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.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sources for Album/CD versions of previous reviews

As a public service of this blog and also due to the fact that I have written about a few albums that may or may not be easy to find at yon, friendly record or CD shop, here are a few places to purchase or listen to those tracks:

If these folks do not have any of the available, no one will. With regard to the two covers of 'Novella', this has to do with the fact that Renaissance's label at the time, Sire was in the process of being sold from ABC to Warner/Elektra/Asylum and a reissue was done after the switch. There is no difference in the recording by the way.

A few other notes:

- 'De Capo' - features a song which on disc 2 called 'Writers Wronged' . This song which was from the 'Time-Line' sessions is also on 'Songs From Renaissance Days', a compilation of material which did not make it onto any of the previous releases or were songs that were being used to possibly get another contract with a new company. An absolutely amazing piece with a flute solo which can remind one of Ray Thomas of the Moody Blues.

- 'Tales of 1001 Nights, Volumes 1 and 2' - Selected material from the vaults of Sire/Warner Brothers, with songs that were on the Sovereign [yes that is fancy for Sire] label, but are in their live versions here: 'Prologue', 'Can You Understand', 'Carpet of the Sun' and 'Ashes are Burning' from the first live album 'Live at Carnegie Hall' [the orchestral parts are done by the New York Philharmonic] as well as their later material from 'Novella', 'A Song For All Seasons' and the last on that label 'Azure d' Or'. Closing out with another from the Carnegie sessions....'Ashes are Burning'. This also has an amazing set of liner notes written by a good friend of the band [not to forget someone who is infinitely more knowledgeable about Renaissance than I], David Samuel Barr.

- 'Ocean Gypsy', 'The Other Woman', 'Trip to the Fair' - These were done by Mickey Dunford with under the aegis of 'Mickey Dunford's Renaissance' with Stephanie Adlington doing the vocals. On the first in the list, these are redone Ren classics with a couple new songs thrown in, including a version of 'At The Harbor' that with an orchestra is just as amazing as the original. Plus there is a reinterpretation of 'Trip to the Fair' with a pretty cool sax [or is that core anglais?] solo. 'The Other Woman' is material which features love songs and one could see the classic Ren playing these in this era. [The title track. 'Deja Vu' and 'Somewhere West of Here' are worth noting]. 'Trip to the Fair is a compliation of the first two, but oddly enough missing 'Trip to the Fair'.

I would be remiss at this point if I did not mention Annie Haslam's solo work here:

And a confession at this point: many years ago, I used to use the opening track from the second side of Annies first solo album 'Annie in Wonderland' as the opener for an old college radio show that I hosted [I am not that old folks!!]. The tune is called 'Rockalise' which is rock, classical...and even sounds like an opera aria, all at the same time.

With regard to the Moody Blues:

This is the complete version of what was mentioned in this space a few posts back. As was said before, it is worth listening to because even without an orchestra backing them, they can still rock out and be just as cool:)

In re: 'Symphonic Yes'

This is a true find in that it has one of the best names in production and classical/progressive rock behind the boards. Alan Parsons. Need I say anymore.

And for 'Magnification':

If you had downloaded this from other means, it may not have the extra tracks which are listed at this page. Even with or without the extra tracks, this is a fanstastic album from one of the longest, existing bands of the genre.

Stay tuned folks because there will be more reviews of material in future posts!!!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Looking back...Renaissance and the WNEW-FM Christmas Show 12/15/76

Now I know what some of you may be thinking...why review a Christmas concert in the waning days of August? After all, this is the season when bands play outdoors in ampitheatres, with sound systems that if the power were harnessed could light up the old TWA Terminal at JFK for a year [for you folks who travel in and out of JFK, it is now called Terminal 5 and is operated by Jet Blue], and they bring out all of the old material for a mass singalong, especially during the encores. Well the reason for this is that once again this concert disc again shows what was so special about Renaissance and in this setting how they rose to the occassion.

