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Renaissance - 1969 Renaissance



ARTIST: Renaissance
ALBUM: Renaissance
LABEL: Island Records
SERIAL: ILPS-9114
YEAR: 1969
CD REISSUE: 1987, Line Records Germany, LICD 9.00421

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:

LINEUP: Keith Relf - vocals, guitar, harmonica * Jim McCarty - percussion, vocals * John Hawken - piano, harpsichord * Louis Cennamo - bass * Jane Relf - vocals, percussion

TRACK LISTING: 01 Kings And Queens * 02 Innocence * 03 Island * 04 Wanderer * 05 Bullet

WEBLINKS: www.nlightsweb.com


Background
I had already owned a couple Renaissance albums by the time I picked up their first release in an import bin at my local 'Korvettes' department store. Looking quite pristine in its gatefold sleeve and fantastic Dali-esque cover, I was blissfully unaware after putting down my $7.99 that this was a very different band to the Annie Haslam version that at the time, were at the peak of their popularity. For those wondering the origins of Renaissance can be found in The Yardbirds - one of the seminal bands of the 1960's. Guitarist Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty formed Renaissance to explore other styles of music including classical and folk creating one of the finest early progressive rock albums Britannia produced. With the addition of classically trained John Hawken on keys, Louis Cennamo on bass and Keith's sister, the lovely Jane Relf on vocals, Renaissance Mk.1 was a formidable line-up that was sadly, very short-lived.


The Songs
The atmosphere of this record is extraordinary. Richly baroque and piano driven progressive rock is the order of the day and opener 'Kings & Queens' is nothing short of epic. The vocal interplay between Keith and Jane is quite beautiful and at times comparisons to San Francisco's It's A Beautiful Day can be drawn which is always a good thing, in particular on 'Islands' although this is definitely music based in the European classical tradition. John Hawken's harpsichord on 'Wanderer' weaves an ornate tapestry of sound blending seamlessly with Jane's warm vocals, and while the band rock a little harder on the albums final and longest cut 'Bullet', this is a band who had no desire living in the then recent rock 'n roll past, instead digging deep into the timeless sounds of the ancient classical with an eye on the future experimenting beyond rock norms.


In Summary
Unfortunately, after both U.S. and European tours in 1970, the band began falling apart although not without attempting a follow-up album 'Illusion' which was left incomplete after Keith Relf and Louis Cennamo left to form Armageddon releasing a classic hard rock album in their wake. Drummer Jim McCarty was left to keep the Renaissance flag flying and completed the 'Illusion' album augmented by session players and a new Renaissance line-up. It would be another couple years before the most successful version of the band with Annie Haslam would take shape, but for my money this debut album stands alone in the hallowed halls of British progressive rock.


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