Monday, November 17, 2008

And seeing there is some about a sample setlist... looks as though this idea is starting to get a little in the way of thought. At least as far as the lineup is concerned and whatever oversights that did occur were explained. With that behind so to about an idea about what a sample playlist COULD [and I stress this...COULD] look like:

Carpet of the Sun
Mr. Pine/Running Hard [which are basically the same piece and can be combined so fans understand the root of 'Running Hard']
Deja Vu

[these first 4 will introduce the crowd to all 2.5 generations of the bands material and sets the stage for the next 12. If one thinks about it in this context, it would be 4 each from Jane, Annie and Stephanie]


Beautiful Country
Face of Yesterday
Everywhere You Go
Man Of Miracles


At the Harbour
I Think of You
Ocean Gypsy
The Captive Heart


The Other Woman
So Blase
Lock In On Love
May You Be Blessed

[Now the above shows a sample of the range of material from each era. The fans are shown the emotional and lyrical depth of each woman who is associated with the band...and this now brings about the main event, the classic Ren material done by all three, with the bandmembers mentioned in the last post]

Can You Understand [Full Version]
The Vultures Fly High
Can You Hear Me
Northern Lights
Mother Russia
Lady From Tuscany
Pearls of Wisdom
Trip to the Fair
A Song For All Seasons

And now the Denoument...the encore:

Ashes Are Burning [with multiple solos!!!]

With all of this said, please keep in mind that this is would could be. It is one heck of an idea, which would entice and the fans of all generations would be happy. Of course the standard disclaimer would apply as in 'lineup subject to change'...

BY the by to borrow a sports analogy here....if this sounds strange consider what happened when the city fathers in Pontiac, Michigan had a campaign to get the Super Bowl to be played at Pontiac Metropolitan Stadium - AKA the Silverdome, they went on a very strong, calculated campaign to get the game. And lo and behold, they did....granted if you know of the ballpark and the Detroit Lions, you know that they have since moved to downtown Detroit and Ford Field while the Silverdome has been sold and may be razed. The point being that, a well organized campaign among the fans can yield some type of result, even if it is a scaled back reunion.

Worth considering for a while....

And that is the news, sports and weather for now!!!!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

If Yes can do a 'Union' Tour, Renaissance can do same ...

Welcome back True Believers!!

If you have been reading the posts in two of the Yahoo groups dedicated to Renaissance fans, the odds are you have seen an idea being floated for a reunion tour of either the classic Ren lineup or a reformed one with a new vocalist. The idea is a good one, in fact one has to wonder...egos to the contrary...why this has not been done. Outside of 3 of the classic lineup [Annie, Mickey and Terry] playing on the Tuscany Tour and discussions [as mentioned on Terry Sullivan's site] about him, Jon Camp and John Tout playing in a revamped version but those talks have garnered little in the way of an announcement of the band hitting the stage.

With the above mentioned, here is a concept that could possibly...and I use the word cautiously....possibly work. This would be the Yes 'Union' approach which brought several generations of Yes together for what was a commercially successful tour. If one were to take into account that this meant multiple guitarists, keyboadists, percussion behind Jon Anderson. the fact that this came off at all is amazing. And if these folks can do it, Renaissance can do same and here is a way it could happen:


Annie Haslam
Jane Relf
Stephanie Adlington


Mickey Dunford
John Knightsbridge


Jon Camp
David Keyes
Louis Cennamo


John Tout
Mick Taylor
Mickey Simmonds
Rave Tesar


Terry Sullivan
Gavin Harrison

If You are wondering how and why the above makes is the breakdown:

