RENAISSANCE – Tuscany (Esoteric ECLEC32870)

TuscanyOriginally founded in 1969 with the line-up comprising Keith Relf and Jim McCarty from The Yardbirds, along with John Hawken, Louis Cennamo and Relf’s sister Jane, they were reborn with a new roster in 1972, going on to become the definitive progressive symphonic rock band, melding folk, rock and classical together into a majestic epic sound anchored by the five octave range of singer Annie Haslem and featuring Michael Dunford, John Tout, Jon Camp, and Terry Sullivan. In the following seven years they released seven albums, Cornish poet Betty Thatcher-Newsinger providing many of the lyrics and played three consecutive sold out shows at Carnegie Hall. Although commercial success was limited (they had a UK Top 10 single hit with ‘Northern Lights’ in 1978 while the album from which it came, A Song For All Seasons peaked at 35), both 1975’s Scheherazade And Other Stories and 1977’s Novella made the American Top 50.

As interest dwindled when they became more synthesiser oriented, the band eventually split in 1987, Haslem embarking on a solo career. However, in 1999, she, Dunford and Sullivan reunited, along with an appearance by keyboard player Tout, to record Tuscany, which, released in October 2000 in Japan where they also played three nights in March 2001, with a subsequent live album recorded in Tokyo, both now revisited here in a 3CD set. The studio album marked a return to their familiar orchestral folk sound, opening with the near seven-minute ‘Lady From Tuscany’ with its medieval colours and haunting ethereal vocals intro, and progressing through the piano-based ‘Pearls Of Wisdom’ and ‘Eva’s Pond’, the upbeat urgency of ‘The Race’ and the closing seven-minute ‘One Thousand Roses’ which sounds like it might have been written for ‘Evita’. Roy Wood, Haslam’s former fiancé and producer of her solo ‘Annie In Wonderland’, played bass on the more guitar driven, poppier ‘Dear Landseer’, percussion on ‘Life In Brazil’ and provided backing vocals on the hymnal ‘Dolphin’s Prayer’.

Discs 2 and 3 make up the close to two hours live concert, the core band joined by Rave Tesar on piano, Mickey Simmonds on keyboards and bassist David Keyes, it raises the curtain on Disc 2 with ‘Carpet Of The Sun’ from ‘Ashes Are Burning’ and features three numbers from the new album alongside ‘Anada’ and ‘Precious One’ from Haslem’s solo The Dawn Of Anada album, ‘Northern Lights’ and Mike Oldfield’s ‘Moonlight Shadow’ which she’d covered on her 1989 self-titled album. Clocking in at just under an hour, along with a terrific ‘One Thousand Roses’ from Tuscany, the final CD is bookended by two of their most iconic tracks, opening with ‘Mother Russia’ and closing with the twenty-minute ‘Ashes Are Burning’.

The 2022 Legacy Tour, marking Haslem’s 75th birthday, having regenerated awareness of the band, this is a timely reissue and a reminder that, while they may sound somewhat dated in contemporary music terms, they were an astounding musical force.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website:

‘Moonlight Shadow’ – live: