(16 April 2013) Renaissance, originally founded by Keith Relf in the late 1960s, has gone through a series of significant transformations. The band's largest shift began when the recently deceased Michael Dunford joined. Then began a series of lineup changes that brought onboard their stunning lead vocalist Annie Haslam, Jon Camp, Terry Sullivan and John Tout. The so-called "classic" lineup delivered a series of outstanding progressive rock albums through the 1970s. The band's direction changed in the early 1980s when Sullivan and Tout departed.
Talks of a reunion spun through the fan community for years while Annie Hasalm pursued a very successful solo career and Dunford formed a new Renaissance around singer Stephanie Adlington. Dunford was also successful developing interest in the Scheherazade West End Musical which showcased in London in the late 1990s fronted by Poppy Tierney playing the lead role. In fact, some of the music from the show resurfaced the the current lineup's most recent EP and album.
In the mid-1990s, talks amongst band members crescendoed leading to the reunion of Dunford, Haslam and Sullivan, with a guest appearance by Tout. The album Tuscany and a brief tour followed that was memorialized by a live album as well. Talks again crescendoed during 2010 and rumors circulated that the classic lineup--including Jon Camp as well--might form. A US tour was originally planned to include Dunford, Haslam, Sullivan and Tout, but the latter two let go at the last minute. According to Dunford, the band was left with a tour schedule and incomplete lineup. Former Annie Haslam Band or Renaissance band standins were called upon to fill the lineup for the tour.
The tour turned out quite successful and produced the band's most recent EP The Mystic and the Muse and a commemorative CD/DVD box set. A Kickstarter campaign followed in 2012 to raise funds for the lineup's most recent release Grandine il Vento. Sadly, with recording and mixing complete, just prior to the album's release Michael Dunford suddenly passed away creating a huge vacuum in the band's history.
As Northern Lights co-editor-in-chief, it's difficult to pen anything other than a biased review of a Renaissance recording. The new album Grandine il Vento (Symphonic Rock Recordings (USA) SRR 000-02, 2013) is again fronted by the stunning Annie Haslam and Renaissance co-founder Michael Dunford (guitar). The lineup for this album also includes Rave Tesar (keyboards), David Keyes (bass, vocals), Jason Hart (keyboards, accordion) and Frank Pagano (percussion), with guests John Wetton (vocals on "Blood Silver Lake Moonlight") and Ian Anderson (flute on "Cry To The World"). Composed by Dunford with lyrics by Haslam, the album was produced by Annie Haslam and Rave Tesar.
The Kickstarter project for Grandine il Vento generated twice the funding that the band requested and was backed by 860 individuals. The highest level contributors are listed in the album's liner notes alongside the lyrics to all of the songs. The project delivered an oustanding overall production with a tremendous physical presentation. The classic Renaissance logo adorns brilliant cover artwork painted by Annie Haslam.
Musically, listeners will find a range of recorded material with sounds that span the band's history extending the sound into more mature almost-operatic pieces like the title track. Listners will find classic progressive rock Renaissance, entries from Dunford's musical and musings from Haslam's solo career. One longterm Renaissance fan wrote, "I don't know what to make of it." That's because it is a diverse collection of music and we believe that Dunford and Haslam did not intend for this album to have a consistent style running from beginning to end. The treasure of Grandine il Vento is actually its diversity, and diversity is after all the central theme of progressive rock.
The epic "Symphony of Light" which runs for over twelve minutes is most akin to the Renaissance sounds of the 1970s. "The Mystic And The Muse" also draws on this period and includes a segment from Dunford's Scheherazade musical, albeit with different lyrics. Ian Anderson's flute solo harkens listeners to the sounds of Jethro Tull in "Cry To The World" while John Wetton's vocals add a flavor of Asia to "Blood Silver Lake Moonlight."
Grandine il Vento was printed after Michael Dunford's passing and was thoughtfully dedicated to him on the opening gatefold as "our friend, consummate musician, songwriter and guiding light, who will live in our hearts forever." Our friendship with Michael and his family blossomed in the run up to the London showcase of the Scheherazade Musical. We too will miss him dearly. Grandine il Vento serves as his final chapter of the Renaissance story.