In the vocals, we not only have Annie'5 octave range but also the mellow Jane Refl as well as the emotional Stephanie Adlington. Considering the depth of the material that Renaissance is known for and has this mixture will showcase the overall balance of same. Guitars is a no brainer in that Mickey and John are from both sides of the house so to speak, as well as trade solos. Bass....three different styles but this works with the various different material. Yes Jon Camp does play it as a lead...however on some songs the blending of David and Louis can add a richer bottom to the songs [not to forget here one hell of a set of solos on 'Ashes are Burning']. Keyboards...this is a no brainer: John Tout knows the classic songs inside and out [seeing he was the original keyboardist] as do Mick, Mickey and Rave...however as can be heard on the Beacon Theatre show, as well as on Tuscany and the resultant live album Mickey Simmonds and Rave Tesar can add fill in ably the orchestral flourishes that Ren is known for [I should mention that it is possible that if none of those folks are available, John Hawken who was part of the Illusion lineup can come in as well...see previous reviews here as to why]. As for drums....Terry and Gavin are the ones that can handle the demands of such a concert.

Seeing there is more than enough material for the fans to enjoy, the above lineup if everyone were to work as Yes did would prove to be a joy for the fans. And this would not necessarily be a commercial venture per se [if anyone who has that type of bend, yes it could be made into one...but let's not get greedy here :)], but it would show that there is still some interest in this band, all of its generations, incarnations [well maybe excluding the 'Time-Line' material] and songs that have made this band one that still has a loyal base to this day.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Some news from the Renaissance front...a New Video is on the way

Well folks, just in time for the end of the year....word has filtered down that there will be a new release for the fansbase. Annie Haslam will at some point announce on her site that there will be a concert DVD from the 1970's. And prerelease information indicates that this will be a combination of two shows: The Scheherazade tour and one from Azure d' Or....

On the latter point, there has been some debate as to what was the song order due to the presence of 'The Vultures Fly High' on the setlist. More often than not this song showed up as the opening piece on two of their last tours, Azure D' Or and Camera Camera. And there is something interesting about the setlists:

Azure D' Or
Can You Understand [instr]
The Vultures Fly High
Day OF The Dreamer
New Song One
New Song Two
Running Hard
Northern Lights
New Song Three
New Song Four
Mother Russia
A Song For All Seasons
Ashes Are Burning

Camera Camera
Can You Understand [Instr]
The Vultures FLy High
Day OF The Dreamer
New Song One
New Song Two
Running Hard
Northern Lights
New Song Three
Mother Russia
New Song Four
New Song Five
A Song For All Seasons
Ashes Are Burning

Notice a pattern there folks??? Granted familiarity does help if only due to us hardcore fans. But this also meant that those who were in control at the time may not have had a little bit of imagination. Of course these oversights were corrected for the Beacon shows [previously mentioned] and later tours.

Speaking of later material...

- Someone in another blog had mentioned that 'Chagrin Boulevard' was the best song on 'Time-Line'. Yes I have my faves off of this somewhat uneven album, but for crying out loud, if a song named after a somewhat non-descript street in Cleveland is the best off this album, then there may just be a few things wrong with this planet.

--And while we are at it, comparing Renaissance to ABBA is an Renaissance. IF one were to notice somewhat carefully, the production on the last two albums on Sire was more like that of mid period Genesis which was not by coincidence. The same production team responsible for 'Duke' and 'ABABCAB' had their hands on 'A Song For All Seasons' and 'Azure D' Or'. Hence the sound was going to be somewhat similar and the overdubbing of synths on 'Azure' was not by accident. But ABBA....only someone who while a fellow Ren fan but smoking rope can make that rather large, if not strange leap of illogic.