A little background: WNEW-FM in the good old days of radio would have an annual Christmas benefit show and would feature artists that were not just staff favorites but also favorites among the listener base. Or for that matter those whose other material may not be 'commerical' [operative term here] for some of the other radio stations in the region, but was just right for WNEW [which in itself also puts into perspective how really special the staff at WNEW-FM was].This particular concert had as the openers Stanky Brown [whose sax player shows up later on with Ren...more on that in a bit], Janis Ian. But one can tell that these folks were waiting for Ren to take the stage.

After some comments from Allison Steele and another DJ [I forgot the name of this one], 'Carpet of the Sun' opens the set. As simple and as sweet as the original sans strings. Annie sounds relaxed, Jon, Mickey, John and Terry all same. Even the in-between song chatter shows that they are really laid back and just there to play for the fans. 'Mother Russia' the next track shows up just as it did on the Carnegie Hall album, in full and is just as beautiful in this setting. Then comes the first of two new pieces from Novella [which was going to be released a few weeks after this concert].

'Can You Hear Me' is just amazing. If you have the sheet music for this you can follow along, because it is the full version with Jon and his synths taking the place of Richard Hewson's orchestral charts. This compliments Mickey's 12 string acoustic and Jon's Rickenbacker giving the full bottom/bass to the tune and Terry playing the softer percussion parts like on the record. And then there are Annie's vocals which are so relaxed, as in the lyrics written by Betty Thatcher were written expressly for her. And this could go on forever, especially since in the intro to the song, Jon does say that it is a rather long epic *S*. And the reception to the piece after shows they hit the right tone.

The next three tunes are what have become Ren classics. 'At The Harbor', 'Running Hard' and 'Black Flame' get the same relaxed treatment. It should be noted here that in later tours, 'Running Hard' was being featured as part of the back catalog material, but 'At The Harbor' and 'Black Flame' seem not to be as popular, which is odd. Both are incredibly beautiful pieces and here without an orchestra their playing takes on a certain innocence, almost as though the setting was not a large theatre but more like a small club.

The last in the set before the encore is 'Touching Once' and this is where the aforementioned sax player from Stanky Brown comes in. This is just as sharp as the album version, even with the haunting synth/organ bridge that leads into the driving jazz end. Granted, the sax solo on record is a bit muffled, but here it is all out in the open. What is really cool is that is sounded a little like a 12 bar blues type of solo and then when repeated with Annie and Jon's vocals along, it is just as powerful. You can tell this was well liked because the crowd does go a little crazy.

As for the encore, 'Can You Understand' follows the same relaxed pattern. From the opening chords to Jon's bass signalling that the rest of the band is going to join in. Even for the end of the show, this shows that Ren was truly in their element and Annie's vocals carrys the song to the point that one forgets there is no orchestra playing in the background. Her carrying of the bridge to the ending is just beautiful in its simplicity.

With this being a Christmas show, it does close with an audience singalong of 'Silent Night'. Leading up to that, this recording is much like those of us who go to see a baseball game in the minor league, in that you are seeing the game at its purest, most relaxed level. As in folks playing for the love of the game. Renaissance that night while playing for a cause, played for the love of the music and their fans returned that love in the ovations that are given. To quote a long ago manager of the Mets....'Amazin, just amazin...'

Monday, August 18, 2008

A double shot of Yes....'Symphonic Yes' and 'Magnification'

If there is one band in this genre that seems to get very little respect from those in the 'mainstream' [and the quotes are there because it seems that definition has changed as often as the Chicago White Sox have changed uniform colors and insignia down through the years...currently up to 95 times] music media, it is Yes. One has to wonder why, if due to the fact that they were one of those that crossed boundaries from what was called 'jam band' music [the early early days] to longform rock [starting with the 'Fragile' album] to shorter epics [see 'Going For The One' and 'Tormato'] to street smart pieces ['90125's 'Owner of a Lonely Heart' and 'Big Generator's 'Rythm of Love']. However, not many understand that they have attempted to incorporate orchestras into their sound...with varying degrees of success. Such as the use of strings on 'Time and A Word' or the smaller chamber orchestra that was featured on such songs like 'Onward' from 'Tormato' [sidebar-A remix of this album is available through Rhino records which includes an alternate version of 'Onward' sans vocals. From what has been gleaned through some sites dedicated to Yes, many of their fans like to use this as well as 'And You And I' at weddings....and those are good choices!]. Now if one wants to hear what Yes's music can really sound like when there is an orchestra dedicated to the project and not just brought in to play 'filler', 'Symphonic Yes' and 'Magnification' are excellent pieces.

