Ashes Are Burning is still my favourite, but this one is such a strong nine that it borders on ten as well, and these two records are well worth each other.

The new lineup does follow the lines of the old one - the tradition lives. But, of course, in a modified way. First, John Tout, whose keyboards work the band would start to depend from now on, surely knows how to incorporate his instrument into the band’s sound better than John Hawken did. And he does not rely so heavily on the classics - quotation is more obscure, and unless you’re a great fan of Chopin, you’ll probably not be spending your entire time pointing at the CD player and saying 'here he goes again, that’s from symphony so-and-so’. Second, the compositions are far better thought out and constructed than previously: while Relf and company relied heavily on spontaneity and weird noises, here even the weirdest track, 'Rajah Khan’, is pure music. And finally, this is where the band finally secured the services of Cornish poetess Betty Thatcher: her lyrics are pompous, high-styled and rather generic, but definitely not banal and quite suited for the music. Rumour has it that the band rarely even met Betty - they just mailed her the sheetnotes and she mailed them back lyrics. And remember, no E-mail back in those days! Sure would have been an easier process in our time…
Anyway, there are six songs on Prologue (a pretty daring title for a band that just started and wasn’t too sure if it would actually carry on further), and each and every one of them rules. The scene is set with the title track - a fast, upbeat piano rocker with just a simple vocal party from Annie… simple? It’s breathtaking! Especially these high notes she hits - you sure wouldn’t have thought she’d end each 'verse’ with that breathtaking 'DUUUUUUU!’, and the band soars up in the air. Now that’s five-octave range for you… The piano solos are short and tasteful, and everything seems to whirl around Annie rather than everybody else, which is a good thing. 'Kiev’ is one of the weaker tracks on the record, but it’s just because Annie is singing a duet with Tout (or Camp? I don’t really know who’s the main male vocalist in the band); nevertheless, the gentle, folksy melody is quite catchy, and the piano/guitar interplay is rather delicate.
The next three songs are all mainly in the same style, all great showcases for Annie. The best thing, though, is that all three have strong, memorable, original and extremely interesting vocal melodies; Annie’s powerful singing does not make these songs, it embellishes them and elevates them from the status of 'good’ to 'great’. 'Sounds Of The Sea’ is slow, stately, majestic and gorgeous: the way Annie sings the word 'me’ at the end of each verse is really not just anything you’d meet on your average professional folk album. I know this sentence might seem silly, but hey, what can I do? It’s hard for me to give a written impression of this beauty. 'Spare Some Love’ has probably the most complex vocal melody on the album: Annie’s vocals spin round and twist in an incredibly difficult manner, as she makes her way through simplistic lyrics about giving love - and gives the lyrics an air of gravity and Godliness simply by the power of her voice. And, where these two songs highlight her range and techniques, 'Bound For Infinity’ highlights her power and timbre.
The major point of controversy here is, of course, the closing 'Rajah Khan’ - the 'heaviest’ and darkest song ever done by the band, as Hendry gets to play some distorted guitar solos in the intro and in the middle of the track. As such, it’s just one more instrumental with vocals but no lyrics, written by Michael Dunford who was soon to join the band as a formal member (he also composed the title track). It draws heavily on various influences, of course - I can hear direct snippets from Ravel’s 'Bolero’ in the main theme, but that doesn’t worry me in the least: this is, in fact, a minor quotation and not a stealfest. I could do without the middle part, to tell you the truth: none of the solos do anything for me, and eleven minutes are probably a bit too much for this thing, but the main theme is magic. And it’s somewhat dark and menacing, too: a rare case for Renaissance, who would start sounding all too much 'warm jello’ from now on.
All in all, a fascinating listening experience. Of course, if I had the ultimate power over this band, I’d advise them to pick up a good electric guitarist to add to the sound, and maybe put just a bit more soul into the instrumental playing: Annie is clearly several heads higher than the rest of the band when it comes to laying down the sound, and thus the band’s main disadvantage. But nobody’s perfect, after all, and we’re left free to imagine our personal 'masterpiece’ the way each one of us would like to see it. I see it like that. How do you see it, kind sir?…..~


Bass, Tambura, Vocals – John Camp*
Guitar, Mandolin, Bells [Chimes], Vocals – Rob Hendry
Keyboards, Vocals – John Tout
Percussion – Terry Sullivan
Vocals, Percussion – Annie Haslam

A1 Prologue 5:39
A2 Kiev 7:39
A3 Sounds Of The Sea 7:09
B1 Spare Some Love 5:05
B2 Bound For Infinity 4:17
B3 Rajah Kahn 11:14 

Renaissance  "Ashes Are Burning" 1973   (50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time-Rolling Stone)….
Ah, Renaissance, perhaps the most underrated and overlooked band ever" Ashes are Burning to Scheherazade and Other Stories is one of the best album streaks in progressive rock history, and seemingly hardly anyone knows about them, especially on Sputnik. For some reason a lot of classic bands go unnoticed on this site, i mean considering this album has a pathetic 16 votes while The Contortionists new album which came out ***ing yesterday and already has well over 100, clearly shows there is something ***ed up with the world we live in, and i hope one day we go back to enjoying the true jams and today i will try to help the cause. So listen up kids, sit back and relax, fetch a glass of wine and your favourite easy chair and experience the one and only Renaissance.

The first track Can you Understand" takes you on a musical journey, The festive yet strangely dark ass intro sets the mood for what the album brings. There is a lot of emphasis on keys on this tune, the bass is also prominent and thank *** for it as the playing is top notch. While the sound-scape changes dramatically throughout the album, the moodiness is always there, whether it’s from the minor chords or Annie’s soft yet sometimes haunting voice, honestly there is never a dull moment, even the gay carnival bits rule. Let it grow is a beautiful little number, this is where Annie really shines, her pitch perfect yet naturally sounding vox oozes passion and warm milk on my naked body, baby take me, take me hard. Michael Dunford shows what he can do on the third track On the Frontier, his vocals harmonize magnificently with Annies to create a sexy choir that propels the song to something special indeed. Annie is a goddess, from her exquisite bust to her beautiful angelic voice, it’s like i can almost taste her as she breathes her voice into my ears, ahh yes indeed. I wouldnt mind seeing to her rear quarters either, basically i want to *** her and live in her cave, but who wouldnt" Carpet of the Sun and At the Harbour are both majestic pieces, again with Annie in the spotlight for most of the duration, at the harbour is a very moving piece indeed, featuring only a piano and Annies vocals, it just showcases her talent and how amazingly perfect her voice really is. The title track is another final track masterpiece that you’ve come to know from Renaissance, and while it’s not quite up to the level of Song Of Scheherazade and Mother Russia it comes pretty friggin close. From the get go you know this song is something special, the intro is so captivating i seriously cannot withhold swaying from side to side with a gay little grin, this song seriously moves me, and trust me that is rare for a dumb thrasher kid like me. About half through this epic the song breaks off into an instrumental section, which totally kicks ass, the bass and drums synchronize perfectly, like almost Rush level it’s that good. The only downside to this song i can think of is that it is too short, it always leaves me wanting more as it fades out, but then Trip to the Fair comes on afterwards so i cant complain.

Renaissance is one of the many overlooked progressive bands of the 1970s, Combining stellar musicianship, classical passages and the amazing Annie Haslam, the band struck gold. It sucks so little know of this masterpiece, like seriously there ARE other prog bands than Pink Floyd and Yes, and people need to learn that ***, and this is a good place to start your study. From here to Scheherazade and Other Stories, the band created truly classic albums so i suggest to you all reading this who havent heard their music, do yourself a favour and experience the Renaissance baby, you wont regret it……kill…sputnik…..~ 
  It was a hard deal for me when I was issuing out the ten - Prologue is probably a bit more exciting, whereas Ashes are certainly a bit more mature, and in the end it all depends on the mood I’m in. Therefore, just in order to promote and support maturity, I award the 10 to Ashes, although that’s purely a matter of subjective approach. Warning given out! Both are equally solid, with only a few relatively insignificant duds along the way, but these are the duds that prevent Renaissance from getting a higher band rating, not the duds that do not allow me to give them two record ratings of 10. Feeling bored, are ye? Feeling muddled? Feeling mixed up? Well, that’s the violent excesses of complicated rating systems for ya… we all have to be smart at times.

