Although a new Renaissance album comprised mainly of classic songs sung by a different female singer [Stephanie Adlington] may seem a tad controversial, you may be pleasantly surprised at the freshness and the slight changes to the arrangements given to Ocean Gypsy the album. This of course takes nothing away from the Annie Haslam originals, which are and will always be classics to Renaissance fans around the world. In addition to the old favourites, which are sung with a respect and minimal deviation from the originals, there are two new songs, one of which could well be a future classic.
Instrument-wise, this is very much an unplugged album, having more in common with the earlier classic albums with Michael Dunford re-asserting his role as sole acoustic guitarist, which was largely missing from The Other Woman. There is also a connection with Caravan, due to an appearance by Jimmy Hastings on sax and flutes. Back in the 70s, Renaissance and Caravan toured together and shared the same record company for a while, BTM. Now they are both with HTD.
The familiar picked guitar introduces "Ocean Gypsy," backed by string quartet with a mournful cello. It's interesting to hear Michael's vocal on the chorus and Stephanie interprets the song with feeling in her own style. The main difference is in the instrumental section, which has the acoustic guitar taking the lead supported by the strings and ending in a flute solo. The vocal arrangement is also slightly different before the climbing harmonies we know so well. Listen too for the bell on the last verse, shade of Floyd's "Division Bell." The second section of "Things I Don't Understand" begins with the operatic vocalise. Although the piano arrangement is slightly changed, the song is fairly close to the original. "Young Prince and Princess" gives Michael an opportunity to give his guitars several parts, as well as some improvisation. The effective hand drums on the last vocal section are a nice touch. Jimmy Hastings takes over the piano melody at the start of "Carpet Of The Sun" and along with some subtle bell effects and congas, in never strays far from the original classic.
Richard Brown's piano introduction to "At The Harbour" shows a healthy respect for John Tout's original rendition. There is a new link to the start of the song by the string quartet and Stephanie captures the atmosphere very well. There's no doubt that Jimmy Hastings' flute and the strings give the song a different sheen, and the outro vocal is very operatic. This will surprise fans who haven't heard Stephanie sing in this style. "I Think Of You" has always been one of the best short songs produced by Renaissance and this version is no exception. It sounds as though Stephanie really enjoyed singing it, so maybe it's one of her favourites. Another song which is mainly faithful to the original is "Trip To The Fair." The fairground style keyboard is as before although the old piano intro has been left out. What is different is Jimmy Hastings' sax solo which gives the instrumental section a totally new feel.
Finally we come to the two new songs on the album. "Star Of The Show," a composition written with ex-Renaissance/Nevada member Peter Gosling, is a ballad with a big dramatic chorus with Rod Brown adding some powerful percussion. The key change on the second verse is very effective and the song becomes stronger with repeated listening. A haunting melody precedes the suspense of the first verse of "The Great Highway." The moody chorus with its hummed backing vocal shows Stephanie at her most melancholy, on what is probably the most exciting track on the album. The atmosphere builds with the addition of strings and leads into a classic Renaissance instrumental, complete with orchestrated accents and classical piano fills. There's no doubt that this song continues the musical style that was the last heard on "Somewhere West Of Here."
Ocean Gypsy is a Renaissance album for the 90s and one which all fans should have in their collections. But the question has to be, will Michael and Stephanie's next album have a lot more new material for the fans to look forward to?