Well that is the news, sports and weather for now.....if I do get a copy of the DVD, you will see a review of it here!!!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Renaissance offshoot- Illusion: Out Of The Mist and Madonna Blue

[Before we get to the main event here....the aforementioned medical issues from the previous post seem to have now been abated. This is thanks to some of the best medical minds in this region....and for lack of a better term luck or divine intervention placing yours truly in the right place at the right now, we resume our regular programming]

You are probably wondering......a Renaissance offshoot? Was there such a thing? In fact there was....and to explain how this came about, it is time for a little history lesson. Renaissance, at least the original version [pre-Annie Haslam, Jon Camp, etc] was an outgrowth of The Yardbirds. The same band that had as members at one time Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and various other folks. Now is some corners, the story has been related that some in the Yardbirds had wanted to expand on an idea that came through Peter Townsend of The Who, which was to have a rock band with a softer edge to it, using more traditional instrumentation. One thing led to another and the original Renaissance came about with Keith Relf, Jane Relf, James McCarty, Louis Cennamo, John Hawken as the lineup, with some writing help from future 'classic' Renaissance lineup member Michael Dunford. Two albums were released, but due to a tragic accident where Keith had electrocuted himself as well as some other issues, this form of Renaissance was discontinued.

That was until late in the 70's it was reformed, with a slightly new lineup. There was the addition of Eddie McNeill on drums and the name of the new band was Illusion. If you saw their first album in the stores - Out Of The Mist -there is a picture of a young woman looking skyward. That is Jane Relf, who more or less was the co-lead vocalist along with Jim. [This is of course in contrast to how Renaissance worked due to the fact that with few exceptions, Annie Haslam handled nearly all of the lead vocals over their many albums]. add to this, that their music was a departure from the Ren formula, shorter songs. lighter orchestration with more flourishes of keyboards and lead guitar. One could call this tact 'commercial', but to these ears, it is a lighter form of the 'classical rock' genre. This was expanded on their second album, which goes under two titles...'Illusion' or 'Madonna Blue' after the opening track.

'Out Of The Mist' starts out with a track that could almost be called slightly melancholy in tone, that being 'Isadora'. On several airings, this is comes across as being a passionate plea for a couple to remain together, no matter that the circumstances were in the relationship. The vocals, bet James and Jane are simple, gentle and the listener hears a tranquil feel to the words. What needs to be mentioned is that while Jane does not have Annie's range, she does have a certain earthiness in her vocalisations which carry both albums. As for the rest of the band, John Hawken's keyboards are amazing, souding like a mix of Bach and modern moods, John Knightsbridge playing his lead lines with just the right amount of bravado, with Louis Cennamo and Eddie McNeill creating a steady background.

'Roads To Freedom' features Jane front and center with lyrics that would seem to be a slight holdover from the 60's. Or something that may have been written by Betty Thatcher-Newsinger for 'Ashes are Burning'. As was listed before, this song follows the short form with a high note featuring synths from John. This leads into the classical/folky piece called 'Beautiful Country' which can be almost seen as the bookend for 'Roads To Freedom' . This one is deeply keyboard centered and could have [or maybe should have] gotten airplay, considering that at the time this was recorded, slotting this bet songs by The Eagles or Jackson Browne would have been logical on a playlist.

It is here that we get to the rock portion of this disc...or one of them. 'Solo Flight' which is a departure from the softer tone and just goes to town. Atonal keyboards, a jazz bassline and a ripping good solo from Knightsbridge add to Jim's sharp lyrics and tone. Upon further review, this is more of an anthem to those who need to seperate from a circumstance which is holding them back in their lives. It is not something that would be a national anthem or theme for those who are in a rut, but the tune just gets one to thinking 'yeah maybe I should move on with life before it is too late'.

The next piece 'Everywhere You Go' is another amazingly good love song. While comparisons can be made to some of the love songs Ren had come up with, this was a little more commercial in tone. An acoustic guitar open, gently cascading arpeggios on piano and Janes voice combined with a string section that on CD sounds more centered vis a vis the record, where it seemed somewhat compressed create something that was amazingly overlooked. A quieter tone is then introduced on the next track, 'Fae of Yesterday' . Same instrumentation, just a little more serious than the previous track.

Candles Are Burning' closes the album and this may cause a little confusion for some Ren fans. This is not a remake of 'Ashes Are Burning'...far from it. The tone and lyrics are different, the twin vocals by Jim and Jane come across a little more urgent, due to the lyrics and the guitar solo is more direct.The ending features an orchestra and what sounds like a choir augmented by a mellotron, but when played through headphones packs the 'WOW' factor.

