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1. Kings and Queens - 11.00 2. Innocence - 7.00 3. Island - 6.00 4. Wanderer - 4.00 5. Bullet - 11.30 Written by K. Relf, and K.Relf / J.Hawken. Keith Relf - vocals, guitars John Hawken - keyboards Jim McCarty - drums Louis Cennamo - bass Jane Relf - second vocals
Yet another from my top albums of the '60s, when already the very first works from Pink Floyd (1967, 1968) and King Crimson, second albums from Colosseum and Jethro Tull, "Abbey Road" from Beatles had appeared. From this company the most underrated albums are Colosseum's "Valentine Suite", and most notably , this one.
Kings and Queens opens with virtuoso classic influenced piano arrangements supported solely by percussives for about two minutes. The following rockish vocal theme later quite suddenly moves into a gentle medieval piece with angelic vocals from Jane Relf, Keith's sister, accompanied by fine piano and acoustic guitar passages. Unlike the second incarnation of Renaissance led by Mike Dunford with very polished orchestrations and only Annie Haslam on vocals, it's a right moment to say that here almost all the text based vocal parts were sung by a man (including their second, and last, album "Illusion"), and additions of a female voice were quite to the point. All these features, together with usual acoustic piano and guitar arrangements with "medieval" touches, resemble more of the music of the Age of the Renaissance.
Innocence is structurally quite close to Kings and Queens or Island. Each of these songs contains text-based vocal parts, all of which were sung exactly to the rockish accompaniment, whereas long instrumental arrangements conform to the laws of classical music yet are very original. And even electric guitar solos in Innocence are performed softly. There are lots of beautiful and quite complex interplays between all the instruments, including fast bass solos supported only by various cymbals, though, on the whole, acoustic piano and soft electric guitars play here a more prominent role.
On Island, unlike the previous song, various excellent piano themes and solos from John Hawken are crossed mostly by passages of acoustic guitar. Here for the first time we can hear two lead vocals together from brother and sister. As always, there are rich classics influenced instrumental part at the culmination.
The fourth track Wanderer is a true madrigal music,a slow and fine prog-ballad with only Jane singing. Various instrumental arrangements are perhaps not so complex and virtuoso as on the long tracks before, but Wanderer is undoubtedly the most beautiful song on the album. I think, it was Wanderer who turned out to be the prototype for the overall stylistics of the famous second incarnation of Renaissance.
Unfortunatelly, the long fifth track Bullet stylistically is absolutely out of place on this album. It's very strange, why they decided after such a magnificent and united musical conception to put at the end a composition, sung by Keith, with not even European music. So, Bullet is a strange mix of African music with some psychodelia. Not bad, after all, but it would be more appropriate for a band named, for example, Prehistoric Times, not Renaissance.
Summary. Now it's not strange, that this excellent and innovative album, full of various musical discoveries and virtuoso classical interplays, has in my rating only four with a half stars. Nevertheless, this debut is, in my opinion, the only really progressive album from Renaissance at all,considering both incarnations and even the band named Illusion formed by John Hawken with the band's other original members and Paul Samwell Smith instead of Keith Relf, who died one year earlier (1976). A similar case (not a band) in my memory, when the debut album proved the only really progressive work from the whole discography, is Supertramp. "Renaissance" was originally released on LP by "Island Records". CD-reissue is made by German "Line" lable.
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