Renaissance - A Song For All Seasons

Year of Release: 1999
Label: Sire/WEA
Catalog Number: 7599259592
Format: CD
Total Time: 44:36:00

When listening to the Tales of Yesterday tribute, I fell in love with Annie Haslam's singing on "Turn Of The Century," and wanted to explore her background some more, leading me to Renaissance, the band with which she is most commonly associated. A bit of research then suggested that the album A Song For All Seasons (1978) was generally considered to be one of the band's best, so I stuck the disc in the player and awaited the seduction.

Forty-five minutes later I had that warm glow that comes from a new album that wins you over from the opening track, and which you know is going to stay with you for a long time afterwards. Rich in melody and recalling the gentler sounds of seventies progressive rock, A Song For All Seasons is an apt title - this is an album you can play whatever the mood or time, and it has an effect that is both calming and uplifting.

The band described their music as classically influenced progressive rock, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra contribute a lot to the sounds on this album. However, the album also saw further changes from previous albums, including the prominence of synthesizers and re-introduction of electric guitars, and the band's first outside producer, David Hentschel. And as visitors to this page will know, Hentschel played a significant role in producing some of Genesis' most popular albums in the late seventies. I've always enjoyed the warmth that Hentschel brought to the albums like Trick Of The Tail and Wind And Wuthering, and I got the same happy vibe with this album.

Throughout the album there is an interesting absence of any identifiable electric lead guitar solos. As a result, the bass is more prominent in leading the songs, but not in the dominant way you would more normally associate with the likes of Greg Lake or Chris Squire. Rather the bass blends in with the other instruments - you can clearly hear it and there is depth to the sound - but the musical arrangements adopt a sort of role reversal with the bass leading the melodies and the guitar adding background colour. The keyboards have a strong presence, and while some of the sounds may be a little dated, there are plenty of traditional prog-style flurries to prevent the songs becoming bland. Having a real orchestra instead of string-synths helps too, making the music sound a bit more real and 'in yer ears' than some the samplers used today.

And then there is Annie's singing, gentle yet passionate, soft one moment soaring the next. She proves adept whether it's on the shorter numbers like "Opening Out" and "Closer Than Yesterday" or the epics like "The Day Of The Dreamer" and the album's title track, bringing character and beauty to each track she sings on. By comparison, the tracks where bassist Jon Camp takes lead vocals are weaker, and less memorable.

The band even managed to score a hit single off this album with "Northern Lights," which I can remember seeing them perform (mime?) on Top Of The Pops. At the time, I was but a young stripling but I always thought the chorus was catchy, and now hearing it with older and wiser ears it still sounds as good, and manages to capture the mounting anticipation and excitement we all feel whenever we have been traveling great distances and home is in sight. The multi-tracked vocals on the chorus are one of the finest moments on this album, and if you hear it but once I guarantee you'll be humming it for days afterwards.

The band seem equally at home on the longer tracks, showing a keen sense of pace and dynamics, never letting each section of a song outstay its welcome, and using interesting arrangements to introduce each new movement. As a result the songs quietly draw you in, and by the time they reach their closing notes there is a sense of elation and achievement. The title track is probably the piece de resistance, with its closing crescendo hitting the musical and emotional peaks that we associate with the best-loved prog classics.

While the production on the album may betray its age, the quality of the songs more than makes up for it, and if you enjoyed the likes of late seventies Mike Oldfield or Genesis, then this right up your street. But while Renaissance may share some of the sounds of these artists, Annie Halsam's singing brings a vivaciousness to the songs that set them apart.

This album exudes romance and a celebration of living that is all too often missing from the current prog scene. If A Song For All Seasons has been the tentative first date, then I look forward to developing this courtship further.

Opening Out (4:15) / The Day of the Dreamer (9:43) / Closer Than Yesterday (3:19) / Kindness At The End (4:48) / Back Home Once Again (3:16) / She Is Love (4:13) / Northern Lights (4:07) / A Song For All Seasons (10:55)

Annie Halsam - lead vocals
Jon Camp - basses, bass pedals, electric guitar, lead vocals
Michael Dunford - 6 and 12 string, acoustic guitars, electric guitars
John Tout - keyboards
Terry Sullivan - drums and percussion

Renaissance (1969)
Illusion (1970)
Prologue (1972)
Ashes Are Burning (1973)
Turn Of The Cards (1974)
Scheherazade (1975)
Live At Carnegie Hall (1976)
Novella (1977)
A Song For All Seasons (1978)
Azure D'Or (1979)
Camera Camera (1981)
Time Line (1983)
Tales Of 1000 Nights - Volume 1 (1990)
Tales Of 1000 Nights - Volume 2 (1990)
Blessing In Disguise (1996, Haslam)
The Other Woman (1996, Dunford)
Live At The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Part 1 (rec 1977, rel 1997)
Live At The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Part 2 (rec 1977, rel 1997)
Songs From Renaissance Days (1997)
BBC Sessions (1999)
Day Of The Dreamer (rec. 70s, rel 2000)
Unplugged Live At The Academy Of Music (rec. 1985, rel 2000)
Tuscany (2000/01)
In The Land Of The Rising Sun - Live In Japan 2001 (2002)
Songs For All Seasons (2002)
Mother Russia (2002)
Live + Direct (2002)
Dreams And Omens: Live At The Tower Theater, Philadelphia, PA 1978 (2008)

Genre: Progressive Folk

Origin UK

Added: February 1st 2003
Reviewer: John Stout

Artist website:
Hits: 1625
Language: english


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