And now we come to the second album, 'Illusion'. The opening track, 'Madonna Blue' grabs from the opening guitar riff. The middle features Jim and Jane again showing excellence in their teamwork, the band rocking along with an attitude that says 'we are as good as _______, if not better' and the close shows all in harmony along with what sounds like a mix of strings and synths. The following track, 'Never Be The Same' is another love song in the arena of those which are on 'Out Of The Mist'. Simple, not overwhelming...the basics.

'Louis's Theme' which is the next track could be called an expansion of the harmonics which Yes used on a song called 'The Fish'. The similarities end with the gentle lyrics with a slow crescendo towards an ending which is as beautiful as its intro.

The next four songs: 'Wings Across The Sea', 'Cruising Nowhere', 'Man Of Miracles' and 'The Revolutionary' show a mix love, advice to those whose lives seemed to be mired in a situation not unlike that of Sisiphus, philosophy and a tale of an army led by someone facing overwhelming odds. It is that last track that some may due to one partuclar lyric mentioning '...a Judas in the fold...' mistake this for a religious tome, but that is far from the case. It is a tale or fable as it were.

Combined these two albums show a band that not only had their act together but also were able to create a sound that while could have easily been connected to the Renaissance mode, was their own. A style that compliments what Ren was doing...not so much a mirror image, but their own reflection. A take on love songs and other themes which were as gentle as they were varied. In that regard, if one finds these in the stores or online, they are amazing finds and worth repeated airings.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Last Live Album by Renaissance..Land of The Rising Sun

[Sidebar-Due to some medical issues that have been more or less been creeping up like the taxman does when they smell a potential audit victim, postings here will be a tad intermittent. Yours truly is hoping that at some point the young team of doctors who I am working with will find something to put all of these to rest and life can resume with some sense of normality and I can post here more often]

For a while, yours truly had been hoping to obtain the above mentioned disc for various reasons. One being that this would complete a little part of the collection in that I was interested in the more electric concerts that Renaissance had recorded....with and without orchestras. Second being that this has some material from 'Tuscany', which is one heck of an album. As has been mentioned in other corners, considering the last two studio pieces ['Camera Camera' and 'Time-Line', respectively] this is a comeback, a triumph so hearing anything live from this mini-tour in Japan would be fantastic, a real treat. Lastly, it seems that the word had gotten around that Terry Sullivan would be back on drums, David Keyes would be on bass and two excellent keyboardists - Mickey Simmonds and Rave Tesar rounding out the band. I would be remiss if I forgot to mention that the groups was led by Annie Haslam and Mickey Dunford. So when this arrived in the mail, I tore at this like a child on Christmas Morning looking for that long awaited present.Let's say on the first listen and subsequent playings.....there is no disspointment here.

'Carpet of the Sun' leads off the concert and it is just as good as any previous version, but this has a kick. Much like the others on these discs which in other settings have had an orchestra, those parts are filled with synthesizers, but these are not your father's type of synth background. Close your eyes and it sounds as though the strings that accent the beginning of 'Carpet' are there. This is to the credit of Mickey Simmonds and Rave Tesar doing the right thing as far as sampling is concerned. And then there is Annie's voice. You know from these moments that this is going to be a fun trip, a wonderous trip back home with the band. And the best is yet to come all through the disc...

The next track being 'Opening Out' is usually coupled with 'Day of The Dreamer' from 'A Song For All Seasons' , but here is a standalone and it does work as that. Just a simple piece....nothing more and nothing less....and as beautiful as the studio version. 'Midas Man' comes after and it is a shame that this one was not featured in concert as often, if only because it is another song that while the melody is simple, the lyrics will get someone to think. After all, we have all at one time had employers who have acted like misers in the tradition of, let's say Ebeneezer Scrooge.

