In the 1970s Renaissance never scaled the dizzy heights of Floyd, Yes, Genesis, ELP et al. In the footballing parlance of that pre-Premiership day, they were more a solid Division Two side than One – the underdogs for whom many a neutral would have a soft spot, and whose FA Cup run equivalent was a brief flirtation with the singles charts in 1978, with the evergreen Northern Lights.
Renaissance arrived in 1969 with an intriguing backstory. Founded by former Yardbirds Keith Relf and Jim McCarty, they proceeded to cycle through a dizzying number of musicians before settling upon their classic line-up, which saw them through the last seven years of the 70s and yielded their best loved albums, amongst them Turn Of The Cards and Scheherazade And Other Stories.
They endeavoured to adapt to the challenges of the dawn of the next decade, but Renaissance struggled, before calling a halt to proceedings in 1987. Vocalist Annie Haslam and acoustic guitarist Michael Dunford reunited in 1998, resulting in the rather insipid Tuscany three years later, before another long lay-off consumed another seven years. But since 2009 Renaissance have been back in action, playing live and now releasing Grandine Il Vento.
Particularly after Tuscany, this new album represents a delightful surprise. Renaissance manage to sound beautifully fresh and fit for purpose in 2013, yet without an iota of contrivance. This is not a band which has reinvented itself 44 years after its foundation, but rather has embraced the best of its past to create an album that is quite the equal of some of the highlights of an extensive back catalogue. And if ever there were a band whose label accurately reflects their sound, it is Renaissance.
Grandine Il Vento is a gloriously rich, symphonic album. The arrangements have grandeur without being overblown, the musicianship sparkles without crossing the line into showboating. And Haslam’s multi-octave, crystal clear vocals soar above the rich instrumentation. Her duet with Asia’s John Wetton on Blood Silver Like Moonlight is simply sublime. Tragically, Dunford would not live to see the album completed.
If there’s a consistent facet in the eight diverse tracks here, it is his lack of ego, his unselfishness as a writer. His role may be vital to Grandine Il Vento but it is an understated one, with keyboardists Rave Tesar and Jason Hart in particular allowed to shine. Such musical integrity was the mark of the man, and while Renaissance soldier on (in concert at least) without him, this album is a worthy addition to an outstanding creative legacy.