Let's take Symphonic on first. If you look at who produced and had their hands on the engineering console, you know that this is not going to be just a throwaway. Alan Parsons. As in The Alan Parsons Project, as in the man who produced Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon'. Plus the orchestra [in this case, the London Philharmonic] was conducted by David Palmer. Those of you who may not remember, he was the one who wrote the string and horn charts for Jethro Tull, as well as filled in on keyboards. With all of this power, plus some members of Yes sitting in: Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Steve Howe and even after repeated listenings, it is still special

Leading off is 'Roundabout' which comes off as a very very powerful piece. Much like the rest of the album, this is not some half-hearted attempt to add some orchestral punch to old material. No True Believers, this is a direct combination of the two forces and when this has Jon's vocals added, it can also make one wonder why did Yes did not do this more often.

The rest of the album is no different: 'Close to The Edge', 'Wonderous Stories' . 'I've Seen All Good People' all show an orchestra or even a small chamber same can not only enhance, but bring out nuances in these songs that were not present initially. For me the topper of this album is 'Owner of A Lonely Heart'. While it could almost seem to some this may come off as let's say Mantovanni and the 101 Strings does Yes, 'Owner' still sounds as fresh as the original to these ears. Still as hip, still as street-smart [which is what the original was called by some critics, as in they could not believe that this was Yes] and just as clean.

'Survival', 'Heart of the Sunrise' and 'Soon' are played with an artistry that not only is clsoe to the spirit of the originals, but just enhances the beauty of them. This in turn sets up the finale, 'Starship Trooper' which shows that Yes may have had an idea this would be turned into a full orchestral piece at a later date. It would not be out of place to hear this on let's say a classical music radio station or one that is into classic rock.

This leads into what I have learned from several playings of the last Yes studio album, 'Magnfication'. According to various sources, Yes did not have an official keyboardist for this project and with one thing leading to another, they decided to fill in those parts with a full orchestra. To these ears that was the right call. Right from the title, opening track, this is a major treat. When one does listen to this you hear a more relaxed Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White playing all their parts with an ease and expertise one does expect from Yes. The credit for how the orchestra adds to the mix goes to Larry Goupe'. While not known to rock fans as let's say, Lewis Clark [of ELO fame] he makes his mark with Yes here.

While there are other tunes on here that impress, when I have listened to this over the past few months, there are 3 others aside from the title track that stand out. 'Don't Go', 'Give Love Each Day' and what can be called the masterwork of the album, 'In The Precence Of'. Each of these left an impression that this is what Yes at their best can do. Contrast this with what some bands after many years of being together and multiple albums have done, i.e. recycling ideas and concepts to try to make a new sound and it puts this breath of fresh air from Yes in a different light.

Something else to consider: if you wanted to introduce someone to what Yes is about [and spare them the stories about the infighting, the multiple lawsuits, the number of people who at one time actually owned the Yes copyright or how many people have played keyboards for them down through the years], these two albums mentioned in this post, as well as 'Tormato', 'Going For The One', 'Fragile' , 'Close To The Edge' are the best representatives of what Yes's sound is. The orchestral work...that is just the frosting on the cake.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Revisiting the Moody Blues - The Greek Theatre Video

When it comes to musicians I would give my eye teeth to be in the audience for, aside from Renaissance, the other band that I have made a special effort [all other things being equal] to see in concert is the Moody Blues. After all, they were the progenitors of the 'concept album' form [before the Alan Parsons Project], used a wonderful machine called the Mellotron to fill in where a string section or reeds would be, had lyrics that expressed not just the universal feelings of love and angst, but also got a few of us to actually THINK about the human condition. And their stage precence was more or less a celebration, even of the album they were touring behind was not completely up to snuff by commercial standards.

