At last we have the possibility to hear RENAISSANCE in full glory because all the previous releases represented the great ensemble in concert with orchestra. Well, that was pretty great but to hear the stark band was the thing all fans dreamed of. The sound quality is not top-notch and the CD shoddily packaged - without even indication on what and where was recorded, undoubtedly, it's from the late Seventies (1977, I'd say) - but music leaves it all behind.
"Can You Hear Me Call Your Name" immediately compels with Jon Camp's virtuoso bass filling every gap. John Tout provides orchestra parts and a background for Annie Haslam to shine. And she does - how this unique operatic voice can fail? The main man behind the band's music, Michael Dunford, seems to be overshadowed by his bandmates, but it's him whose acoustic guitar leads the harmony though "Carpet Of The Sun" may seem a little thin on par with orchestrated versions.
"Day Of The Dreamer" appears on the live record for the first time and sounds terrific. Soaring Annie's voice backed up by male voices and together vocals create a mini-choir while instruments build up a great musical landscape. "Back Home Once Again", another song from the "Song For All Seasons" album, was never released in live version too. Yes, it's much poppier than the earlier material but brilliant melody and perfect rendition turn it into a masterpiece. Another surprise is "Can You Understand" intro tagged to "The Vultures Fly High", very rarely heard. Interesting combination looking as if it was one piece from the off.
"A Song For All Seasons" is one more proof that Haslam's vocals weren't everything, just one of the instruments waiting for his part to appear and add this tragic note to RENAISSANCE powerful suites. When it's Annie's turn to go solo, she's in with this five-octave vocalising sending shivers down the spine - not because of high notes but of expression. And that's what "Prologue" is about, the only composition off the first (or third, if you want) RENAISSANCE album which stayed in the group's repertoire through the years. Very jazzy, unlike quintet's classical stuff - here Tout breaks in kind of ragtime soloing that turns to this List-ish piano concert fragments.
The most tragic and fragile, "Ocean Gypsy", appears there so simplistic, so quiet, taking you in its trap. No theatricality, no showmanship, no sugar icing - and what a power! And I never thought "Running Hard" can be so playful as in this variant, radiant and bouncing, more jazzy than ever.
Timeless music which suits everyone in every mood. A must have.