This is where Renaissance becomes, to quote the immortal Andrew Oldham, more than a band, rather a way of life. Everything about the album is drenched in that warm, resplendent, medieval-romantic style, from the pictoresque album cover to the graceful lyrics to the swooping string arrangements. No more 'piano rockers’ on here, in fact, no more electric guitars: there are some nice bits at the end of the title track, inserted by guest star Andy Powell, otherwise it’s just Michael Dunford who strums his acoustic. But don’t you dare think that Renaissance have degraded into becoming a sissy pop band. Nah, that wouldn’t occur until the disaster of Azure D'Or; this one’s anything but a simple pop album. Just as its predecessor, the record is framed by two lengthy, ten-minute epics. Now their length, I feel, is not entirely justified (again): the instrumental sections simply pass me by, again and again and again. The tinkling piano that opens 'Can You Understand’ (and, by the way, reminds me of the introductory Tony Banks passage on 'Firth Of Fifth’; funny that both albums were recorded in the same year) is delicious, of course, but apart from that, the song is only notorious for the vocal melody; as usual, it is brilliant, with Annie rising to the challenge and reaping more and more fruits. Hmm. I just realized that you can’t actually reap fruits. But let it stay as it has been written; who knows, what with the technological progress, in a hundred years or so they’ll be reaping fruit. Now if only this here site would last a hundred years more…
…digressing again, silly reviewer! And he hasn’t yet commented upon the title track! The title track, ladies and gentlemen, is positively awesome! Starts out real dark and dreary, with wild winds blowing and sad piano chords, and Annie sings a sad, heavenly melody with lyrics that seem to wax nostalgic and convey a tragic aroma, but then they revert to the chorus and it’s suddenly not so depressing anymore - it’s actually a song about shaking off your past, not cashing in on your depression. Then comes the lengthy, lengthy instrumental part which is not great but definitely more attractive than the one on 'Can You Understand’, with Tout constantly switching from piano to harpsichord to organ to piano again, so he at least offers you some diversity. And the end - Annie sings the introspective, mystic conclusion - 'ashes are burning away… ashes are burning awaaaaaaaay!’ If this is prog, this is their prog masterpiece.
And in between are sandwiched four pretty folk-pop songs, all of which blow Mariah Carey away. Gee, perhaps that was not the best comparison. You got my drift anyway. Okay, maybe not four. Maybe three. 'On The Frontier’ is a bit… beh… boring. I guess, though, that I feel this way again because Annie is singing in a duet and not solo; but the song does not seem to have a solid melody to me anyway, and at six minutes time it gets more tedious than the title track. It’s a bit similar to 'Kiev’ on Prologue in that respect. But the others? 'At The Harbour’ is a pretty, almost beautiful little ballad with simple, unsophisticated lyrics about the sea and the you-know-what-kind-of problems connected with its influence on certain people’s lives. The piano intro is a bit overlong, but the main melody is again top of the pops; I especially like the way the quickly sung, 'normal’ verses contrast with the slow, gentle chorus. 'Carpet Of The Sun’ may be just a bit too sugary, but it always was a stage favourite anyway, and for obvious reasons: it probably epitomizes the very spirit of Renaissance, you know, that May Queen spirit - the carnivalesque, shiny happy traditional medieval feel which this band managed to pick up with such tremendous success. So it’s really not sugary, it’s modelled after that folkish vibe, and it captures the folkish vibe perfectly, adding some nice, intricate orchestration.
The album’s highest point, though, is 'Let It Grow’, a ballad of such jaw-dropping quality that I really bow my head - a couple more of such songs and I’d easily rate them a three. The word 'perfect’ is much too short and bleak to describe my feelings: it’s, like, the absolute ideal for an anthemic pop song. The vocal melody is simple, yet astonishingly effective, and, of course, Annie pulls it off with total glory. I said in the previous review she never topped her singing on Prologue; well, here’s the obvious exception - here we go with that five-octave range thing again, especially when she gets to sing the 'it’s gotta just GROOOOOOW’ lines in the chorus. Awesome, positively awesome. Man, if all the other songs on this album were absolute shit, I’d still give it a 10 just for that masterpiece which you just gotta hear, everybody. 'Let it grow’ on you, together with the other minor chef-d'oeuvres on this record. Buy it today: it’s the best that the tricky 'classical-folk-pop’ genre could ever offer to you, and the band would never top it to the best of my knowledge…..~ 
  As the second line-up is now fully established, this one takes a solid turn towards folk-rock and succeeds in re-establishing a new kind of very instantly distinguishable Renaissance sound. A group picture graces the gatefold sleeve, but when seeing previous albums, it is a bit of a deception despite the use of the all-important logo used on many albums in the future. Still with McCarty overseeing things (or at least still writing songs, this album also sees the appearance of Wishbone Ash’s Andy Powell for a splendid guitar solo.
As said above, the 11-mins+ title track comes with a rare and superb guitar solo coming from Wishbone Ash guitarist Andy Powell with Annie reaching some incredibly high notes without any distortion in the middle section; definitely the highlight of the album, even if the lengthy “Can You Understand?” has got its moments as well. Actually, the latter starts on with a Russian classical composers-inspired Tout piano solo, much in the line of what John Hawken did in the Mk I line-up, but the track slides imperceptibly into folk territory, but some of the twist in the vocal melody is a bit clumsy. Plenty of good stuff, but perfectible. Another rather interesting track is the almost 7-mins At The Harbour track, a bit different than the usual “piano-starting piece before the band kicks in” routine, with tout’s piano indeed opening and Haslam’s voice over an harmonium enchants, Tout returning to accompany her in the closing minutes. The rest of the album is typical numbers of theirs with symphonic passages but remaining close to folk territory.
Many Renaissance unconditional fans will regard this album as their “first true album”, but this is of course only engaging their own opinions. As far as I’m concerned I could almost say that it is their last true one. If I could give it one word: Pastoral……by Sean Trane …..~

OH WOW! Another perfect Renaissance album. Maybe Annie Haslam has her best voice on this record: using headphones, the experience is more than pleasant! Other musicians’ backing vocals support very well Annie’s lead vocals. If one can describe what makes this album unique, then the answer resides in the bass performance! THIS RECORD HAS ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL & BOTTOM BASS IN THE ROCK HISTORY: an extreme Rickenbacker bass sound, like Geddy Lee used to play with, nevertheless making this man’s sound dull, even on his best performance. So, play it loud, ground shaking guaranteed! The album, as usual, has tons of catchy piano melodies: THE PIANO SOUND IS EXTREMELY POWERFUL & BOTTOM TOO! The style is very baroque symphonic: there are many excellent orchestral arrangements, and there are some harpsichord parts too ; there are many rhythmic acoustic guitars and shaking tambourine sounds. All the tracks are at least very good. Everything is catchy, and IMO this music can be easily liked by many people, not necessarily prog fans, despite its obvious complexity.

Ashes are Burning has that great keyboard influence. The title track a bit reminiscent of Deep Purple’s Child in Time. It was a great follow up to Prologue and some argue that this was Renaissance at their summit. It is a consistently strong album throughout with Haslam vocally at her best.Listen to ’ Carpet of the Sun’, ’ At the Harbour’ and the epic title track if you need any convincing… Chris S …..~

I’m so glad I woke up to Renaissance after all these years. 'Ashes are buring’ is a fine album. Renaissance strike the perfect balance between folk, rock and classical music on this album. It could have leant more towards folk, and that IMO would have been its downfall.
Annie Haslams voice is superb, enchanting and sensitive in parts, dramatic and strong in others. John Touts piano playing is flawless, and the overall feel of the album is of classic thoughtfull, 70’s rock. The production is clean and natural sounding. Many artists benefited from this 'organic’ production, so prevelant in the 70’s, and sadly lacking in todays digital age.

'Can you understand’ 'At the harbour’ and 'Ashes are buring’ are the best tracks on this album. Full of drama, and musical twists and turns that either take you surprise, or just make you smile knowing that you have made a very wise purchase!

There’s not really a duff track in sight. The weakest is probably 'Let it grow’ but even that is pleasant enough on the ears….. by Blacksword ……~

This is Renaissance at their peak. The band mixes perfectly rock, classical music, folk, and a soprano female vocalist. The guitars are usually acoustic in this record, the piano is prominent as well as the amazing Annie Haslem’s vocals. The drumming is usually simple, except for the title track with its excellent percussion. The Bass Guitar has a similar sound to Yes’ bass.

“Can You Understand” begins with a classical piano solo that reminds me of 'Firth of Fifth’, the rest of the song is a symphonic rock-folk with classical piano work. Brilliant!!. 'Let it Grow’ is a piano folk ballad with nice melodies and a piano driven finale with wordless vocals.'On the Frontier’ is a highly melodic and easy listening folk ballad in which a male vocalist sings along with Annie. There are two nice piano solos in this track. 'Carpet of the Sun’ is a poppy and happy symphonic song with nice melodies. 'At The Harbour’ is a dark track with brilliant musical arrangements and melodies.

The title track is a masterpiece and I am glad it is here in Progarchives so that people unfamiliar to the band can listen to this. It begins with a folk ballad with nice melodies. Later, Annie hits incredibly high notes with her voice and the song gets a bit heavier after Annie sings those wordless vocals. That next section is an instrumental workout in which all members can be allowed to shine (especially the keyboardist). After the short section in which Annie sings, Powell plays a highly melodic electric guitar that fits perfectly for the song.

This album is almost essential … it is very melodic, it has the best female vocalist I have ever heard, good mixtures of genres, and pleasant easy music……by Zitro …..~ 
It’s the time of fantastic moves, of beautiful music, of masterful thought and of everlasting. After a long period of what I like to consider “style accomodation”, Renaissance wake up to a form that will shine of brilliancy and of intelligent artistic manifest, everything in a most keen period of them all. The mid '70 resemble by definition a moment of intensive geniality illustration and Renaissance don’t stay out of the picture at all, reaching a concept and an ideal of entity climax that will not have a similar reflection in any other moment of history (their history, that is). Three albums define the best of Renaissance, three albums raise them to an infinite state of excellence. Ashes Are Burning isn’t an opener of this, but a direct hit of brilliant gesture and sharp master-effects, being of such a beauty, it’s hard to comprehend it in its entire. Considering this the most prolific album of Renaissance wouldn’t be unjustified, as it tends indeed to have the greatest resonance and the most compact shape (or at least I hear it always as the best reference to Renaissance; prefectly okay). Personally it’s my second favourite, nonetheless a masterpiece dedication and a fabulous thing to experience.
In a large scheme of color, elements, motives and impression essences, Ashes Are Burning is a statement of complexity, of great understanding towards a most perfectioned flavor and approach, a dynamic interpretation that is appealing, intriguing and of great sense, of refinement in which valences are a matter of art and of over-confident excelation. The propositions are conserved and reflected in a most mature way, the sensations that compose music are brought to a point of splendid artifacts, the ideas that concentrate on the fluid nucleus of the album are bright, clean, excellent, plurimotivated. Hort sentenced, the feeling is perfect, the mood is ecstatic, the achievement is 100% definitory, the quality is undiminishing, the significance is unneglectable. Impressive, magnificent and pulsating. The character of Ashes Are Burning rely on a charisma in pure shape, on symbols of music, lyrics, breathes and emotions, on elevated dynamics and serious capitalization of the speech, and in a final imaginative stand, on a very boemic and authentic “Renaissance”-like essence. It’s a great thing ot experience this musical speech, it’s a marvelous reaction to observe and to witness the event of a climax and of a concept expansion rarely acknowledged. A sophisticated look into a music that in the end speaks towards the soul’s attention and the soul’s enlightement. Up to such a motivated definition, things just can’t get better. Pragmatic, yet very fluent and without the oversaturation of a detail branch focus. What more can I say, perfection to the real meaning of the world. The interpretations are two: the factual state and the listener’s knowledge. Be illuminated and be dazzled, for this is the true power. That, besides a rendered perspective. A vocal-instrumental combination holds the price of the fluent speech up and running. In the end, what’s left of everything is an introspective emotion and an eliberation into the vast space of a matter dream. In tone of real and reachable, the creation excites the undefined and the undesciphered as well. In tone of didact or even academic expression, the guided touch gives euphoria a dimension and to sensation a whole new understanding point. The power of Ashes Are Burning consists of pure music, of values, of principles and of passion. The reflection is a forte, pico bello, musique de lumiere.