So while looking around the other night, I saw that someone had uploaded a copy of the Moodies at The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles and me being the geekette I am, it was downloaded in anticipation of this being the show which had some older chestnuts but some new material from the 'December' album'. While it does, it seems this is the abbreviated version that the HD Net aired, the original being called 'Lovely to See You Live' . This was more or less a continuation of the previous tour, the first one that Ray Thomas, the flautist was not present for since he retired. However, the person Justin, John and Graeme found to take his stead was and is more than up to the task, that being Norda Mullen. And she does deliver, if only due to her being a multi-instrumentalist...guitar as well as flute.

Seeing that this was similar to the concert I was present at, the opening piece me going, even from the comfort of the living room couch. 'Lovely to See You', the opener sets the tone and shows that at this stage of their career that they really are becoming a little more relaxed. Much like the show I went to, they played for themselves and for those fans who really wanted to be out there to sing along, to dance and to experience what has stood the test of time. ' The Voice', 'The Other Side of Life' sound as good here as they did in person, but the editing did leave some songs to be desired. And this is what I missed, even with repeated viewings. Such as 'Tuesday Afternoon', 'The Actor', 'Are You Sitting Comfortably'...those are missing. Under further review, one can see why this video is missing them in that there were time constraints. Keep in mind though there are some major highlights which brought back that evening to me.

For one, no matter which song Norda was featured on, she excelled. Her style is different than Ray's but to hear her and to see how she plays with such ease and style is spellbinding. Case in point: 'December Snow' which has her haunting flute as the counterpoint to Justin's romantic, plaintive lyrics and voice. If there has been one selling point to me as far as why I am still a fan of theirs, it is Justin....whose voice is soothing even on a rocker and whose lead guitar, even on a bad day is better than most when they are firing with afrerburners. Be it on 'Higher and Higher' or 'I'm Just A Singer In a Rock and Roll Band'.

The finale is a tad on the bittersweet side if only because the standard close has one tune missing. As many of you know, the standard close for their shows are/is: 'Nights In white Satin', 'Legend of A Mind', 'Question' and 'Ride My See-Saw'. 'Nights' in this case is only missing the orchestra from the last 2 tours, but the two keyboardists more than make up for it and as for the flute bridge...Norda is beyond words. Close your eyes and you will not hear a difference in the mind's eye between her performance and that of Ray Thomas. Granted she looks better in a dress, but that is besides the point...there is no real differencce othewise.

Much like the show I was at, 'Ride My See-Saw' is the raucous end to the show. If one does have a wishlist for this concert, it would have been for this to have an orchestra, due to the fact that this piece is somewhat forceful and playful at the same time. From John's countdown to Graeme being the madman on the drums to Justin ripping on the Strat... this almost begs for additional backup to give this the feeling of a rock version of the end of the 1812 Overture. Granted this may be due to the fact that I have been spoiled in seeing this done with the Spokane Symphony, the combined Minnesota/ St Paul Chamber Orchestra and members of the Oregon Symphony on several of the last few tours.

When viewing this concert over several nights, it did take me back to seeing what was a slightly different Moody Blues, a more relaxed in some ways Moody Blues. It was not a matter of Ray being out and plugging Norda in, not a matter of using emulators and sequencers to replace a full piece orchestra...but in this case, it was that they have now reached a stage where they can and do play their hearts out for their fans. That actually becomes more important than going through the motions for commercial sake.....and let's be honest, if they were commercial - their loyal fanbase would not be there. As such, their fanbase is really who this performance is geared towards...along with those who have been introduced to them as John Lodge says '...along the journey of our lives...' If only other bands would 'Keep the Faith' and the Moodies have all these years.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Another look: The Time-Line VCD

[This is another repost from the Renaissance Fanbase group over at Yahoo. The address is here:

While it may seem that I am focusing only on Renaissance, there will be some other posts on other bands in this genre soon enough. In the meantime, enjoy!!]

