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Renaissance - Turn Of The Cards CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.08 | 576 ratings

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4 stars Turn Of The Cards, third album from 'Annie Haslam's' Renaissance, represents another evolutionary step forward, mostly in terms of arrangement, dynamics and production. They had already proven themselves capable of writing fantastic songs with wonderful melodies and extended instrumentals, sung and played almost impeccably, but those skills are now matched by an equal grasp of the black art of turning songs into 'works of art'. Gone are instrumental sections simply grafted into songs. Here, pieces flow naturally from start to finish, encompassing melodious song and descriptive instrumental in an organic wave of crescendo and lull, often digressing along the way yet never allowed to stray far from the chosen path. If Prologue created the formula and Ashes Are Burning defined the template, then on Turn Of The Cards the band found the spark that lit a fire of creativity that lasted for the next couple of albums.

Running Hard, despite a lightness of touch, is a brooding nightmare of a song - the kind of nightmare where you endlessly run away from some personal monster that never quite manages to catch you. While Annie's vocals are quite spooky, the music trips and skips along at a jaunty pace: you are running on a high cliff path on a windy night until you begin to feel breathless, the tension getting to be almost unbearable as the demons [piano] close in around you. Finally the welcome warmth of a friendly light brings you to your senses - accompanied by slower statelier acoustic guitars and a lovely understated bass line, your mind at last relaxes as the music builds and then fades.

After the emotional intensity of Running Hard, all you need is a pretty mid-paced love ballad with some nice friendly acoustic guitars to bring relief - I Think Of You is just that! It is followed by Things I Don't Understand, the least successful of the four main works, simply because it is really two songs joined in the middle. The first part is pacey and jazzy, sung in a very fetching harmony with recessed male voice, but not the most memorable of melodies. The second part however, is stunning - slower and more pastoral with unvoiced singing and acoustic guitars to the fore. This is so good it makes you want to weep!

Black Flame is the potential darkness inside us all, the desire to do wrong in the name of right, the absolving of personal responsibilities in the name of institutionalised terrorism - "I'm not to blame, I didn't see the black flame" - how often do we hear that in the 21st century? It is a poignant message, conveyed simply by another memorable melody in a reflective acoustic setting that builds to a rockier middle-8 verse and instrumental before return to the main theme to conclude.

Cold Is Being is sung solo over an organ to the melody of Albinoni's 'Adagio'. It is simple, eerie, spooky, its icy words send shivers down the spine - "So cold is being lonely / Behold the feeling lonely / The living part is done / The dying has begun" or later "Oh how can we believe / We earn what we receive / The pain it overflows" - sung by Annie in a voice dripping with sadness and pathos. It reminds me of Dr Zhivago, and it creates a perfect mood setting as a prelude for the majestic Mother Russia which closes the album.

In many ways, Mother Russia is a musical twin of the Scheherazade suite, the first perfect blend of band and orchestra into a single harmonious entity. It is a towering achievement, constructed around one of the most beguiling melodies ever written and sung by one of the best voices in the business. Despite the acoustic guitars, it is grand and operatic in the best sense, rising and falling from stately full-orchestra set-piece to a lovely central interlude where Jon Camp's bass holds tension as Annie floats above. And Betty Thatcher's lyrics are superbly evocative of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Russian novelist who had been deported to the west early in 1974 accused of subversion against the Soviet state - his sense of loss and longing is brilliantly conveyed with lines like "Mother's son, freedom's overdue / Lonely man, he thinks of you".

Turn Of The Cards is the first of three albums by a band at their peak. Only I Think Of You and the early section of Things I Don't Understand fail to reach the heady heights of near perfection. If you fancy a dose of sublime melody sung by an angel with superbly orchestrated accompaniment you can't go far wrong with this. Great stuff!

Joolz | 4/5 |


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