After these first three, the Tuscany material comes to the fore. The title track 'Lady From Tuscany' is just as powerful here as it is on the CD, the orchestral samples playing as though there is the Royal Philharmonic is present with either Louis Clark or Harry Rabinowitz at the baton. Of course, Annie carries the day here, much like on the CD...once you hear her upper range you know that this is truly classic Renaissance, the band in their element. 'Pearls of Wisdom' follows next and this is actually another example of a truly great love song that was common for the band to play from 'Prologue' on. It is a combination of the lyrics and the lushness of the intruments that shows a truly great romantic edge [folks if you are like me, you may have sent copies of Ren lyrics as love poems to the person you are interested in and this song falls into the same family of material and can work just as well *S*]. The last of the new songs in this portion of the concert is 'Dear Landseer' which sounds just like the album version. It is a sweet piece, a tale of an artisan from a long bygone era and the images he creates as well as those which are still a part of the London landscape to this day.

'Northern Lights' is next and it is not a Renaissance show without this song. Granted there are as many versions of and there are 'Famous Ray's' Pizza in New York City, but here it sounds as though the band is having fun with the song. Speaking of having fun, the next song 'Moonlight Shadow' is played in a similar vein [lyrics to the contrary]. There are versions of this which have made the rounds, here however this could have almost have become a singlalong.

The next two tracks 'Precious One' and 'Ananda' are those which have been featured on Annie's solo albums and have good readings here. Sadly due to the state of current radio trends you may not hear much of her solo work. And that is a shame. Yes, these may not sound like they would fit on a Renaissance CD, which I guess would be the point, in that these are two songs that have helped Annie define her own style. In this setting they are worth multiple listenings.

The second CD starts off with one of the 'magnum opi' that Ren was known for. 'Mother Russia', which is played in full. This one still brings chills, especially given certain political realities on this planet. With that said, it is still powerful still timely. Again let's credit the keyboardists for the attention to detail in replicating the orchestral flourishes which are one of the song's hallmarks.

'Trip To The Fair' comes next and this is a study in what happens when Ren infuses a song with jazz figures. The album version on 'Scheherazade' is has a similar break, but this version sounds as though it comes out of the Brubeck school of cool...with turbochargers. Think of it as being a rather nice game of 'call and response' . Of course this is framed by the storyline as related by Annie's vocals.

The next two piecces can be considered a romantic couplet. Frist being 'One Thousand Roses' which is the last track from Tuscany plays like the album version. Lyrically, it is a wonderful story...and repeated listenings show there is a tale that any person who has wanted to show their unconditional love for another can relate to. It is followed by 'I Think Of You' which is from 'Turn of the Cards' . For the life of me, I cannot figure out why this was not featured more often in their previous tours, but be that as it is just a great version. This could have been a solo version by Annie with just Mickey on guitar and the result would be the same, as the rest of the band had a little hand in this....

And then came 'Ashes are Burning', the standard close. Once again, the middle breaks are jazz centered with Mickey Simmonds expanding on the basic melody with a solo for the ages. This led to David Keyes on bass, who while he is not Jon Camp, then again Jon Camp is not David Keyes. What David did was put his own signature on what is the 'seldom imitated-never to be duplicated' Jon Camp solo [which is a clinic on how to do a bass solo] as though it were being played on a lead guitar.The eolo here that really surprised was that of Rave Tesar, which almost sounded like this was a lead guitar. Upon further airings, this is a 'wow factor' a sense in the same ballpark as the solo Mickey did during the encore of the 'Camera Camera' tours. The end.....Annie in her element, another reason why this was a band to be reckoned with and to savor.

If there are no other live material to be upcoming from Ren, then this is a great way to say so long. Not many bands can do this, even those that have been on their respective concert circuits for decades. Even with changes in personnel, there is that consistency, that fire in Renaissance that still remains...not many can say that, let alone play it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Prepare to be Haunted...Edgar Allan Poe by The Alan Parsons Project

If one was lucky enough to have purchased this album when it was first released, you had the chance to hear what would be the first in a string of concept albums that were put together by Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson under the banner of 'The Alan Parsons Project'. That melding of the classical music form with lyrics that held together a story, from exposition to minuet to the climax....its finish...its denoument. Rock music meeting a full symphonic orchestra with lyrics that were not just on point and subject, but got the listener to think. More or less, to engage one's imagination. Painting a mindscape that had a rich tapestry. This first effort sets the stage for memorable music to come over the next decade and beyond.

'Tales of Mystery and Imagination - Edgar Allan Poe' . Just the title along can conjour up images of the works of the first true horror writer that came from these shores. For many of us there were two ways that we got exposed to his works. One was courtesy of our teachers in middle and highschool who would read to the class either from 'The Raven' or 'The Casque of Amontillado', which if those did not get one hooked, there was something wrong. And we do not mean with the teacher. The other means of exposure had to do with pre-cable television and independent television stations. For those in the NYC area, this meant those movies which were shown after a summer night's west coast broadcast of a N.Y. Mets game on WOR. Ah, I know some of you are now scratching your heads asking 'what is she talking about?' Well when the Mets would have a west coast swing to play the Dodgers, Giants and Padres, to fill the time after til something else could be shown, Channel 9 would air some of the worst science fiction and horror movies ever made [I know channels 5 and 11 did this too, but 9 made this an art form]. Invariably, one would see poorly put together versions about 'The Raven', 'The Haunting of Morellia' [of which last check there are at least 10 versions, some of which are of a nature I cannot mention here in decent company], 'The Pit and The Pendulum' amongst others. Many of these would star the man who would become one with Poe in these representations, Vincent Price as well as a host of actors who would later find success in, shall we say roles which were written on a child's IBM Selectric. However, the fact that these folms were so bad, they were good made them memorable...and also helped to keep Poe's name on the mind. So imagine my joy to find that there was an album of songs based on his stories.

'Tales' comes a few years after Alan Parsons had completed his masterwork of production 'Dark Side of the Moon' by Pink Floyd. He was also involved in producing several pop bands, most notably was Pilot, whose song 'It's Magic' had made the top 40 here stateside. Members of that band and a few others who were the cream of the British studio musician crop [along with those who would eventually become the pop group Ambrosia...whose intial two albums were produced by Alan Parsons] were recruited for this first effort. This along with an orchestra led by Andrew Powell. Ironically, this album after a couple years dissappeared from the stores due to the fact that it was on 20th Century Fox Records, which really was not a major player on the scene at the time, outside of soundtracks...but has been released in other forms down through the years and now is available with enhanced tracks.

Let's start with the opening which features the voice of Orson Welles leading into ' A Dream Within a Dream'. When I had first heard this without Welle's intro, it was still powerful, but with it this just says 'WOW this is some really heavy stuff!!!!!' But it just gets better from there.

'The Raven' is next up which has a treat on it, in that we not only have those trademark lyrics voiced by Leonard Whiting, but Alan on vocoder. Yep this is the same device that would show up on various other albums by other artists [Peter Frampton, anyone?]. For me this also brought home one of the most infamous of one-word phrases......'Nevermore'. Love that this got me to look at the original story and understand that this was not the primary provence of the bird who was on 'The Munsters'. All along, the orchestra helps to set the stage, enhance and create an auralscape that is just wonderful.

If there was anyone who was tailor-made to sing the next track 'The Tell-Tale Heart' it was Arthur Brown. From the 'CrazyWorld' of same and this tune is just as mad. The story is familiar about one person's descent into madness after having committed a murder which is punctuated by the sound of the heart of the victim following the perpetrator. A hard rock guitar, a screaming voice just brings this entire song home. It is as though Poe had this interpretation mind at the time he wrote the original story. I have found myself acting in a maniacal fashion each time I have heard if only due to it is being that catchy in itself.

'The Casque of Amantillado' follows and it is here that we get to hear the voice of John Miles. Each time I have played this, I was taken back to the first time I had heard the story in school all those years ago. John's vocals as well as the orchestral flourishes help to cement in the mind that the story is really more wicked than Poe had let on. Which if one is plotting a vengeful act against a rival, this is one way to do it. The lyrics paint a picture of the gentle, constant intoxication and subsequent demise of the said same rival. Much like with some other discs I have reviewed here, I have been known to just gently sway along with the soaring strings while in an aisle at the store listening to this because of its beauty. [John Miles, by the by does show up on one more Project album, that being 'Gaudi' singing the opening track 'La Sagrada Familia'...this will be reviewed in this space at a later date].

If one wants to have a lighter, albeit more twisted view of what it meant to be tarred and feathered or to have been treated in an insane asylum in the 1800's the next track is just exactly that. '( The System of ) Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether' has John Miles again, along with Jack Harris singing this in a vein that would seem like they were old fashioned carnival barkers. The keyboards on here help to bring this image to life, closing out with a repetition of the initial theme that this album starts out with.

It is here that we now see the trademark of future Project albums: a longform piece based around a central theme which is in the same form as many great classical pieces. 'The Fall of the House of Usher' is broken down into five seperate movements, with a full orchestra under the baton of Andrew Powell. Compare this with such standards as the '1812 Oveture' or 'Firebird' to see that the form is still alive and well. It is sad that now in this day and age not many involved in popular music would write or release pieces like this, however should they attempt to do so, a lesson in how to do this with flair is this piece.

The album closes with 'To One in Paradise', voiced by Terry Sylvester. No more words need to be used, just listen to the piece to hear the beauty of the lyrics. It is almost as though this was one of the few somewhat 'hopefull' stories that Poe had written, the lyrics here do reflect this change of pace.

When one wants to know how or where the genesis of the Alan Parsons Project sound came about, how they were able to create in the crucible of the studio interpretations of not just standards of literature, but also their own tone poems about life itself....this is the launch pad. Space limits listing how many persons were associated with this album, but if one were to look up the credits, one could see the names of people who eventually would work with Renaissance, Mike Oldfield, Yes, Sky and many other classically influcenced rock as well as progressive bands. And the popular music field is richer because of it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A double review: 'Ocean Gypsy' and 'Trip To The Fair'

The two albums mentioned in the title were those done under the aegis of Michael Dunford, with the name of 'Michael Dunford's Renaissance'. As such they could be considered to be in-between projects while Renaissance was 'on hiatus'. Keep this in mind: if this was a hiatus, then these set up what one hears on the latest and last studio album 'Tuscany'

Now as mentioned in the header and to quote baseball great-Mr Cub, Ernie Banks....'LET'S PLAY TWO!!!!'

Some of you may be asking: 'Why review Ocean Gypsy? After all this was an offshoot or even what would be called 'stretching the brand'. Ok, that may be a valid thought...and the band is called 'Michael Dunford's Renaissance', so this may actually be a brand extension. However, it is apparent that once you hear the opening measures of 'Ocean Gypsy', this was a little more than just a stretch.

Let's start out with the fact that Annie is not on vocals, but a young woman named Stephanie Adlington. From what I remember reading of her bio, she had done some work with various different pop groups as backup and was also involved with Mickey during the days he was writing the score for a musical version of 'Sheherazade' [which has been tabled due to a lack of investors and other items]. Whichever way that she had become associated with Mickey, this was a coup. In that her vocals now adds a different slant to some old Renaissance classics.

'Ocean Gypsy' leads off the disc and it is more direct so to speak than the original [or the version from the Carnegie Hall sessions]. The orchestra helps this become a more dramatic reading, which to these ears was nice in that this version, as well as the original are two sides of the same coin. And keep in mind...this is the opening track...