For a while, many of us in this Yahoo group and in other places had been wishing, hoping, maybe even making sacrifices on altars with the wish that there would be a video available of Renaissance in performance. Yes, in addition to the appearances on The Midnight Special, Don Kirschner's Rock Concert, Mike Douglas and others there was a strong rumour that other live performances were recoreded and were floating around. As such when this one became available, I placed myself on the list to receive it and when this arrived, I told my cats they were in for a treat. After all, they have heard their mom rave about these folks for years...and at the time the only video concert I had available for us to view [limited funds at the time and other issues] was the Moody Blues at Red Rocks with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra [not a bad show in itself and I am a hardcore fan of theirs as well]. So the first few airings of it on the PC's VCD player were nice....and a couple weeks back, I decided to look at it again.

If one were to skip the obligatory introduction by the hostess for the USA Network, this one opens with a rocking version of 'Northern Lights'. The beauty of this being shot in a smaller venue [the Park West] is that one not only sees Annie's emotional delivery but also see a clinic on how Jon is able to rip into the Great White with an ease that seems to be beyond regular human skill [Think of how Dwight Gooden's fastball used to be described and you will get the idea]. Granted this gets one hooked and ready for the rest of the disc.

'Flight' from Time-Line is up next and while not a bad song in concert [see a previous review of the 'Time-Line' concerts], it almost seemed as though the band was going through the motions on this evening. Mick Taylor, who along with Gavin Harrison were the new kids playing keyboards and drums respectively looked as though they were in the process of still becoming a part of the band and the solo he does on this song seemed a little reserved. Almost to the point of it being mechanical, vis a vis attacking it.

Interpsersed between the concert pieces are interviews with Jon, Annie and if I remember right, Gavin. When one listens to Jon, you do get a little bit of an insight into how and why the change in musical direction occured. This is a little different than the usual 'we have a good band, a good album a good tour' interview [think of how comics would parody how a baseball manager would speak about his team and their outlook for the season and one can see Ren did not follow this pattern]. Annie's portion shows she is still captivating, even when not singing and is quietly matter-of-fact with regard to how she got involved with the band all those years ago.

While the number of songs on the disc is short, 'Running Hard' being the last stand is the medley, or as Jon called it 'The Renaissance Collection' is where this all comes together. While this is a tad restrained from what was heard at some of the east coast venues, this still shows that fire that one comes to expect when the band just lets loose. Mickey shows that even though he is not known for being a tiger on the Strat, he can rip into it in his own way and then there is Jon. Again the master of the bass being played as lead, shows with lightening fast movements how he is able to take the bassline from 'Touching Once' and make that a solo to remember. This combined with Mick's counter-solo on keyboards and Annies soaring voice [I will say it here: there are very few then and even now who can match Annie when she is on her game. Period] and that is a great ending to the main portion of the concert.

What puzzled me and still does is why the encore was cut short in this production. As in: no 'America', no 'Prologue' and a truncated 'Ashes Are Burning' which does not include Jon's solo. Yes, we do get the final portion and the crowd gets into it, led by Annie. They took their cue from her and she could have carried this for several hours if need be.

The program does end with a taste of the opening song on the tour 'Can You Hear Me' which would have been nice to see in its full version. One has to hope that maybe at some point, someone will have the complete show from the Park West and distribute this with the interviews. Until then, with the further viewing from these eyes, it is not a bad way to introduce others to the band and for the hardcore fan to savor a 60 minute view of what was and is one of the masters of the form.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Another re-visit: The 'Camera Camera' Concert - 1981

[The original of this appears in a Yahoo group and is in full, not an expurgated version]

Let's start out by saying that at the time that this album was released, yours truly like quite a few other folks was in shock. Why you ask? Well for one, after a long abscence [short when compared to the sabbatical the Moody Blues took] one would have hoped that the comeback album would be back in the old style. A strident answer to the punk rock/dance rock/corporate rock genres that seemed to have permeated the airways. However just from first view of the cover, it seemed that Renaissance had been assimilated into the morass.

Secondly, it was the cover that was a tad...well different. Yes it was that era and it seemed a little bit out of character. Even the back cover, which features a smile from Jon well almost could give the impression that 'do not worry, we are playing a joke on all of you folks...WINK'!. Ok, that would make sense...after all, I have read O'Henry and Rod Serling, so a twist like this could be expected.