Though the concentrated points of the albums are the two “epics”, try to savour the mid-part as well, for the power’s tendancy is to equally challenge the admiration. Perhaps not a “Black Flame”-like intensity in each and every one of them, still the short style(d) tracks aren’t just short style(d), but offer an imense view towards the language of the album. Back to the two “longs”, I am more fond of Can You Understand thatn to the title track, due to a charisma melody that soothenes me. Yet the title reference is the most profound composition, presenting a clear “climax of the climax”, through intensity, through unearthly dynamics and through the charm that seizes the breath. Repeating what I’ve already said in the general view, now to the details of the intimate exposure, the speech is pluri-emotive. The message carries different signals. Whether it’s the piece, or the changing scenery within a piece, or the elements within the scenery.Thus Ashes Are Burning conceives an entire palette. From dark to slow and to slippery, from glowing to secluded, from easy to complex, from cheerful to boemic and melancolic, from diffuze (positive thinking, of course) to crystal clear, from moving waves to burning air.From definition to explanations that comes aberant. For ultimately, and I repeat myself one more time, music counts… Ricochet ….~

I have an abiding memory of this album from my formative years living in a shared flat. Being a convert to the lush melodies and fine vocals of Renaissance, I bought the LP not long after its release. It quickly became a favourite, and was constantly on my turntable. Sharing a flat with three others, the best way to listen to music at a decent volume was to use headphones. So it was that I lay back on my bed and drifted off to the second side of the album. The relaxation qualities of the music were such that by midway through the feature (title) track, “Ashes are burning” I was pretty much asleep. Now for those familiar with the track, you will recall that after a lengthy instrumental section, all goes quiet, the silence only being broken by the voice of Annie Haslam singing “Imagine the burning embers..”. These vocals are however only in one channel, and so it was that awoke with a start and leapt up in my bed, thinking an unexpected lady had entered my room and was speaking right into my ear.

Now that tale, while largely indulgent and irrelevant, does serve to convey the essence of “Ashes are burning” as an album.

The album opens in similar style to the previous albums with the lengthy “Can you understand” This superbly constructed piece begins with a piano dominated instrumental but it is Annie Haslam who shines. Her vocal performance here is one of her finest ever, the track presenting her with the opportunity to display the full range of her talents.

“Let it grow” is a beautiful relaxed ballad, where Haslam explores her five octave range backed by sparse accompaniment. The final track on side one “On the frontier”, is the weakest on the album. It has all the usual Renaissance tenets, but lacks the spark of its illustrious peers.

The wonderful “Carpet of the sun” opens side two. This highly melodic piece once again offers Haslam the challenge she relishes with its soaring chorus. Lyrically the song is warm but whimsical, complementing the melody to perfection. “At the harbour” must rank as one of the band’s most undervalued songs, a fact only partially rectified by the stunning version on Michael Dunford’s Renassiance’s “Ocean gypsy” album. This sad tale of fishermen’s wives waiting in vain for the return of their loved ones was clearly inspired by such tragic stories from lyricist Betty Thatcher’s native Cornwall. John Tout’s haunting piano which bookends the track and Haslam’s ghostly vocals only serve to heighten the dramatic effect.

The title track closes the album. This magnum opus sees the band bringing together all that has gone before, and moulding one of their greatest compositions. The track moves through highly melodic vocal passages, a wonderful organ section, and some exquisite guitar work by guest guitarist Andy Powell (Wishbone Ash). There is classically inspired keyboard work, and a truly progressive structure. This is a piece EMERSON, LAKE AND PALMER would have been proud ofI kid you not.

On this album, Michael Dunford contributes acoustic guitar and much of the song writing, but he is not yet credited as full member of the band (although he had actually rejoined prior to the album’s release). He is joined in song writing duties for the first time by Betty Thatcher, a partnership which would be the cornerstone of Renaissance music for many years to come. Thatcher was a poet by trade, and had been a friend of former band member Jane Relf. Interestingly, when introducing the title track of this album on the “Carnegie Hall” live album, the band describe this as their “second album”, choosing to ignore any releases under the Renaissance name during the Relf era.

This is the music which set the framework for bands such as MAGENTA and MOSTLY AUTUMN. It is as fresh and relevant today as it was in 1973. An essential album…….by Easy Livin …..~

You’d have to be pretty hard of heart not to appreciate some of Renaissance’s music, since it’s just so damn pretty…occasionally even beautiful. This album, possibly their career highlight, is chock full of wonderful melodies sung in Annie Haslam’s nightingale-sweet, soaring voice. This is not as classical music-influenced as other albums, with lots of folk-rock the order of the day. The shorter songs particularly are as good as hippie folk-rock gets, with great, uplifting melodies, if you can get past some Sesame Street-cute optimistic lyrics (which I can). The album’s highlight is At the Harbour, an incredible acoustic song that starts with solo piano and changes into a tragic ballad of the sea featuring delicate broken chords on the guitar. Quite breathtaking. The bookends of the album, Can You Understand and Ashes Are Burning, are more typical Renaissance epics, and driven by John Tout’s dramatic classical piano and harpsichord. The album concludes with an emotional Andy Powell guitar solo on the dramatic title track. This is one of three Renaissance (in the post-Relf lineup, at least) records that all symphos should own, along with Turn of the Cards and Scheherezade. Also don’t miss the first Illusion album, which is just as good… Heptade ……~

It´s hard to write a straight review about an album that has been largelly responsible for my love of prog music. When I first heard it when I was 15 it really blew my mind. I couldn´t believe my ears by the piano introduction of Can You Understand. And I had never found such a singer like Annie Haslam. A beautiful voice, with an amazing range and technique, she sounded like an angel (she still does!)
The album itself, now I see, is very much acoustic: Piano, Harpsichord, organ, acoustic guitars, drums, percussion. Aside from Wishbone Ash´s Andy Powell guitar solo at the end of the title track, the only electric instrument here is the bass guitar, marvelously played by Jon Camp. Still, you don´t miss anything. The music is more prog then folk, as some might have perceived. The use of orchestral arrangements on two tracks are very tasteful and very welk done.The musicians are really outstanding, they go from a simple ballad like Let It Grow to the jazz-rock-classical jam at the end of Ashes Are/Burning without any trouble.

HIghlights? For prog lovers, Can You Understand and the title track. Great epics with everything one should expect from a band of this caxliber: swinging moods, fantastic keyboards, incredible bass lines, and so on… for the ones who aprecciate more quiet sutff, At The Harbour is one fo the most moving songs of the entire prog world (even though its piano introduction is really a stealing from Debussy). The softer side of the band comes with Carpet of The Sun (fine orchestration!) and the ballad Let It Grow (simple and yet effective). Only On The Frontier seems to be a weaker track, but it is nice anyway.

On all tracks the voice of Annie Haslam soars: she is a league on her own. The best female singer ever!

Ashes Are Burning is a classic, an essential masterpiece of music in any sense. And one of the top five prog records (or any other music style) in my life…. by Tarcisio Moura ……~

Following the release of “Prologue” guitarist Rob Hendry left the band to be replaced by Peter Finberg for the upcoming tour of the band.When finally Renaissance were ready to write another album, Finberg was replaced by Michael Dunford, who returned as an acoustic guitarist.“Ashes Are Burning” was recorded between April and August of 1973 and released in October of the same year on Sovereign Records for the UK market.The album featured a guest appearance of Wishbone Ash'es guitarist Andy Powell on the long eponymous track.
“Can You Understand?” is definitely among the band’s best offerings ever.Excellent piano-driven Symphonic Rock mixed with Orchestral/Folk Rock and Haslam in her best shape ever, containing both dramatic and dreamy passages.Tout had become one of the band’s leading forces, as prooved again by the second and third track “Let it grow” and “On the Frontier”.Nice absolutely ethereal ballads with a smooth rhythm section and Classical-inspired piano vibrations.Notice that “On the frontier” was previously released by ex-Renaissance member Jim McCarty’s band Shoot.Another beatiful cut is “Carpet of the Sun”, a short composition with orchestral parts, finally the harsichord of Tout is on the forefront along with string passages and Haslam’s crystalline chords.“At the Harbour” contains a great piano prelude by Tout, but soon it regains a lovely British Folk flavor with an intense lyrical content, led by acoustic guitars and Haslam’s vocals, before another piano outro.The eponymous 11-min. track is among Renaissance’s classics, no question.A superb arrangement with grandiose vocals but also extensive instrumental themes around orchestration passages, piano and harsichord interludes, even some deep organ appears in the middle and the great solo of Powell before the end.
Overall this was a great improvement over “Prologue” and the establishment of Renaissance into full-blown smooth Progressive Rock of very high quality.Highly recommended, one of the best albums of Orchestral Progressive Rock.  by apps79 ………….~

Finally the lineup for which Renaissance would become best known is in place, a lineup with as much synergy as you could find in 1970s rock. As a result, “Ashes are Burning” is the first truly classic Renaissance album, and one of their best ever. The blend of rock, romantic classical and folk elements was never really challenged by any band before or since. Annie’s voice is properly employed for the first time, and the balance of guitars, keys and orchestral effects is achieved on instinct.
The album opens with the most fully formed and realized Renaissance epic up to that point, “Can You Understand”. It is a symmetrical piece, beginning and ending with a divine theme on piano, supported heavily by acoustic guitar, bass and drums. This really rocks! Within is an elegantly orchestrated section sandwiched by Annie to sparse guitar accompaniment. “Let it Grow” is a gentle almost poppy song that is elevated several storeys by Annie’s vocal gymnastics. “On the Frontier” is yet another vestige of the early Renaissance era, with the music by McCarthy. It is like a sequel to “Spare some Love” off Prologue, also featuring Annie and her male cohorts providing brilliant harmonies and some fine breaks showing off Mr Camp’s pedigree. Like that earlier track, it crams so much into so short a space that it almost comes off like an epic.

“Carpet of the Sun” is another lovely track but with a bit more substance than “Let it Grow”. “At the Harbour” features a classically inspired folk song surrounded by very classical intro and outros. What is amazing is that an early compilation featuring this album and its predecessor dropped both of those parts, essentially eviscerating the song. “Ashes are Burning” is a fine rendition although it’s hard to evaluate fairly in light of the vastly superior 24 minute version from “Live at Carnegie Hall” which appeared several years later. Even Andy Powell’s guitars at the end somehow don’t match the mood, although it must be said that they are more suited to the Renaissance sound than what we heard in “Rahan Khan”. They are really no substitute for Annie’s histrionics on the live version. Nonetheless, considered on its own merits, it is still a powerful piece.

4.5 stars, and only because the Live Ashes essentially supplants the studio version. Still, not enough to stop me from rounding up. This is where to begin your exploration of the unique Renaissance sound… kenethlevine ……~

The thing that makes Ashes Are Burning a very special album for me is that it’s not perfect. The songs’ structures seem careless, even crude, and two occasional elements of the sound (chief writer Michael Dunford’s acoustic guitar and any time Annie Haslam’s wonderful, creamy soprano finds itself sprawling over a male harmony that doesn’t really match up) simply don’t blend with the album as a whole. And yet, in spite of these inadequacies and crudities, Ashes Are Burning is a spellbinding, compelling album. The music shines through.

Quickly summing up the band: John Camp (stop sniggering at the back) is a jolting Squire-esque lead bassist with plenty of crunch and attack to cover the principal deficiency of keyboardist John Tout’s classically inspired, cinematic piano and organ parts. Drummer Terrence Sullivan fills out the rhythm section very capably, if generally unremarkable, and Michael Dunford’s sort of limp-folk acoustic is perhaps compensated for by his ability as a songwriter. But we couldn’t forget singer Annie Haslam, whose clear soprano has a creamy, luxuriant quality; occasionally, it feels almost too rich, but even then, a real treat to hear. Once saw 'Everything fusion’ as a very fitting description of their music, and given their use of an occasional orchestra, strict classical piano, a chugging rhythm section and folk-based writing and subject matters, I don’t think I can better that.

And this sound is best off in the opening/closing pair of the album. Can You Understand features possibly my favourite instrumental intro ever, with a gorgeous little piano motif pulsing away under the jarring, jabbing attack of Camp’s bass, with all its various elements soaring away and then falling back into a tight, powerful, rich and complex arrangement. Two and a half minutes of the best music ever made. Thereafter, we see variously a rather irrelevant ten-second choral segue; a plain folk tune rolling into a more Gypsy-flavoured chorus, which is then instrumentally developed without particularly striking uses of either Tout’s odd-sounding piano or the ornamental orchestra, which then slides back into a more deeply arranged variant of the folk tune with a blaring orchestra and Tout and Camp walking around on the chords behind it and now back to that wonderful opening theme with its parts overrun by violins, cellos, brass. Strangely enough, the intellectually interesting aspects of the song (a sort of abcCBA structure, where the capitals are orchestral) don’t seem especially well-realised… the band’s creativity seems to have gone out for a smoke whenever a bridge was needed, it flows pretty poorly, and yet, the contradiction of the album is present here: it’s just fantastic. The individual sections are a delight, Renaissance are easily the most convincing incorporators of a classical orchestra in rock music (perhaps it’s writing for Tout’s noticeably classical presence that gives the orchestra something to latch onto), and that instrumental opening is so powerful that even the clumsiest transitions barely slow the song’s emotional drive.

Well, since we’re still recovering from that one, the sweet ballad of Let It Grow (admittedly, clichéd lyrics, but Betty Thatcher’s word choice fits the tune very well) is a sweet follow-up, starring a remarkably calm piano and an absolutely winning vocal from Haslam, who moulds a lovely melody into a nuanced, full, gripping part. Camp, Dunford and Sullivan wander along in the background, and only Sullivan’s precise 'leave’ (one of those cases where I’d love to know a drumming term) on the end of Haslam’s melodies and band presence the cathartic, harmony-laden denouement feel particularly relevant. Very charming, though the instrumentation is often superfluous.

On The Frontier took a while to appreciate. Have to admit, I still find Dunford’s acoustic a bit tinny on the intro, I don’t think much of either the vocal arrangements (a sort of strange oil-and-water crossing of Haslam and Camp’s (I think) vocals) or the lyrics. However, those seemingly essential elements don’t really seem to matter that much; the band’s instrumental strengths simply outshine it. Tout’s lush piano (even his very stiff efforts at jazzing it up), Camp’s ability to take up and then fill out all parts presented to him and Sullivan’s solid sound and capacity for fills, and a very neat acoustic part on the end secure this as at least a positive impression.

But, altogether excellent, bright and bouncy, Carpet Of The Sun is a folk/pop tune substantiated by the fully-functional orchestra with a fluent harpsichord, an interesting drum part running along behind it, and, indeed. Haslam’s vocal is gorgeous, delivering in a suitably uplifting format a suitably uplifting lyric. A song that smiles just about as broadly as this reviewer is comfortable with but which thankfully has very nice teeth. At The Harbour is a strange contestant for my favourite tune of the album; it doesn’t boast, it’s not particularly stressing anything, it’s about the aftermath and not the event. Piano introduction, a persistent, clear acoustic melody, a mournful harmonium and Annie Haslam’s beautiful, haunted vocal… it’s really an emotional piece, brought out by Thatcher’s ambiguous lyrics. Eliot’s 'new art emotion’ seems an appropriate description.

Ashes Are Burning is the second extended treat for us here, and the powerful closer that matches Can You Understand blow for blow. It’s far more coherent in its mixture of folk, rock and classical than the opener… at least, everything patches together very well, the number of great melodies, on celeste, piano, organ and bass is just extraordinary, a number of styles are touched upon but Sullivan pulls everything together into the rock camp, Haslam’s lead vocal over an organ-and-pedals about eight minutes in is amazing, pure, powerful, haunting and the driving conclusion with a gorgeous blues guitar solo (courtesy of Andy Powell) is divine.

So, there you have it, a sandwich with the bread on the inside? Nevertheless, an album with a few flaws, real flaws, flaws that really should matter, that is pulled through by the power of its melodies, the individuality of its performers and the willingness to try new things. Something any music lover should take a look at sooner or later, and an example a lot of bands could do with… it’s personality, not mere accuracy and thought, that makes great albums….. by TGM: Orb …..~

“Clear your mind maybe you will find, That the past is still turning, Circles sway echo yesterday, Ashes burning, ashes burning…”
Renaissance’s “Ashes Are Burning” is their masterpiece. The title track is one of the best examples of Annie Haslam’s high 5 octave range. The lyrics are evocative of dreams or reflections of how things used to be and how they could be. The folk prog atmosphere borders on a Celtic flavour at times due to the musicianship and vocal techniques. I am reminded of early Fairport Convention or Pentangle at times, especially due to the content and female soprano vocals. Annie has a pleasant, sweet voice that always feels uplifting to the spirit and she is a survivor of the male dominated prog scene of the 70s. Curved Air would spring to mind as another. This album features some of Renaissance’s most endearing and most popular works.

'Let it grow’ is quintessential to Renaissance with a nice melody and a pretty musical framework. The rhythm is executed with acoustic flourishes mixed with piano arpeggios and scales. The sound is more mainstream and would fit a radio program easily. 'On the frontier’ is a lot more progressive with some innovative time sig changes with bass solos and a prodigious piano workout.

The final track, 'Ashes are burning’ is brilliant, my favourite Renaissance track. It clocks in at 11:24 as a mini epic with a ton of piano and acoustic work. A vibraphone compliments the soundscape beautifully with a tapestry of interwoven piano lines and Annie’s enchanting voice. The lyrics are equally alluring and every time I hear them on this track it takes me to a far away place with lush green meadows and tall trees, and a neon purple sky; “Travel the days of freedom, Roads leading everywhere, Come with me now and show how you care, Follow the dying embers, Cross on the paths that they lay, Breath of the past the earths yesterday…”

The music has the power to transfix images with its delicate nuances, and progressive symphonic orchestration. Annie’s pulchritudinous angelic vocals on the album are enticing enough, but the lyrics are mesmirising making this album an instant classic… AtomicCrimsonRush ……~ 
The most immediately noticeable differences with 'Ashes Are Burning’ over the prior two Renaissance albums are the precisely measured arrangements of each song, and the overt confidence displayed by the band members as they perform them. 'Prologue’ was a decent album but the studio atmosphere was clearly less rigorous than here. There are several places on that album where the band seemed to indulge in extemporaneous space-filling (like both the opening and closing tracks), and others where musical ideas seem to have been left unexplored (eg., “Bound for Infinity”). But with 'Ashes’ the band has found their groove and every song is rich with both musical precision and lyrical meaning.
Michael Dunford was still writing for the band and in fact officially rejoined them to provide acoustic guitar on the album. He replaced the briefly-employed Peter Finberg who had come from and returned to a career in mostly pub-rock bands like Slack Alice and HiHooka Joe. Finberg had himself replaced Rob Hendry who was encouraged to leave following 'Prologue’ and according to John Tout was never a good fit for the group.

