Lead singer Annie Haslam, original (or close-to, from the
band’s second, 1970-71 incarnation) guitarist Michael Dunford, and members of Renaissance’s 2001 line-up
admirably commemorate Renaissance’s 40th anniversary via the tour captured on two audio discs and one DVD as Renaissance Live in Concert Tour 2011. The performance, at the Keswick Theater in Pennsylvania,
was mounted with the sophistication of a jazz or classical offering. The stage
is simple; writ slightly trippier by a starry sky backdrop. No swirling smoke
or miniature Stonehenge(s) would make sense at
this revival showing of a group that always fit the “classy” category.
Longtime fans will be less than surprised at the opening of
“Turn of the Cards.” A lone, honky-tonk-ish piano intro is almost as theatrical
as music for an old-time Broadway show. Still, after an orchestral flourish,
when Annie Haslam tucks into “Running Hard,” there’s no doubt that this
recording would serve the cocktail (or mead) after-party for, um, a Renaissance
Fair. Celtic flounces still punctuate Haslam’s vocals. And Renaissance’s
trademark, jazzy intonations add color and interest to what might otherwise be
statically traditional, by-the-book British folk stylings. Everything’s staged
carefully. Enthusiastic responses from the sold-out house confirm that fans
were probably thrilled at the group’s first American show in many years.
Unfortunately, Haslam’s voice hasn’t held up as well as have
those of British folk contemporaries such as Maddy Prior and June Tabor.
Granted, the latter two singers have always had richer, fuller tones than Ms.
Haslam’s. But time hasn’t been kind to Haslam’s thin soprano. What really saves
the proceedings is the group’s spirited presentation of its songwriting; here
underscored by its two most popular albums. From Turn of the Cards, the 10-minutes plus of “Mother Russia” are
steeped in evocative pastoralism. Also effective are “Ocean Gypsy” and “Song of
Scheherazade.” And by Act 2 (“Scheherazade and Other Stories”), Haslam’s vocals
are considerably stronger than they are at the beginning of the first disc. You
The “extra bits” consist of a short explanation of the
project from Haslam and Dunford. -MARY LEARY