Mind you I was still in college at the time and one of the few in the town who bought the album on day of release. And that evening ,a friend of mine heard me go off on a rant that would be close to:

- what diehard fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers felt when the team announced they were moving to Los Angeles in 1958

- the words used when the first few folks had gotten their Edsels and felt cheated

- or when the city of Seattle felt an earthquake when Boeing announced they were moving their corporate headquarters to Chicago ['you people are doing WHAT???']

After all this did not look like the Renaissance of old, the one that had played with the New York Philharmonic, the same one that created Novella and A Song For All Seasons. But being the true, diehard fan I was, I had purchased tickets for the concert in town that followed this release by 2 weeks and was surprised by the performance. And it is these discs, recorded in San Francisco [a few nights before the show I went to in Rochester, NY at the Triangle Theatre] that brought this back.

On disc one, there is the opening, which is the instrumental exposition from 'Can You Understand?' which was another way of saying that Ren [with two sidemen Peter Gosling and Peter Barron taking the place of John and Terry respectively] was back. Then it was Annie's vocals on 'The Vultures Fly High' that sealed the deal. The crowd was then hooked. But it is after this that even upon further listening...things get a little strange.

'Day of the Dreamer' opened ok, but it was the bridge for same that was a precursor to what else would be heard, synthesizer wise. Peter Goslings major ax of choice was an Oberheim [OB-X if I remember correctly through other means] which in this performance sounded a little tinny, which could be rooted in where the mike was placed, etc. In a sense though, this bridge did sort of set the scene for the new material that was coming up.

When you listen to this, please keep in mind that as with many bands, the live versions will sound different and even will be expanded from the said same album versions. 'Camera Camera', the title track and 'Fairies Living at the Bottom of The Garden' are good examples of this. Also this is where further review helps in that the keyboard parts for 'Camera' sounded as though they were put together from what could best be described as an almost, intro, basic primer to 'How to do a solo on your new synth'. Granted, the beat being kept does keep ones mind off of this little faux pas and this song is danceable [sidebar...I did see them on the second leg of the US tour at the Palladium in NYC and there were folks in our section, myself included who WERE DANCING along to 'Camera Camera'. It seemed the synthesizer parts were better rehearsed and as such were cleaner], but you will hear the crowd give a little bit of a lukewarm reception after it was done. 'Fairies' which was in the same vein sounded very much like its album counterpart, but once again the crowd reaction here is in the same ballpark.

It was and is the classic material in this concert that saves the day. 'Running Hard', 'Northern Lights' are welcomed and in further listening really work well. Then comes up one of the two new pieces from 'Camera' that really do seem to show that Ren can not just play something a little different and make it work live. 'Tyrant-Tula' which Jon, in some cases has introduced as being inspired by episodes of 'Mission Impossible'. An amazing piece in that one hears the band stretching it out...hitting on all cylinders. It is the ending of this that the crowd does go a little crazy, due to the segue into 'Mother Russia'. This brings about the 'WOW' factor.

Another highlight here in this performance is 'Jigsaw'. On the album, its intro is short, but still with the traditional Ren flourish. In this concert, this piano introduction is expanded and shows the old style, what got many folks into Renaissance in the first place. Ah, this is beautiful...and when listening to this again if I am in the store, I do play along with the keyboads on the top of the shopping cart if only due to Peter Gosling taking it home and making it his. Jon's bass rocks harder, Mickey attacks his chords like this is the last time he would be playing this song, Peter Barron's drums hits the right points and of course Annie soars.

For some reason it is after this highlight, that on disc two one hears 'Bonjour Swansong' as the lead in to 'A Song For All Seasons'. In a sense this appears to be a little bit of a letdown and you will hear the crowd feeling the same thing. Granted, 'Bonjour' in the concert was announced to be the followup to 'Northern Lights', so one would expect that the same piece would come off as being in the same vein. The reaction from the crowd will give you a hint as to what was thought of the song. This portion of the concert though is saved by the encore.

'Ashes Are Burning'. What more can be said...and like on 'Jigsaw' the band does what they do best. Even Jon's bass solo brought it all home [during this tour it should be mentioned, they played smaller venues and as such, one did get to see the expressions on the face, the ones that showed he was having his 'zen moment' while playing the solo on the 'Great White']. When this concert ends, you hear the folks clapping as though they did not want this to end, although I sense through repeated listenings that they wanted the older material.

