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Tracklist: 1. Lady From Tuscany 6:10 2. Pearls of Wisdom 4:25 3. Eva's Pond 3:10 4. Dear Landseer 5:19 5. In the Sunshine 4:25 6. In My Life 5:26 7. The Race 4:58 8. Dolphin's Prayer 3:19 9. Life In Brazil 3:40 10. One Thousand Roses 7:12 Line-up: Annie Haslam - lead & backing vocals Mike Dunford - acoustic guitars, backing vocals Terence Sullivan - drums & percussion Mickey Simmonds - keyboards With: John Tout - piano & synthesizer, harpsichord Roy Wood - bass guitar, additional keyboards, backing vocals Alex Caird - bass guitar All songs written, arranged & produced by Mike Dunford & Annie Haslam. Orchestral arrangements by Mickey Simmonds & John Tout. Additional orchestral arrangements by Roy Wood. Recorded at Terence Sullivan's "Astra Audio" studio, Monks Horton, Kent, England. Engineered & mixed by Rob Williams.
Prologue. Who's that who said "Progressive Rock died far back in the second half of the 1970s"? (It was Paul Stump in his book "The Music's All That Matters", though Bill Martin in his ridiculous "Listening to the Future" calls Progressive Rock "just a specific zeitgeist, the hippie culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s".) While since its birth the international Progressive Rock movement (taking into account Japanese, Soviet, and East European ones) was always and still is alive and well; its creative units are even able to reincarnate. We know lots of such examples and here is another one. Like Phoenix, legendary Renaissance have risen from the ashes three years ago (after a twelve year hiatus). What is more, listening now to their brand new album, I can't believe my ears...
The Album. Apart from Mickey Simmonds (Solo, ex-Camel, Fish, et al.) and Alex Caird, all of the other musicians on this album were the members of the internationally recognized 'classic' line-up of Renaissance. Despite the fact that there is no orchestra on "Tuscany" and, overall, this new album sounds very original and refreshing, all of the songs, that feature it, are created within the frame of the band's firm stylistics. This is typical for the classic (and best, in my view) albums of Renaissance Mk-II: "Turn of the Card" (1974), "Scheherazade And Other Stories" (1975), and "Novella" (1977). Only one of these songs, apart from Renaissance's classic style, also contains a couple of refrains that sound clearly in a way of Latin American music - both vocally and instrumentally. This is, of course, Life In Brazil (track 9) with Roy Wood playing quite a specific hand percussion. To be honest, exactly because of the presence of the Latin American sound, which contrasts with Renaissance's classic style, I like this song less than all others. While the other songs on the album shine with all that I love in their music: the richness of the musical palette as a whole; the diversity of the vocal and instrumental arrangements and the presence of the latter 'behind' the vocal parts (which sets the performers of Classic Prog apart from Neo's), the excellent musicianship of each of the musicians and their joint performance as well, not to mention the unique, beautiful voice of Annie Haslam and her brilliant vocal qualities. The latter are especially clear on Eva's Pond and Dolphin's Prayer (tracks 3 & 8), where there are no other instruments, apart from keyboards, supporting Annie's voice. On these two songs, Annie's (very feminine) vocals are as if reflecting into the well of human emotions, a wide-variety of which with her 3-octave vocal diapason and (always) kind of a theatric (Rock-ish to operatic) singing, expresses easily. Annie's vocal parts on both of the said songs are as diverse as the orchestral and other arrangements by the keyboardist Mickey Simmonds, including a wonderful, very symphonic passage of synthesizer and solos of a 'synthetic' cello. The seven remaining tracks: Lady of Tuscany, Pearls of Wisdom, Dear Landseer, In My Life, In the Sunshine, The Race, & One Thousand Roses (1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, & 10 respectively) are the most diverse songs on the album. Each of them, played by the band as a whole, apart from those progressive ingredients that I've mentioned above, contain quite the frequent changes of themes and tempos and many of varied moods as well. The latter are quite dramatic sometimes (if not to say "often"), especially in the vocals, though. All of them sound wonderful, being accompanied by very tasteful orchestral arrangements, masterful passages and solos of acoustic guitar and piano, electric bass, and 'synthetic' cellos, English horns, oboes, etc, as well as lots of interplay between acoustic, electric, and 'synthetic' instruments. While the rhythm-section works tightly always, there are no drums on In My Life (though Terry plays the percussion very effectively), and the sounds of harpsichord you can hear only on Dear Landseer. Finally, Pearls of Wisdom, (a really fast) The Race, and One Thousand Roses I find to be the most progressive (i.e. the best) songs on "Tuskany".
Summary. The return of (old 'n' gold) Renaissance to the (new, though) Progressive Rock scene is triumphant. In my view, "Tuscany" is a better album than "Novella" and even "Scheherazade" on some points. In that way, Renaissance Mk-II have just released one of the two their best albums - along with "Turn of the Card". Of course, I understand that 'my view' is a subjective opinion. Then, going the "average statistical" way, I am sure that all of the well experienced Prog-heads, including the real connoisseurs of Renaissance and its creation, will regard "Tuscany" at least one of the five best albums of the band. (I was so glad when I came to know Renaissance were back with their new music that I wrote this review the same day I've received the CD.)
VM. November 21, 2001
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