Dunford wrote all the songs on 'Ashes’ with the exception of “On the Frontier” which former band founder Jim McCarty had composed and recorded with his new band Shoot and which Renaissance immediately appropriated for their own use. The late Betty Thatcher had by this time completely ensconced herself in the lyricist role for the band and provided Annie Haslam with all her lines for the album. Tout’s piano is much more prominent throughout, but the real difference seems to be Dunford as the music has returned to a more folk-rock direction, albeit a fairly commercial one. The production is clearly improved over the last couple albums under the direction of Dunford and co-producer Dick Plant who had just notched invaluable experience in a similar role with ELO’s 'On the Third Day’ sessions.

“Can You Understand?” opens the album with Tout, bassist Jon Camp and drummer Terrance Sullivan laying down a seductive melody that borrows heavily from Jarre’s 'Doctor Zhivago’ 60’s score and finds the band in top form with shifting tempos and playful chord variants that give the song a bit of a world-music feel in addition to something that sounds like something that would fit as a theatrical musical score (which I suppose it was, sort of).

The band relies heavily on Haslam’s vocals and Tout’s piano to drive many of the songs here especially the airy “Let It Grow” and “Carpet of the Sun”, the latter which features rich orchestral accompaniment of strings and reeds that sound remarkably like some of the same sort of stuff Joe Boyd had overseen with several of his Island stable acts around the same time. This music is quite rooted in the early seventies and clearly the band was paying some attention to what was going on around them musically at the time.

“At the Harbour” is a beautiful composition that combines piano, light acoustic guitar and what sounds like a bit of organ for a prototypical example of the sort of songs the band would go on to create on their next few 'classic period’ releases.

The closing title track once again finds the band adding an extended, heavily instrumental piece to end an album, something they had done on all three prior releases. Wishbone Ash’s Andy Powell provides the electric guitar here which along with Tout’s frenetic piano passage in the middle and organ forays throughout gives the tune some sonic depth that is lacking just a bit on the rest of the record. Unlike 'Past Orbits of Dust’ which closes 'Illusion’ and to a lesser extent “Rajah Khan” at the end of 'Prologue’ this track seems to be devoid of improvisation, rather focusing on delivering a tight composition that brings all the talents the band to bear for a promising glimpse of what was to come.

This is the best Renaissance album so far, and would become the band’s first charting record in the States, opening doors for them to tour extensively there over the coming years. A four star offering without a doubt, and highly recommended to anyone even remotely interested in the band….. by ClemofNazareth ……~ 
  Briefly-popular during the latter half of the 1970s, symphonic folk-rock quintet Renaissance were initially formed by ex-Yardbird Keith Relf during the dying embers of the 1960s, the vocalist having tired with amost a decade worth of playing blues-based rock. Keen to try something new, Renaissance was Relf’s ambitious attempt to stretch out musically, yet he would only stay with the group for a single album. That album was 1969’s self- titled debut, which also featured Relf’s sister Jane(vocals), Jim McCarty(percussion), John Hawken(piano) and Louis Cennamo(bass), none of whom feature on 'Ashes Are Burning’. Issued in 1973, this was the fourth Renaissance album overall, but the first to feature what is now recognised as the 'classic’ line-up of Annie Haslam(vocals), Jon Tout(keyboards), Michael Dunford(guitar), Jon Camp(bass) and Terry Sullivan(drums), all of whom featured on previous album 'Prologue’ bar Dunford, who replaced the outgoing guitarist Rob Hendry. Augmented by lyricist Betty Thatcher, this line-up would issue a trio of excellent albums from 'Ashes Are Burning’ onwards, marrying strong classical influences with folk, rock and pop to create a thrilling brand of symphonic music. Whilst 1975’s 'Scheherazade & Other Stories’ is often referred to as the group’s masterpiece, 'Ashes Are Burning’ also deserves special mention for it’s sheer power and bravado, showcasing the group’s core creative force of Haslam’s incredible five-octave vocals and Tout’s lush piano-playing. The whole album proves a sumptuous treat, yet it is the two lengthy pieces that book-end the album that show off Renaissance at their very best. Opener 'Can You Understand?’ starts a beautifully-judge piano medley that gathers in pace as it spirals towards it’s satifyingly grandiose inclusion, whilst the epic title-track literally bursts into after another gorgeously-sung Haslam intro makes way for the booming bass rhythms and churning keyboards of the tracks powerful second half. In between, the pretty and melodic 'On The Frontier’ and the anthemic 'Carpet Of The Sun’ showcase the usual Renaissance trademarks, once again marrying strong classical tones with elegiac folk touches and the subtle medieval feel that permeates much of their best work. One of the group’s trio of classic mid-seventies albums, 'Ashes Are Burning’ may just be their most ambitious album, and certainly their darkest….by stefo…..~ 
With electric guitarist Andy Powell sitting in on the title track, Renaissance delivered its best, and first fully formed album, mixing Russian, French, and Indian influences in musical settings that are both lively and elegant. The title track is one of the few lengthy progressive-rock pieces of the era that holds up, and the rest of the material runs the gamut from folk (“Carpet of the Sun”) to Impressionist (“At the Harbor”), all of it hauntingly beautiful and enlivening. Reissued in 1993 by One Way Records, with excellent sound….. by Bruce Eder….~

Ashes Are Burning is my favorite Renaissance album. Everything fits together very nicely here, with less of an incongruity the between prog epics and the briefer straightforward tracks than on later albums such as Scheherazade and Other Stories. I also don’t feel as overpowered by the orchestra on Ashes Are Burning as I do on some of the band’s later work, with John Tout’s magnificent piano work and Jon Camp’s overblown bass driving most of the album. Still undoubtedly the star of the show is Annie Haslam, who emerges as the high queen of prog rock with absolutely stunning vocal performances on tracks such as the somber story-song “At the Harbour”.

Every track on Ashes Are Burning is great, with the band delivering both its greatest “short” pop/rock track in “Carpet of the Sun” and two of its better extended pieces in “Can You Understand” and “Ashes Are Burning”. And how about that powerful electric guitar solo that closes out the title track (courtesy of Wishbone Ash’s Andy Powell)? It gets my vote for the best moment of the band’s career, and makes me wonder how great the band could have been if they regularly employed a talented electric guitarist.

An essential purchase for every prog rock fan. As it is less symphonic than later releases, Ashes Are Burning is probably also the best place to start with the band for listeners less familiar with symphonic prog. If you enjoy this, be sure not to miss out on Turn of the Cards or Scheherazade and Other Stories. ….Walter12……~

Where everything starts to come together for the “classic” Renaissance lineup.
I feel At the Harbor is a really special piece of music. The lyrics are a sea shanty tale of women morning the loss of their men in a storm at sea accident. Work continues around them at the harbor and their sadness is their own. Lyrically wonderful, but the last 2 minutes of the song lays out in your mind -all instrumentally- the last few moments as the ship goes down then the mens souls ascend to heaven. Those last 2 minutes with out using a single word expresses a spiritually story rarely expressed better in gospel music.
Jon Camps bass work on this album is really a highlight for me, very complex and very melodic. As the electric guitar fades almost nearly completely away on this album Jon Camps bass work is allowed to come to the fore to assist the compositions in equal stride with Annie’s voice and John Touts keyboards.
The album ends with a glorious electric guitar solo that will hauntingly lye in your mind as you think about the album as a whole.
If you like beautiful music or have any prog rock inclinations at all you should give this band a chance…….Castabout …..~

The previous two albums by Renaissance were both enjoyable but neither of those were that great. Their debut was a bit stronger than those two but Renaissance’s fourth studio album Ashes Are Burning turned out to be their best album so far in their career. It’s considered as the first true classic Renaissance album and it was their first album where they had an orchestra playing with them.
I like their previous sound very much too but the orchestra was the final piece which created the classic Renaissance sound. These six songs are all highly enjoyable here but the album closer and the title track “Ashes Are Burning” is the ultimate standout moment. I’ll give this album four stars out of five but it’s very close to 4,5 stars. I also rated their S/T debut with four stars but I still prefer this one a bit more.
Really, really good……by….CooperBolan ……~ 
With a debt to psych-pop outfits Jefferson Airplane and It’s a Beautiful Day, plus English folk-rockers like Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, Renaissance’s Annie Haslam brought a feminine energy to prog rock’s sausage fest: See the title track, the band’s signature, which she ends with a spectacularly held note that Geddy Lee couldn’t hit if his balls were in a panini press. Formed from the ashes of the Yardbirds by Keith Relf and Jim McCarty, the band went through radical personnel changes over the years, all in service of meshing classical, folk and rock, but with more of a traditional song-sense than most of their prog peers. This set split the difference between hooks and sprawl. And 40 years later, Annie Haslam is still spinning tales like Guinevere. W.H……Rolling Stone…..~ 

Acoustic Guitar, Music By – Michael Dunford
Bass, Guitar, Vocals – John Camp*
Drums, Percussion, Vocals – Terence Sullivan*
Keyboards, Vocals – John Tout
Music By – McCarty* (tracks: A3)
Vocals – Annie Haslam

Can You Understand 9:49
Let It Grow 4:15
On The Frontier 4:53
Carpet Of The Sun 3:31
At The Harbour 6:50
Ashes Are Burning 11:24 

Renaissance “Turn Of The Cards” 1974
First working with an orchestra on Ashes are Burning, Renaissance further expanded on their classic style with Turn of the Cards, their fifth album overall and third with their best line-up. The group are known as one of the very few in progressive rock who successfully integrated a classic ensemble in their sound, able to make band and orchestra work as a seamless whole.
Ashes was already a really good symphonic progressive album, particularly standing out because of Annie Haslam’s beautiful voice, applied to its full effect in the vocal leads and harmonies. Turn of the Cards followed the same path, but the similarity between the two was anything but disappointing. Renaissance’s next record featured lengthier and more complex tracks, filled to the brim with beautiful melodies and grandiose symphonic arrangements. If anything, it is more balanced than both its predecessor and Scheherazade and Other Stories, which would follow after.
The music is driven first and foremost by John Tout’s classical-inspired piano playing and the crystal-clear, pitch-perfect voice of the inimitable Haslam. Her spectacular vocals add a compelling beauty to Renaissance’s sweeping, romantic soundscapes, and Turn of the Cards contains some of her best performances, at turns commanding and soothing. Grand piano and acoustic guitar remained at the core of the group’s sound, with drums and electric bass being the only traditional rock elements still present. Apart from his leading role on the acoustic, Michael Dunford had already played an important part as composer for the band, even though he only became an official member from this recording onwards. Bass player Jon Camp’s work is comparable to that of Chris Squire, but without Yes’ self-indulgence. Terrence Sullivan rounded out the formation on drums.
Most of the compositions show a blend of classical music with amounts of jazz, pop, folk and rock, worked into one cohesive offering and uniquely enhanced by the orchestra. The interplay between musicians is terrific, and the overall result not overly bombastic. The truly symphonic instrumentals within the longer songs are all arranged orchestral parts. There is no room for soloing or jam sessions here; everything is carefully arranged.
Renaissance had a lot of talent in both the writing and performing department. Turn of the Cards represents another evolutionary step for them, mostly in terms of arrangement, dynamics and production. The pieces flow naturally from start to finish, encompassing melodious singing and vivid instrumentals in a continuous wave of crescendo and lull. If Prologue created the formula and Ashes are Burning defined the template, then here is where the band found the spark of creativity that lasted throughout their next couple of albums.
Highlight opener Running Hard is often considered one of Renaissance’s greatest songs. It is the first to include a lengthy piano intro (something which would return more strongly on Scheherazade), and home to intricate, yet accessible vocal harmonies. Things I Don’t Understand has an absolutely haunting first section, with a powerful melody and choral effects, almost sounding like mellotron; later on, Haslam demonstrates her lyricism and exceptional vocal harmonization.
Black Flame is another magnificent composition, one that’s actually too short for its own good. Its brilliance builds from the interaction between keyboards and bass, with the guitar arpeggios soon entering the spectrum, and ultimately, Haslam completing the sonic palette. The record’s best piece is however Mother Russia. While not diverting from a standard structure, it is executed exceedingly well and has a strong sense of purpose. The mood is more sombre, and heavier in tone than anything else on the album.
Turn of the Cards proved that Renaissance could develop the symphonic sound they created to further and even greater results. Together with the preceding Ashes are Burning, the album led the band towards a wider audience, and easily stands among their strongest efforts. The mysterious and ethereal nature of their music is a perfect fit for Annie Haslam’s angelic reverberations. After all, when you have a vocalist with the voice of an angel, all you need to do is play some great songs for her to sing…….by ProgJect ….Sputnik….~ 
Rabid prog fans often view this and the following albums as Renaissance’s high points, and it’s easy to see why. The style is still essentially the same as on Ashes, but there are also big changes made. No 'Let It Grow’ or 'Carpet Of The Sun’ here: the band has clearly decided that they allowed a bit too much jovial folk pop to be present in their work, and they choose a slightly different approach now, with an emphasis on symphonic and progressive elements. Just like Ashes, this one has but six songs; but there are already three, not two, lengthy prog-fests, and out of the three other tracks, only 'I Think Of You’ qualifies as 'lightweight’. It is indeed quite charming, a pretty simple acoustic-driven love ballad where Annie employs her usual trick of raising her voice to an unbelievably high pitch just before the end of the verse that totally stuns the listener (unfortunately, she only does it in the final verse). The song is not quite up to the standard of 'Let It Grow’, of course (eh, I can hardly imagine anything that would be), but very pretty, and Tout’s harpsichord, perhaps the instrument he really was best at, adds a nice touch as well.

But that’s about it. For most of the other songs, you have to brace yourself for a 'tougher’, less immediately attractive or catchy, but still more or less rewarding, sound. 'Running Hard’, 'Things I Don’t Understand’, and 'Mother Russia’ all take some time to get used to, and I’m still not head-over-heels in love with the lengthy instrumental passages. They do get a little better, I’ll admit: Camp is growing into a real efficient bassist, and Tout gets more and more fluent as a piano player. To diversify the settings, the band draws in a horn section at times, and orchestration abounds. But the band never seems to get much effect from their interplay, and doesn’t seem to care much about true emotional resonance, too. So it’s mainly hit and miss: their approach works blissfully on the stately, well-crafted pomp of the otherwise a bit ridiculous 'Mother Russia’ (the brass on that one is particularly impressive), but elsewhere, it again seems to me they’re often just pulling time. Especially since the lengthy, not quite inspired piano jams are in great contrast with the vocal melodies - still Renaissance’s main forte and just as strong as ever. I’m not a great fan of 'Running Hard’, although it’s pretty, but the nervous, jerky paranoia of 'Things I Don’t Understand’ really grabs me by the collar, as Annie and the boys chant the ominous lines 'thinking about things I don’t understand… thinking about things I don’t understand…’ The turn is then passed to the mid section and the song slowly and breathtakingly 'straightens out’, with a gorgeous choral section and the peaceful, upbeat ending where it is finally assumed that 'we don’t need to know the answers/To hope and pray for peace’. Take this as an interesting suite on human lack of knowledge, mayhaps?
The next two songs are among Renaissance’s very best, to be sure: short and up to the point, without any piano wankfests to distract you from Annie again and simply stupendous. 'Black Flame’ is dark, scary and moody, with some medieval Genesis-style acoustic guitar and a church organ in the background that set the backing for Annie’s powerful rendition of Thatcher’s somewhat obscure lyrics about how 'the black flame burns my blackened brame’. When that harpsichord comes in to accompany the refrain, one really starts to realize the enormous potential of the band… And 'Cold Is Being’ is awesome, even if the melody is, ahem, 'borrowed’ from Albinoni’s 'Adagio’ (this makes me wonder how many other melodies I have not identified - aye, 'tis indeed an ungrateful affair to review Renaissance without having a perfectly solid background in the classics). Nevertheless, adding vocals to the piece was a brilliant idea - much more positive than ELP’s idea to add vocals to 'Pictures At An Exhibition’, in fact. And the lyrics are among Thatcher’s most interesting and poetic, too: 'So cold is being lonely/Behold the feeling lonely/The living part is done/The dying has begun/The world is spinning slow/So tired slow’. Pathetic, but oh so true… pardon me.
Which leaves us with 'Mother Russia’, the strongest of the three 'prog’ cuts on here. It’s also the most symphonic of the three, with a magnificent, mastodontic orchestra part, and a noble, steady pace during which Annie renders the lyrics. Which, by the way, can only stem from Thatcher reading too much Solzhenitsyn: it seems to be about a concentration camp prisoner, actually, I suppose it’s about the man himself (he was just deported to the West in 1974), although if the words 'punished for his written thoughts’ indeed refer to him, Betty must have been wrong, as Solzhenitsyn only began writing after spending time in our gruesome places of detention. Gee, I thought I’d never have to bring these matters up…
In any case, this album doesn’t quite live up to a 10: it has more pointless instrumental passages than Ashes, and, like I said, the melodies simply don’t have the same grabbing potential. It’s very, very close though, and a very high 9 for Renaissance. And, of course, if complexity and pretentiousness is what you’re after rather than strong, memorable melodies, grab this one first (not that there aren’t any strong, memorable melodies here, of course). Come to think of it, if you’re that kind of dude, better grab their next one. This is where I really pass……~ 
Through the years there have been many, many great female singers, with powerful, angelic voices, Barbra Streisand, Grace Slick, Nancy Nevins (Sweetwater), Celene Dion, Enya, and some of my current favorites, Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation), Floor Jansen (After Forever), Vibeke Stene (Tristania) and Loreena McKennitt to name a few. However, to my mind, none have ever topped Annie Haslam when she was with Renaissance. Haslam’s voice had a magical quality and a smoothness that few others had. Though she had no formal training, her voice, seemed to me, to be the most perfectly pure and the the most purely pretty voice of all. Perhaps it is good that no one messed around with her voice, when you are on top, any change is downhill. But I digress too much, let’s get to Renaissance and their beautiful music.
“Running hard towards what used to be Losing ground in changes sliding endlessly Reaching out for mirrors hidden in the web Painting lines upon your face inside instead”
I’m sure many of you are familiar with them but for those of you that know little of Renaissance, let me edify you. The Phenomenon of Renaissance was originally started by ex Yardbirds, Keith Relf and sister Diane. Renaissance created a unique niche in the 70s with their exhilarating, passionate brand of progressive, neo-classical rock with historical, folk tendencies that preceded and is somewhat akin to New Age music. Although it is somewhat common today for many European and some American bands to borrow classical melodies even symphonies to be blended with rock or heavy metal, Renaissance was the first band that I can remember doing that and none, in my opinion, have done it any better. Annie Haslam is the pre-eminent vocalist of her time, with a five octave range and a compelling emotional ability to reach the listeners, she is the most important cog in the Renaissance juggernaut. But this melding of talented artists was a symbiosis, evidenced by the fact that Haslam’s solo career has floundered. the members of Renaissance seemed to feed off each other and were not as good separately. The Michael Dunford-Betty Thatcher writing team intermittently produced enough strong material to keep Renaissance fans happy, and the production, while recording for Capitol, was top notch.
“Changing moods and stranger feelings In my dealings with the world Faces that I’ve seen before am I sure Or has my brain turned
Thinking about things I don’t understand Thinking about things I don’t understand”

