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Renaissance

Renaissance

Review by Steve Alspach

Funny outfit, the Yardbirds. In their early days they were a blues-based band, and their renditions of old standards as "I'm a Man" and "Smokestack Lightning" were something to reckon. But they also knew the zeitgeist of the 1960s, delving into such psychedelia as "Shapes of Things" and "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" before finally packing it in around 1968. The personnel at this time was: Keith Relf, guitar and vocals; Jane Relf, vocals and percussion; Jim McCarty, drums; Louis Cennamo, bass; and John Hawken, piano and harpsichord.

So while Jeff Beck went into blues raunch and turned Rod Stewart loose on an unsuspecting public, and Jimmy Page found a modicum of success with his new band, former Yardbird members Keith Relf and Jim McCarty went off in an entirely different direction, mixing classical influences with rock. (Another ex-Bird, Paul Samwell-Smith, produced.) Those who are familiar with the Annie Haslam-Michael Dunford Renaissance may know that this is the original outfit, none of whom were in the band by the time "Prologue" came out in 1972. But by 1972 the seeds were sown - this first album has all the classic Renaissance traits - lengthy compositions, top notch keyboard work, female vocals, but this album tends to rock a bit harder than the latter-day Renaissance. This first outing works well as a collector's item and as a starting point to understanding one of the more intriguing progressive bands of the 1970s.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2001 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Kings And Queens
The psycho-baroque opening between Hawken and Cennamo is a classical Renaissance trait, duplicated in later albums. (Cennamo's work on the opening proves that Jon Camp may not have been the best bassist in this band's history.) A dramatic free-form section goes into the main verse. The verses have an eastern flavor to them. The song breaks for a short waltz interlude, then to a dramatic passage with snippets from Bach and Rachmaninoff before going back to the verse structure.
Innocence
Keith Relf not only gets lead vocals on this number, but he also gets to show off some tasty guitar chops, something I'm sure he never had a chance to do in his previous band. The tune changes direction then before settling into a two-chord jam to finish out.
Island
After a ninety-second opening passage, the song goes into another baroque mode with the main instrumentation being tambourine, harpsichord, and Jane Relf's vocals.
Bullet
There is a little classical flirtation here for the first five minutes. The band gets downright bluesy with sultry, smoky verses, and Keith Relf even gets a harmonica solo. If the band stayed in this mode, this could have been a real barnburner, but they get exploratory for quite a bit (perhaps unnecessarily), and Cennamo gets an extended bass solo here. The last few minutes sound like outtakes from the "2001: A Space Odyssey" soundtrack - eerie voices, stark winds, and Floydian ambient keyboards. It may have been effective in 1969 with the listener was stoned on God-knows-what, but in the real 2001 the ending is a head-scratching curiosity.
 
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