Renaissance: ‘Turn of The Cards’ reviewed

The definitive edition of the symphonic prog rockers’ ground-breaking album.

The extensive remastering and reissuing programme for legendary symphonic prog rockers Renaissance, sees Turn Of The Cards get a deluxe 4CD clamshell boxed edition, featuring the original album remastered, a couple of bonus tracks, the original album remixed into 5.1 and a complete concert recorded at The Academy of Music in May 1974 spread over 2 discs. Complete with the in-depth sleeve notes we come to expect from Esoteric, this is truly the definitive edition of this ground-breaking album.

Following on from 1973’s Ashes are Burning, Turn Of The Cards saw Michael Dunford return to the band as a full-time member, while founder member Jim McCarty made his last contributions, and it was also the first release on manager Miles Copeland’s BTM label.

With lyrics provided as usual by Betty Thatcher and utilising a more symphonic, orchestral side, with strings arranged by Jimmy Horowitz, Turn Of The Cards sees Renaissance move away from their folkier beginnings towards the bigger, widescreen symphonic progressive sound that would become their trademark.

This is clear from the opening Running Hard (reusing part of the song Mr Pine from the Illusion album) where keyboard player John Tout, a classically trained player, really gets his teeth into the piano intro, before it builds into a full band performance.

Having a stable band line up with Dunford’s acoustic guitar back in the fold, and Jon Camp (bass, vocals) and Terry Sullivan (drums, percussion) establishing the backline and Tout’s classically trained performances adding flair to the overall sound. the musical tapestry that Renaissance were able to weave allowed Annie Haslam to come to the fore with that beautiful voice.

With only six tracks on the original album, including the aforementioned Running Hard, you get songs like the brilliant Things I Don’t Understand which had been around from the early days of Renaissance and really builds into something rather special on here, in the way the band and orchestra intertwine, whilst the epic closing Mother Russia is a genuine classic with its nine minutes-plus of sheer beauty. The way Betty Thatcher worked with lyrics made her an integral part of the Renaissance team, and the lyrics on here are, to my mind, some of her finest.

 

The 5.1 mix of the album, by Ben Wiseman is absolutely superb and completely sympathetic to the original sound, whilst enhancing the orchestral embellishments. So many bands in the 1970s tried to integrate orchestra and rock band – some unsuccessfully (yes Deep Purple, Concerto for Group & Orchestra I’m looking at you!) whilst some started with orchestral aims and ended up with pop songs drenched in strings (Not a bad thing – ELO, you did that sound very well indeed!). On the basis of this mix, Renaissance were the first ones to ‘get it’ where the orchestrations organically fit the songs, and it is a wonderfully rich sound with the band and orchestra playing together, rather than an orchestra trying to be shoehorned into something.

This hangs over to the two other CDs on this package. A complete Renaissance concert from The Acadamy of Music, 17 May 1974, was broadcast live by New York radio station WNEW and a complete sixteen-track recording was also made by Sire Records. It’s the Sire mix that has been remastered and is presented here for the first time.

With the bulk of the set made up of the Turn Of The Cards album we are treated to blistering live versions of Black Flame, Cold is Being, Things I Don’t Understand, Running Hard and Mother Russia whilst the remainder are taken from Ashes are Burning (the title track, Can You Understand and Carpet of the Sun) and the finale is the title track from the Prologue album.

As the songs were written for an orchestra to be included, there was no difficulty in translating the lush, symphonic power of the record to the stage, and the beauty of the band’s musical ability and the fact that the scores were already in place for this, allowed  concerts like this to happen, without having any detriment to the music or the presentation.

This new concert release showcases the full power of this Renaissance line up as these albums are the ones that builds their reputation.

Another excellent definitive edition from Esoteric, with the 5.1 being a particular joy to hear, and in full immersive surround sound it really brings more warmth and subtle nuances to this music, which is the aural equivalent of a great big hug.


Renaissance: ‘Turn Of The Cards’ 3CD / 1DVD Remastered & Expanded Boxset Edition (ECRUS4002) is released March 20, 2020 by Esoteric Antenna/Cherry Red Group, RRP £23.99. Click here to pre-order directly from Cherry Red Records.

Cherry Red Records have been releasing and reissuing the most innovative and independent thinking music since 1978. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

James R. Turner is a music and media journalist. Over the last 25 years he has contributed to the Classic Rock Society magazine, BBC online, Albion Online, The Digital Fix, DPRP, Progarchy, ProgRadar and more. James’ debut book is out in September and he is head of PR for Bad Elephant Music. He lives in North Somerset with his fiancee Charlotte, their Westie Dilys & Ridgeback Freja, three cats and too many CDs, records & Blu-Rays.

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