There are those who would consider the tour for 'Camera Camera' to have been a missfire, something that was just a minor blip on the screen or resume. Again it does need to be mentioned that this was the first tour in close to three years, there was the integration of the two Peters into the band, as well as the attempt to fit the band into the atmosphere of the time. If the minor glitches are overlooked, this is a concert that can be listened to to remind us that Ren did put forth the effort as oppossed to throwing in the towel, that they did rescue the night not just with the older material, but with two newer songs that reminds anyone that the spark is still there. And when given the chance to do so live, the spark is intensified.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Submitted for your approval...The Beacon Theatre Concert

[Another repost from a Yahoo Group...this deals with the Beacon Theatre concert which has been called one of the best Renaissance ever played...with or without an orchestra]

There is something rather nice and somewhat cool about giving another listen, another view to some of Rens older material. As was mentioned in this space before, yours truly has had some spare time due to some circumstance beyond her control and has been able to get back playing on the portable CD those concert discs that made the rounds a while back. Like any of these, they are special shows, but the Beacon one holds a rather special place here.

For one, yours truly had brought along several of my sister and a few close friends at the time to the show...these were folks I wanted to share this band with because to be honest, there was word circulating amongst the fan community that they may be on the way to a breakup, unless they were able to secure some type of record deal [many here do know the stories about what happened during and after this tour - one such being that Columbia Records had offered the band a two album deal, full backing on a tour, but rumour had it that Jon had on behalf of the band squashed the deal - so if I need to be corrected on this, please do so]. So in way or another this was going to be a show that would be one for a longtime fan to savor and for a newbie to say 'gee why did I not hear of these folks before'.

Second, word had spread that not only was their new material, but that they were playing their hearts out. Not just bringing their 'A'game to the stage, but their 'A+' game. Yes, I know a sports metaphor, but it can also be applied to musicians in that there are some nights when they will phone in a performance of their newest material, but also their 'greatest hits' would sound as though they were going through the motions. For Renaissance that evening, thiswas not the case....they brought it all and then some.

On disc one for example, it is apparent that Mick Taylor and Gavin Harrison had become not just members of the band, but placed their own stamp on the Ren classics. 'Prologue' for example never sounded as good as it did that night, rocking a heck of a lot harder than even the 'Time-Line' encore version [think in terms of what some classical orchestras do when they really want to show off and you get the idea] and it got us in the crowd going. 'Carpet of the Sun', 'Can You Hear Me Call Your Name'...these being the first three in the set were amazing. Then came the newer material which on further listening would not be out of place with most of what is on air these days...or even back in the mid 80's. Come to think of it, 'Flood at Lyons' from Azure d' Or would be in the same ballpark.

There is something that needs to be mentioned about what happened during the playing of the songs 'The Animals are Back' and 'You', which is not that apparent on the disc. During 'Animals', a string broke on Jon's bass. It happens, no biggie, just go quickly run to the rack next to the drums, strap on the Fender Jazz Precision and carry on from there. One problem, apparently it was not plugged in to the wireless mic system and was not able to be played, so Jon...trooper that he is....continued on bass pedals and then after the song was over, grabbed a replacement Great White from a roadie and played the rest of the show. But those of us who were there noticed that Jon had ripped into his roadie with a fervor usually emanating from the likes of Lou Pinella [manager of the Chicago Cubs baseball team...if you have seen him get angry at an umpire, that will give you a fairly good picture of what the roadie was looking at].

[It should be noted that one of the longer ovations of the evening was for 'Mother Russia'. With the passing of the man who this was written about, even in this day and age the song now takes on a new significance]

The encores were just as special due to two great reasons. One line in the song 'America' got the crowd going...this being the one featuring that infamous portion of Interstate 95 - The New JerseyTurnpike. And then there was 'Ashes are Burning'. Rock, jazz, funk, classical all mixed in. And if this was the last hurrah for the famous, seldom imitated never to be duplicated Jon Camp bass solo, this was one hell of a sendoff.