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

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

Probably it’s the best album by Renaissance, apart from the sole weak number “Cold is being” (talking about their ideas, as this latter is the arrangement from the famous “Adagio” from Albinoni), however enriched by means of the beautiful voice by Annie Haslam…moreover I like to remind you of the importance regarding some intelligent albums like the present one, because often a lot of prog fans concentrate their attention on the “bombastic” solos and the ostentatious aspects of our wonderful and favourite music genre, often forgetting the melodic aspects or the light musicality of the relaxed moments within. The start is that unique of an unforgettable band: the track “Running Hard” is characterized by a fantastic refrain and above all it’s the best gentle “female” reply to the most important and inspiring male vocalists in the British history of Progressive school. Of course I think of super groups like that one of Yes and here Renaissance are at their top and aligned with the same grandeur. Besides you can listen to the fabulous “Mother Russia”, concerning the vicissitudes of a Russian dissident against the regime, a splendid mini-suite, where Annie is able to combine the important political theme of their remarkable song, with a great music harmony…instead “Things I don’t understand” is another example of their musicality, especially in the second part, where she demonstrates her lyricism and the exceptional vocal harmonization as well;or once again I like to remark another very good number like “Black Flame”,which maintains an important tension and a powerful melodic line too, before introducing the already mentioned songs “Cold is being” and “Mother Russia”, this latter the best manner to conclude an unforgettable album!!
Recommended anyway and you could also give it the maximum score!!….by lor68 ……~.
Hooray! Another outstanding Renaissance album! Compared to the previous album “Ashes are burning”, the bass is more timid, but it still sounds as loud and bottom as Yes and Rush of the 70’s. Compared to “Ashes are burning”, it seems here that the piano and bass do not want to steal all the show: the music is rather loaded of miscellaneous instruments like harpsichord, acoustic guitar, piano, drums, which seem to sound at the same intensity level. Flute, harp, percussions and shaking tambourine contribute to create rich & sophisticated compositions. There are also very good classical arrangements, which give the baroque influence, as usual. The melodies are very catchy, so that many non proggers might like this record. Some will say that there are some folk elements. Annie’s lead vocals are absolutely OUTSTANDING, as usual. We feel here that the style converges to the epic & symphonic baroque work of the next album, “Song for Scheherazade”…. by greenback …..~ 
“Ashes are burning” had a major success in the States, entering the Billboard 200 and reaching No. 171.Renaissance had the chance to play live in the USA for the first time with surprisingly outstanding results, to the point they considered focusing more on the American market than the English one, who ignored them as a poor offshot of the classic Renaissance of the 60’s.The band left Sovereign Records and signed with the newly established BTM Records of Mike Copeland.Their next album “Turn of the cards” was firstly released in the States on Sire Records in August 74’, the English release came late in March 75’ on BMT.
This time Renaissance focused on producing a grandiose Orchestral Progressive Rock with dominant string sections, acoustic guitars and piano as the leading instruments, but the vocal lines of Annie Haslam and the shorter tracks still retained an evident ethereal, folky flavor, based on soft drumming, dreamy piano and acoustic textures.“Things I don’t understand” was a regular piece among Renaissance’s live gigs but it was recorded properly for the first time, somewhat connecting the early and present sound of the band, revealing strong psychedelic influences among smooth orchestrations and strong Classical flavors with a romantic mood.Despite entering the mid-70’s, Renaissance’s style remained pretty old-fashioned.The constant use of acoustic movements and the extended use of piano recall mostly of a band trying to become more artistic from the mass of 60’s Psychedelic groups, and the delicate use of harsichord adds a very symphonic taste to the music.They attempt a cover of “Adagio in G Minor” of Baroque composer Tomaso Albinoni with “Cold is being”, which is pretty great and highlighted by Haslam’s dramatic voice and Tout’s depressive church organ.“Mother Russia” is the one track that really shined through time from this album, based on the self-biography of Russian writer and activist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.The band captures the feeling of the cold Soviet winter in a dramatic Symphonic Rock with nice twists between string lines, marching parts and bombastic orchestrations.However the finest piece to my ears appears to be “Black flame”, led by a beautiful acoustic guitar/organ intro and Haslam’s poetic vocals and developing into a charming Piano/Symphonic Rock with polyphonic lines, romantic piano textures and charming harsichord.

Well-crafted album with some amazing orchestrations.Sounds pretty dated at moments for the year it was released and the one-dimensional guitar/piano dual executions are a bit annoying to lead a whole album.On the other hand Haslam’s unique vocals, the lovely symphonic mood and the rich arrangements are elements you can hardly turn your back to.Warmly recommended… apps79 …..~

This is the album where I find RENAISSANCE fully came of age. Most likely due to the fact that for once in their entire existence they had two consecutive albums with the same lineup. This stability meant that they could finally focus on the music at hand and refine it to some squeaky symphonic perfection. True that they may have never had a diverse range of sounds in their symphonic prog and you can tell how they recycle a riff here and a run there but even though they were basically a one-trick pony in the composition department they nevertheless were quite good at that one trick.
This actually makes sense since this band was basically manufactured by the management and not a product of organic collaboration. This band in that sense is no different from bands like the Monkees, so if you look at it like that then it’s totally logical that they stuck to the playbook. A lot of the classical piano pieces are actually reworkings or excerpts from traditional classical pieces and the fact that Jim McCarty songs are still finding their way onto albums proves that anything is fair game for inclusion.

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

I think this is a slightly better album than the preceding “Ashes Are Burning”. To me that is because on this album the band, well mostly Michael Dunford, who wrote all of the songs, mostly with Betty Thatcher, but one with original band member Jim McCarty, tends to shy away from the folky material, and stick to the much better symphonic prog.
I find it difficult to give just about any Renaissance album the coveted five star rating, mostly because, although I love many of their songs, they always tend to stay relatively mainstream. There are some adventurous chords, often taken from some classical piece or other, and a few odd timings, but most of their songs are still somewhat mainstream.

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

And of course, Annie Haslam’s voice is a treasure….. by Evolver ……~

Renaissance were another of the 70s prog bands with a female singer that captured the attention of many in the day and continue to gain fans due to the complexity of the music and crystal clear angelic vocals. Curved Air are also in the same league with Sonja Kristina, but the vocals of Annie Haslam are more operatic. Annie has a 5 octave range that really is entrancing.
Many cite Annie as before her time heralding in what is now known as female fronted operatic Gothic metal with bands such as Nightwish, After Forever and Epica. Annie has that dark edge of Gothic but is certainly capable of incredible beauty with her mesmirising skilful range. The other members of the band are Jon Camp on bass, Michael Dunford on acoustic guitar, Terrence Sullivan on drums, and John Tout on keyboards. The music is very mysterious and ethereal which is perfect or Annie’s angelic reverberations. The album has three songs per side on vinyl and all are excellent quality, with some compositions that are incomparable.

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

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

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

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

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

It took them a while but with 'Turn of the Cards’ Renaissance finally returned to the level of progressive brilliance that characterized their 1969 debut, although with a completely different lineup this time around. The one remnant of that version of the group was Jim McCarty who was still peripherally involved with the band although had stopped recording with them several years prior. His final 'appearance’ came on this album in the form of “Things I Don’t Understand”, a collaborative effort with Michael Dunford that dates back to the early seventies. While the album features three lengthy progressive compositions, this is the one that really binds the entire body of work from the 'Turn’ recording sessions. Coming nearly a third of the way into the record, “Things” marks a fairly abrupt departure from the melodic, almost poppish though steeped with symphonic tones that the group had established with the first two songs, a sound they had been moving toward since Annie Haslam and John Tout had become the foundation of the band a few years before this recording.
“Running Hard” opens with a beautiful volley of piano courtesy of Tout, followed by several progressions on his opening theme augmented by the rhythm section and Haslam’s soaring vocals along with several percussion bits that give the tune more of a classical feel but with noticeable pop sensibilities. A fine example of the sort of accessible, working man’s symphonic music the band would become known for throughout the decade, but nowhere near as daring and far-reaching as “Things” and what would follow it on the backside of the vinyl. “I Think of You” doesn’t even go that far with Haslam and Tout instead delivering a decidedly 'pretty’ and brief soft-rock love song bordering on being a ballad.

