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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Illusion

Out of the Mist/Illusion

Review by Steve Alspach

There are fewer musical bedfellows stranger than the Yardbirds and Renaissance. The seminal 1960s blues-psychedelia-based band featuring Beck, Clapton, and Page seem to have little in common with the group that put the rock in Rachmaninov. Yet there is a simple link between the two. Yardbird drummer Jim McCarty and lead singer Keith Relf formed the original Renaissance in 1970 before it became the Renaissance that is most familiar to us. In 1975 McCarty got some of the original members together, added a few more, and this new band recorded two albums of classically-tinged music. Both albums are featured in this CD. Fans of Renaissance will enjoy this CD as there is such an overlap in styles between the two groups.

The personnel for these two albums are: Jim McCarty, acoustic guitar, percussion, and vocals; Jane Relf, vocals; John Hawken, keyboards; Louis Cennamo, bass; John Knightsbridge, acoustic and electric guitars; and Eddie McNeil, drums and percussion. Paul Samwell-Smith guests to provide vocals on Illusion, and the string arrangements are by Robert Kirby.

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
Illusion
Madonna Blue
This song is similar to "Isadora." McCarty and Relf take the lead vocal line. The second half of the song is marked by Hawken's piano playing, downscale arpeggios against a thumping beat. Knightsbridge then comes in for a solo over the chord pattern.
Never Be The Same
A simple, soft rock number. McCarty sings lead on this number, a bit surprising since the heavily acoustic arrangement (including two acoustic guitars) seems tailor-made for Relf's voice. She fills in nicely on vocalese harmonies.
Louis' Theme
The only song on the CD where Louis Cennamo gets a songwriting credit (he co-wrote it with Jane Relf), one would think that this would feature some extensive bass work. To the contrary, this is a languid waltz.
Wings Across the Sea
Well, um, okay - it's a love song! There, I said it! Nothing really stands out about this, but Relf does have a voice that is beautifully suited for this kind of song. She and McCarty harmonize well on the chorus.
Crossing Nowhere
Another hard rock number, Hawken lurks around with a synthesizer drone and Knightsbridge plays some excellent fills over a Bo Diddley-type beat. The lyrics are uncharacteristically bitter, and the song comes off quite well. The band rocks out on this song without sounding forced or strained.
Man of Miracles
A quiet, dreamy song, this one features only Relf and Hawken. Hawken plays Fender Rhodes through this piece, and Relf gives a very tender performance.
The Revolutionary
The band goes out with another hard rocker. This song deals with preparation for battle, and it starts out with fast strumming acoustic guitars. A brief interlude emerges, and then the cut picks up again. But, like "Candles Are Burning," the number changes mood at the 4:30 mark. The mood becomes rather ethereal, as the cut fades out to the sound of drifting keyboards and tolling bells.
Out of the Mist
Isadora
This song is a bit on the grand side, with McCarty and Relf singing lead. The refrain has a baroque feel to it with Hawken's piano and Cennamo's bass playing off each other. Knightsbridge has an electric guitar solo that simply plays the melody line. The song eventually goes back to the opening theme, and then has a fake ending before starting a one-minute instrumental coda that repeats the verse.
Roads to Freedom
Jane Relf takes lead vocals on this relaxed number, and she distinguishes herself from Annie Haslam with her singing style. Relf has a warmer voice and is less prone to vocal pyrotechnics than Haslam.
Beautiful Country
This is a slow ballad that showcases some nice harmonies between Relf and McCarty. A mellotron solo by Hawken, emulating a flute to great effect, is quite nice, and McNeil adds vibes to give the song even more warmth.
Solo Flight
This song rocks as hard, if not harder, as anything Renaissance ever did. Knightsbridge gets a chance to show off his chops on a nice solo. This is one of the few songs where the electric guitar is prominent in the arrangement.
Everywhere You Go
This is a breezy piece, with acoustic guitars strumming and the piano taking the lead. Relf sings lead on this, and the string arrangements in the background give the piece a true Renaissance feel. Knightsbridge gets another electric guitar solo, though, which is rather un-Renaissance-like.
Face of Yesterday
This is a classically influenced piece. Hawken and Cennamo play beautiful counterpoint in the opening. The drumming here is sparse, and Jane Relf gives a nice, restrained vocal performance.
Candles are Burning
This is a two-part number. The first part is rather driving 12/8 section, with its multi-tracked vocals, classical piano runs, and electric guitar solo. But at the 4:25 mark the mood changes, and the song slows down. McCarty takes the vocal lead, and Relf joins in harmony. The song builds in a neo-romantic mode before coming to a quick end. This track could have really developed given another two or three minutes.
 
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