King Biscuit Flower Hour (KBFH) Records has released Part II of Renaissance's October 14, 1977 Royal Albert Hall performance, and as promised earlier this new release offers more of the band's incredible output, much of it in a style and setting as we've never heard before. As performance length did not coincide with the then unheard-of Compact Disc, a couple of extra tracks (also previously unreleased) have been added as a bonus. Interestingly, the liner notes and even the disc indicate track six to be "Prologue" as performed live at Asbury Park, New Jersey on January 28, 1979. In reality, track six, at least on my disc, is a live performance of "A Song for All Seasons." I count that as one typo in my favor!
As I noted in my review of Part I, recording quality of the Royal Albert Hall performance is a bit below the standard we now expect. A mysterious, and at times annoying, 'buzzing' tends to intefere with soft and delicate parts of the performance, although a few tuner and equalizer adjustments seem to correct part of the problem. That aside, the performance is stunning. Two tracks offer live versions from the Novella, and the concluding "Ashes Are Burning" is truly exotic Renaissance.
Part II opens with "Running Hard", which is performed in fashion similar that found on Live at Carnegie Hall. John Tout's freedom at the piano coupled with Annie's beautiful harmonizing do lend a uniqueness the song. "Midas Man" is next, and though somewhat abbreviated from the studio version, the performance presents special flavor to the song and tends to mark a point where the band starts to loosen up. The show starts to really click at this point.
"Mother Russia" shows a continuing relaxation in the band, and now the orchestra joins the fun. For those who have read Solzhenitsyn, feelings now enter the show. Stretched notes, Tout's piano flair, and the purity of Annie's harmonizing impart a depth to the music and the emotion we know as Renaissance. This song was my introduction to Renaissance, and if it's possible to wear out a CD, I'll probably do it playing this track over and over.
Track four yields the third Novella song performed at this concert. "Touching Once" continues to reveal the band's relaxed and flowing state, and the orchestra's role of both support and lead highlights the song's complex beauty. By this point in the show, the orchestra and band are operating as one entity. The closing three minutes of this song provide perhaps the most intense live Renaissance I've ever heard, except for the show finale, "Ashes Are Burning."
This live version of "Ashes Are Burning" is unlike any Renaisance that comes to mind. Sure the beginning and end are sort of like the Carnegie Hall and studio versions, but what happens the middle is exotic Renaissance. Tout's piano work starts off with almost a jazz flavor, then the band just has fun. I mean you can hear and feel them having a good time! Terry Sullivan's drum solo has an almost-Carribean feel at times, and John Camp's bass ranges from melodic to funk. Annie's harmonizing appears quite a bit more than at Carnegie, and every note builds toward some eerie feeling. This track is simply an incredible half-hour of Renaissance unrestrained -- definitely not just a live performance of some canned studio stuff!
Track six, as mentioned above, is a live performance of "A Song for All Seasons." Not only is this a special addition to my Renaissance collection, I find a new interest in those late releases. The live version offers sounds and feelings not found in any studio. On the analytical side, this can't be the only track recorded at that show. So where are the rest -- and when will they be released?
The final track, the previously unreleased (though not totally unheard) "You" gives a glimpse into the band's more recent studio work. While the liner notes don't date this recording, its distinct sound and flavor place it somewhere around Camera Camera and Time-Line. Those that have listened to The Other Woman will recognize that the music from "You" Part One is the same as that used in "May You Be Blessed." While the lyrics and Annie's voice are clearly different, the common thread is there. Part Two of "You" is a bit electric and perhaps doesn't fit the rest of the album, but listening to the final three tracks of this release gives a good snapshot of the band's evolving sound.
Renaissance Live at The Royal Albert Hall Part II does much more than just provide closure to Part I. It offers a wonderful performance filled with the best of Renaissance as perhaps we've never heard before. The live tracks from Novella and A Song for All Seasons fill blanks in the record of the band's performances, and "Ashes Are Burning" is simply a must have. It adds a new dimension that at least I had missed. But my question from above remains. We now have proof of another live recording; so when do we hear the rest of it?