If anyone says to you that progressive rock bands are dull or for that matter lack a certain fire or a certain amount of energy, give that person a copy of this concert and let them hear for themselves what this music really is. That in the hands of those who have mastered the form [I would also include the Moody Blues and Yes in this class as well] it has that fire, that bravado and with Annie's voice was raised to a higher level.

Coming up to bat...Renaissance's 'Time-Line'...the album and other material

[This is a repost, with some editing of a recent article I sent over to a Yahoo Group in re: 'Time-Line' the last Renaissance album prior to Jon Camp eventually leaving and 'Tuscany' being released in 2000 ]

To these ears, upon much further review, Time-Line is not really that bad an album, if the cheesiness factor is taken away. What I mean is that yes there are a few pieces on it which are way out of character, but by the same token one can imagine some person out there remixing a 'funkier' version of let's say 'Orient Express'. How did yours truly come to this? More or less it is repeated listening to the CD version on the walkman while shuttling between doctor's offices over the past 3-4months [no sympathy being elicited here, just stating the fact] and thinking 'gee if they had only released _______ at this time'. But that is just speculation...which is part of being a fan of any band. There were at least 3, maybe 4 tunes on the disc that, with a little improvement could have made air and not seem out of place ['Flight', 'Distant Horizons' , 'The Entertainer' and the above mentioned, 'Orient Express'].

Secondly, it is amazing how some of the concert discs, even though they were recorded close to 20 years ago still stand up and how fresh the memories of seeing Ren on Camera Camera or Time-Line were and are. For example, I put the Time-Line concert on and I am back in NYC...sitting at the Palladium watching them on that Saturday evening going through not just the new material, but also the pieces that had not been played in concert for years. Let alone the of the few times that there is an ovation for a line from a song that mentions the state of New Jersey [referring to the song 'America', '...counting the cars onthe New Jersey Turnpike...' which while part of the closing set...really SHOULD have been released as a single]. Considering what is now passing for music from other bands...hearing these just stands as a reminder of how special Annie, Jon, Mickey, John, Terry and the myriad others who worked alongside them were.

Finally a few weeks back, I was in the market doing my usual shopping and had the Time-Line 'My Father's Place' disc going on in the headphones. Depending on where I am, I may just start whistling along with the tunes and then ,when the spirit hits, start playing an air Rickenbacker bass [Ok...'Great White'] along with Jon's riffs. Which makes for a rather interesting picture when one is in the diary aisle, deciding on Cheddar, Swiss or Provolone and they see this person in a close state of near possession playing along with the bassline from the abbreviated version of 'Touching Once'. Anyhow, I moved onto one of the next aisle and one of the clerks there had noticed I was whistling and was wondering what it was. I then went into a Cliff-Notes version of who Renaissance was, what concert this was I had on and the fact that the last album that was released was 'Tuscany' and that they have since ceased recording. Now who knows, I may have turned another person onto one of the best bands there ever was and this may happen again if someone notices me in the store playing an air-Addamas 12 string and wonders 'what is she on?'

Just another blog about music...well not exactly

Hello True Believers!!!

Before it is said 'what another blog about music?' let me explain. This one is going to be dedicated to reviewing some older songs, albums, live concert discs dealing with one of the more missunderstood forms of rock music, that being classically influenced rock.

What exactly is classically influenced rock you may ask? Well this is rock music that uitilizes the construction and form much like the classical pieces many of us grew up with. Bach, Beethoven, Prokofiev, Debussy, Chopin, Copland, etc are some of the influences given a new look and flair by adding this to the form of rock music. Throw in some jazz figures [think Parker, Brubeck, Bill Evans] a symphonic or philharmonic orchestra and you have what classical rock is. Not the illegitimate child of this mixture, more of a logical extension.

For the most part you will see here postings about some of my favorite bands who were and are the masters of this form. Renaissance, The Moody Blues, ELP, The Alan Parsons Project, Yes and others. And of course everyone who sees this is more than welcome to chime in and post their views as well. After all...many folks out there have albums by these bands in their collections.

So with the Prologue done, let's make this A Song For All Seasons, even if we publish Novellas about a Turn Of The Cards.