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

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

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

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

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

Acoustic Guitar, Vocals – Michael Dunford
Bass Guitar, Vocals – John Camp*
Drums, Percussion, Vocals – Terence Sullivan*
Keyboards – John Tout
Vocals – Annie Haslem*

Running Hard 9:37
I Think Of You 3:07
Things I Don’t Understand 9:29
Black Flame 6:23
Cold Is Being 3:00
Mother Russia 9:18

Renaissance  "Scheherazade And Other Stories" 1975
Renaissance were an important British progressive band that released a series of melodic, tightly executed symphonic progressive albums, mixed with elements of folk rock and lush classical overtones, throughout the 70’s. Above all, they stand out in their judicious use of a full orchestra (the London Symphony Orchestra) since their album Ashes are Burning, which marks the start of their golden era. Playing with a full symphony orchestra backing up is a feat many have tried, but few have succeeded in. Rivalling with artists such as ELP, Rick Wakeman, The Alan Parsons Project and The Moody Blues, Renaissance are easily the most convincing incorporators of a classical orchestra in rock music, and they arguably remain unmatched to date.
Of all their albums, Scheherazade and Other Stories is generally considered their finest hour. They had been building toward this climax with their two previous albums, Ashes are Burning and Turn of the Cards, which have lots in common stylistically with Scheherazade. More mature and self-confident, they all showed the willingness to try new things. Renaissance has great orchestral structures, many remarkable intuitions and passionate classical arrangements. The adding of a full orchestra adds a lush sound, unique atmospheres, and allows more depth, but at a risk of over-producing a too-slick a product, which is not the case here; Unlike ELP, Renaissance had the uncanny ability to take the very complex compositional ideas and render them perfectly listenable and accessible. Merging rock music and a classical orchestra usually sounds like the rock band is playing in one room and the orchestra is playing in another, but with Renaissance, this unholy alliance works very well.
Mainly composed by songwriter/guitarist Michael Dunford, the music is driven first and foremost by John Tout’s classically-inspired piano playing, who lays down plenty of magical tapestries. Annie Haslam is spectacular throughout, as she not only uses her angelic voice to sing the lyrics, but also as an instrument to vocalize melodies and harmonies. Annie’s crystal-clear, pitch-perfect and incredibly emotional voice truly is the heart of Renaissance’s music. Her full five octave’s soprano voice fits perfectly with their orchestral brand of symphonic prog. Don’t expect a shimmering, earth-shattering kind of early 70’s progressive. Here, most of the music is very lightweight, perhaps too mellow and gentle to some.
On top of that, the only electric instrument is the bass. The extensive orchestration makes up for the absence of an electric guitar, Dunford sticking strictly to acoustic. John Tout uses keyboards at a minimum and very sparsely, mostly using piano to great effect. It really set Renaissance apart from most other prog bands that at the time used synthesizers extensively. There are plenty of arranged symphonic parts with additional strings, and there’s nowhere you’ll find soloing or jamming sections. Showing off is not important, unless it benefits the song. Another important key factor to the band was the incredible bass skills of Jon Camp, whose silky-smooth, acrobatic Rickenbacker lines gave the band a unique voice, especially considering there was no lead guitar. Camp’s virtuoso performance offers up plenty of melodic, lead bass lines and complex patterns, �* la Chris Squire but less indulgent. Though drummer Terry Sullivan never takes the forefront in any of the material here, his drumming joins Camp’s bass to give a strong platform for the others to shine.
The album starts off with A Trip To the Fair. With its dramatic neo-classical piano intro played with grand finesse, it transports you to another time and place, and sets the mood for the rest of the album. This is one of John Tout´s finest performances on the piano. The Vultures Fly High is a short but effective rocker with, as per usual, a catchy melody. It mainly should be enjoyed as a brief, pleasant interlude between the magically captivating opener and the evocative Ocean Gypsy. The latter is a sombre symphonic ballad with atmospheric piano/synthesizers, filled with haunting piano passages and melancholic singing. It also contains a very Genesis-like middle section. Bolstered by numerous flourishes from the London Symphony Orchestra and based on one of the characters of the novel A Thousand and One Nights (also the inspiration for classical composer Rimski-Korsakov), Song of Scheherazade is an excellent exercise in blending orchestra with rock. Scheherazade is the heroine of the 1001 Nights. Though it may give a cursory nod to classical composer Korsakov, it is not based on his work, being entirely the invention of the band, arising from Michael Dunford’s fascination with the story. The song assumes the leading role in the album, and in many ways, it’s the pinnacle of Renaissance’s entire musical career.
At that period and more than ever, John Tout was the driving force that led the creative power of Renaissance to go beyond their boundaries and succeed at creating unique and wonderful music. No doubt, the orchestral arrangements play the role of perfect accomplice for the band’s outstanding endeavours. While overambitious to some ears, things never get too pompous anywhere in Scheherazade and Other Stories: the sense of elegance and clean melodic sensitivity that had consistently characterized Renaissance’s musical palette has been translated here into sheer exquisiteness throughout the album….by…. by ProgJect U…sputnik…~

This is where the band finally exceeded its grip. Mind you, some people regard this as the band’s masterpiece, but then again, many people regard Wind And Wuthering as Genesis’ masterpiece, too, and I do not feel it would be right or even politically correct for me to agree with them (heh heh). Not that it’s bad - it’s still leagues and leagues above the tasteless garbage the band would start putting out in just a few years. Actually, the first side of the record is totally marvelous, at least, the first two songs on it. Annie has started to make little funny experiments with her singing style, and this makes the vocal melodies of 'Trip To The Fair’ and 'The Vultures Fly High’ sound quite unlike everything else recorded before that point. The first one, while it lasts for eleven minutes (big surprise), does not seem lengthy to me at all: they go for a rich, mystical tone, and Annie sings in a huge variety of styles, ranging from her usual high pitch to an almost funny whispering. The chorus, the one that goes 'A trip to the fair/But nobody was there’, is so catchy and well-constructed I had big troubles with getting it out of my head, not that I really tried, of course. In fact, the song might be their most successful and hard-hitting 'medieval stylization’ of all. By contrast, where 'Trip’ is slow and long, 'The Vultures Fly High’ is short and fast: the fastest they played since Prologue, in fact, and it works. I have a hard time trying to decode the song’s message: the line 'They always watch with hollow eyes/To put you down, they always find a way to criticize’ suggest that the lyrics may be directed against the musical press lampooning and harpooning the band, but there are several obstacles: first, there are no more direct references, second, I doubt whether our friend, the 'reclusive Cornish poetess’, really cared about the band’s critical success, and third, Renaissance weren’t really lampooned by critics, unlike most other prog bands: they usually got positive reviews, in fact. At least, until Azure D'Or, I hope. Whatever be, that song totally rules: the band shows they can still keep a solid, fast groove, and the vocal melody of the chorus, with its 'they circle o-o-o-o-o-ver us all’, really sweeps me away.

I’m still in doubt as to what concerns 'Ocean Gypsy’, though. True, the melody is not bad, and as a whole, the song sounds memorable. But to me, the overall effort stinks quite a bit of cheesiness - for once, Annie’s vocals are not as effective as they might have been. I don’t really know how to explain that feeling; maybe the song just gives a general aroma of excessive patheticness and generic romanticism that is so common amidst bland pop singers. Anyway, I could never get into the song that much; to me, it’s the first dangerous precursor of even worse things to come.
Now the second side of this album is what really turns on the lovers of symph rock: a side-long suite called 'Song Of Scheherazade’, which is, indeed, the band’s most daring and brave stab at an epic. It doesn’t really matter that the timing was certainly chosen wrongly - by 1975, prog rock was already on the way out, and the band couldn’t really hope to break any new ground after listeners had already had the pleasure (or the horror, whatever you prefer to call it) of listening to 'Close To The Edge’, 'Tarkus’, 'Thick As A Brick’, and 'Supper’s Ready’. On the other hand, one could make a fine argument that this is Renaissance we’re speaking of, and a Renaissance epic is certainly quite unlike any other epics. It is indeed symphonic - some parts are almost purely orchestral (although most of the way the orchestra only serves to support the band), and the general impression is more comparable to the one you get from listening to a real symphony than a prog-rock suite. Here, there are also multiple quotations from classics (including Rimsky-Korsakoff’s 'Scheherazade’, etc.), but the main parts are all written by Camp, Tout and Dunford, so it’s pretty much original. And, as it is common with lengthy epics, I enjoy some parts of it and do not enjoy others. Here’s the bad news: a lot of instrumental themes do not go far beyond your average symphony by a more or less decent classical composer. When prog fans go aaaaahhh over the length and the feelings they get, I simply shrug my shoulders: this can only mean that they’re either self-deceiving thugs who only 'adore’ a song when it’s twenty minutes long, or that they go aaaahhhh over every classical symphony ever written (hardly probable). The musicianship is NOT awesome; the musical themes are NOT innovative and NOT exceedingly emotional; and often, the sound gets so thin and quiet that I don’t really understand what’s going on at all. Annie does a good singing job, but overall, the song is not 'vocally suited’ at all: she is rarely in the centre of attention, and you just have to concentrate on the other band members and the orchestra, which really spoils the fun at times.
On the other hand, here’s the good news. The different sections (nine in all) are all rather short, so you don’t get bored by endless repetitiveness. The lyrics are plain, simple, and decent: indeed, they simply describe Scheherazade’s story which you probably already know (if you don’t, just get the album - it’s written on the back cover). The orchestral arrangements are never banal; at this point in their career, the band was anything but lacking good taste. And, finally, several bits of the suite are damn good - especially the sweeping, majestic main theme ('The Sultan’, I guess; they are not marked separately on the CD) that gets reprised as 'Finale’ in the end, where the band chants 'Scheherezade, Scheherezade’ and Annie raises the pitch every time: wonderous! So I don’t really feel particularly bad about anything on here, and it is indeed to the honour of the band that they could carry out such a Gargantuan project. While not one of rock’s best prog epics, this one’s certainly far from the worst. It just doesn’t really entertain, that’s all…..~ 

Acoustic Guitar, Vocals – Michael Dunford
Bass, Vocals – John Camp*
Drums, Percussion, Vocals – Terence Sullivan*
Keyboards, Vocals – John Tout
Lead Vocals – Annie Haslam, John Camp* (tracks: B3)

A1 Trip To The Fair 10:51
A2 The Vultures Fly High 3:04
A3 Ocean Gypsy 7:05
Song Of Scheherazade (24:37)
B1 Fanfare 2:37
B2 The Betrayal 4:55
B3 The Sultan 2:46
B4 Love Theme 2:29
B5 The Young Prince And The Princess As Told By Scheherazade 4:04
B6 Festival Preparations 1:07
B7 Fugue For The Sultan 2:12
B8 The Festival 2:12
B9 Finale 2:30 

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