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.

No comments: