This in an interesting one. There hasn’t been a new Renaissance album with
Annie Haslam on vocals since about 1985. Actually Time Line seems the latest
studio I have and that is P1981. I am surprised.
Knowing another of my heroes Roy Wood had had some involvement with it spiked
my interest further. He had previously worked with Annie On Annie In Wonderland
and I must confess I had been a bit uncomfortable with the merging of what were
to me two different sounds.
Michael Dunford has produced two albums under the Renaissance name, which were
OK but had Stephanie Aldington vocals. She is a fine singer but I am sure most
Renaissance fans would say Annie has a really special quality to her voice so
she is pretty irreplaceable. Interestingly the Aldington albums were written
by Dunford/Thatcher as were the original main era Renaissance albums. This album
was written by Haslam/Dunford. Betty Thatcher was pretty much a lyricist I think
so this you would expect this new album to sound like Renaissance. It doesn’t
though. All the way through I can’t help thinking this is a follow up to Haslam’s
solo album Blessing In Disguise. That is my favourite of her solo albums so
it is the one I recall best. Dawn Of Ananda, which followed Blessing, seemed
like a watered down version of Blessing. This album seems more upbeat but still
rather tame compared to Renaissance at their peak. Before I listen to the tracks
individually my impression is this is a keyboard-based album. There are certainly
none of the distinctive Bass parts of old. And I am not sure I can think of
any guitar of note. I certainly don’t remember thinking anything sounded like
Roy Wood had touched it.
Right lets listen in track by Track
Lady From Tuscany – This is a good start to the album. Very Blessing In Disguise
though. Michael is playing Acoustic Guitar and can be heard OK but it is the
Keyboards that are distinctive to me. Michael also add’s backing vocals but
they are a bit buried in the mix. I think it is one of the keyboard voices that
is making me think of Blessing In Disguise so much. There is a nice keyboard
solo. When I saw Annie Haslam solo she had Michael on guitar with her and Mickey
Simmonds on Keyboards. They had I think already started work on this album and
performed Eva’s Pond that night. I don’t think I had been that impressed by
Mickey (He was using Midi backings live) but he has done a good job here.
Pearls Of Wisdom – Looking at the track credits Dunford only plays acoustic
guitar on the album.’ He is there but it is very gentle stuff and I suspect
it wouldn’t miss it too much if it wasn’t there. Perhaps I would be surprised
there are certainly lots of loud strumming at times on this but mostly the individual
note playing is too low in the mix for me to sit up and listen to it. Again
it is Annie and Simmonds on Keyboards that make the most contribution to the
songs. This song overall is OK but not one that makes me think I like that.
It is more a piece I appreciate as part of the whole sound of the album
Eva’s Pond – This one is literally Simmonds and Annie alone. I remember Annie
saying live she and Michael had written it but he didn’t actually play on it.
Very strange. Again this is an album track that is nice but not a grabber for
Dear Landseer – Former Renaissance man John Tout plays piano on this one but
Simmonds is still the main player. I am now focussing in more on what Dunford
is contributing. Annie’s voice is still top notch. This is the first track with
Roy Wood involvement. He plays Bass, though why anyone would ask Roy Wood to
guest on an album and then get him to play Bass is beyond me. Especially as
it is barely audible. I quite like this one.
In The sunshine – Roy Wood is also on this one. He is a joint Producer with
Dunford and Haslam. He is also credited with Bass keyboards and orchestral arrangements.
But apart from the Bass so is Simmonds so it is hard to know who did what. This
track perhaps sounds fuller so I wonder if that was Roy. I like this one too.
In My Life – I guess I do notice Dunford after all. Being acoustic guitar I
am just not as aware of it. This one is a really gentle one again but it is
probably one of my favourites on the album. I can’t really justify why. It is
so simple but I guess I just like Annie’s vocal. The Bass is actually a bit
more noticeable on this one.
The Race – This one is my favourite of the album and is the only pacey track.
Or at least it is noticeably faster than anything else. There is far more to
listen too and it is generally far more exciting, which is at list 60% of my
key motivation when listening to music. I like the whole of this album but wish
there had been more like this on it.
Dolphin Prayer – This track only has Halsam with Trout on Keyboards. Roy Wood
adds backing vocals. Prayer is a good term for it. The keyboards are long chords
initially although they do get added voices at times. Annie is very choral.
And there is only one point I think Woody must have added a low voice (About
2.12 in). I certainly wouldn’t claim to know he or any male voice was on the
track really. This track is my least favourite on the album.
Life In Brazil – This one actually starts like a Renaissance track. Perhaps
Northern Lights. I guess this is quite pacey too. Woody is on percussion on
this one. Again a very strange involvement. I would so love to interview him
about this. I like this track again. It is so strongly from Annie though. She
has been really impressed by fan reactions in Brazil. It is at least her 2nd
song with Brazil in the title
One Thousand Roses – The pace drops again and we get another song with two
minutes of in my life type vocals. Then it suddenly wakes up and I guess it
is fast again. I think it is the keyboard parts on the Race that make it seem
so much faster compared to tracks like this. Once we are over the first two
minutes this could be another favourite of mine. There is certainly a nice Marillion
type keyboard solo. No real surprise there as Simmonds has played with Marillion’s
Fish. The last minute then ends a bit like the first but it seems a reasonable
ending to me. I guess I should be analysing the lyrics more but that only tends
to happen with me when they really grab my interest. Annie’s vocal style doesn’t
always help my natural hearing of the words if I am honest. I just played the
slow start again and I would never have guessed some of the lines without the
lyrics in front of me.
As a counter Balance I have just had a quick play of Time Line the last Haslam
Renaissance album and The Other Woman with Aldington on vocals. I certainly
prefer this to both of them. I am not sure I can view this as anything but a
Haslam solo album but I think it an excellent album all the same. Much better
than Dawn Of Ananda, which is a pure solo Haslam album, and slightly disappointed
I guess the name is unimportant to a lot of people but it is very interesting
to see how various components of Renaissance come together when separated and
put back together in a slightly different way. I wonder what Renaissance would
sound like if the mid-70’s line up were to reform and the old song writing dynamics
were restored. Annie has obviously grown a lot in the intervening years and
from what I hear here she is now the strongest force in writing. Fascinating.
It is such a shame this album is only out in Japan so far. I hope there will
be another Renaissance album.