[Thinking about] 'Things I Don't Undertand' is on here in a shortened form. That being part 2, and Stephanie's voice shows more of her range here.You could see both her and Annie harmonizing on this...and even though the lyrics may sound like something from a post Woodstock era, it is still breathtaking [want this to be even more so? Turn up the volume on the headphones and you will hear what I mean]

The next track 'The Young Prince and the Princess' is another excerpt from Sherherazade and while it sounds different with different vocals, the spirit of the original is the same. Same attention to the details.

Another Ren classic that benefits from a new interpretation is 'Carpet of The Sun'. A slightly different orchestra chart and the new vocals compliment Betty's lyrics. This is one of two from 'Ashes are Buring'....the second of which is one that I sometimes cry over.

'At The Harbor' , the second from the 'Ashes' set, has never sounded better, which is not to say that they original or any live version is bad by comparison. Far from it...this one with a full orchestra and flourishes of flutes has brought tears to my eyes, if due to the overall beauty of the song. Stephanie again shows how her voice works with material that is not as well known in a live setting or not in rotation airplay wise...which is to say this is fantastic.

'I Think Of You' on this disc plays as just a very simple lovesong. An amazingly pretty lovesong. [Think about playing this at a wedding alongside 'And You and I' by Yes and you would get the idea]. Plus these lyrics would make for a rather interesting love poem as well.

We now come to the last three songs on this CD, two of which seem to be from sessions related to Sheherazade: 'Star of the Show' and 'The Great Highway'. They bookend 'Trip to The Fair', which in this collection sounds just as jazzy as the original. The bridge/solo on this is not done on percussion but with a reed instrument, probably a sax or cor anglais. As for the bookend pieces previously mentioned, those two show that in a post 'Camera Camera' era, Betty's lyrics have a little more of a romantic urgency. Which leads by that little segue to.......'Trip To The Fair' a compilation CD.

Yes this is a combination of the best material from not just 'Ocean Gypsy' but also ' The Other Woman'. It should be noted that the latter of the two was more commercial in its sound, however this does not diminish the quality or the musicianship. Far from it...

The highlights in addition to several of the songs from 'Ocean Gypsy' are a reworking of 'Dreammaker' called 'Love Lies, Love Dies'. same tune, just different lyrics which distance it from the original...'Deja Vu' which rocks. Close your eyes and imagine this being played during the tours of the 'Camera Camera' days or even 'Time-Line'. The lyrics are amazing plus there one hears what seems to be Mickey taking another rare electric guitar solo.

Another one to give a good listen to is 'The Other Woman' which is the title track of that aforementioned disc. This one is just stirring...Stephanie's vocals over electric piano, piano, drums, bass and guitar. But it it those lyrics that are just amazing. There may be some commercial comparisons that can be made [think Sade at her best and you will see what I mean], but not many would be in the same ballpark.

'Don't Talk' rocks as well....and it would not be out of place on the air these days. 'So Blase' is cool too and would seem to be the other side of the coin for 'Deja Vu'...'Lock in On Love' as well. Why no one had picked up on any of these for airplay is beyond me.

Now we come to a bonus of sorts...a reinterpretation of 'Northern Lights'...with an orchestra. Yes, you read that right. While there are several versions which do exist, this one is refershing in that now we can hear how this would work with additional musicans playing along. [Imagine here too, if you will this being done on 'A Song For All Seasons' with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra].

The album closes out with 'Star of The Show' and 'Somewhere West of Here' The latter of this has a little of everything: lyrics that speak of romantic longing and urgency, Stephanie's soaring vocals and a bridge/solo that can bring back memories of the one from 'Raja Khan' from 'Prologue'. Yours truly has been seen rocking out to this in the store because it is well, just incredibly cool.

Now if one wants to introduce their friends to a different take on Ren's classic material or show them what Mickey can do as a bandleader with a different vocalist or even show them a relatively unknown singer in Stephanie Adlington give them these to listen to. Tell that person to just give a listen, close the eyes and open the ears to some music, that is as amazing in its complexity and diversity as what Renaissance would do on album and in concert.