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Turn of the Cards

Sire 7502
Released: July 1974
Chart Peak: #94
Weeks Charted: 21

Annie HaslamAmerica's idea that the British have a special way with pop music is probably nothing more than the old crown-envy syndrome acting up again. If an American group tried the sort of thing Renaissance does -- or used such a name, or traded on pictures of castles on the album covers -- we'd probably be hooting "pompous" and "pretentious" and such. But the syndrome, the fascination, is there, and sometimes it's a good thing, keeping us at bay until we've listened. Renaissance is a little pretentious (and, being British, will get away with it), but the group makes pretty good sounds.
Renaissance - Turn Of The Cards
Original album advertising art.
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Annie Haslam, the lead singer, has the kind of anti-frill delivery and clothesline-straight phrasing I used to associate with those unapproachably dignified girls who stepped out to do the brief solos in choir recitals. There is good contrast between that kind of voice and John Tout's heavily decorated, classical-suggesting keyboards Michael Dunford, who plays acoustic guitar and does some backup singing, wrote the material with Betty Thatcher, who does not perform with the group. I don't know whether they actually write all those instrumental melodies and counter-melodies or Tout leads the group into improvising them, but sometimes it all becomes jolly impressive Sometimes it's part of the melody that's attached to the words is pretty mundane, and sometimes the words are obfuscatory and prissy, but Tout, or someone, usually engineers something heady in the way of riffs and breaks. "Mother Russia" is my favorite selection, the first nine-minute favorite selection I've enjoyed in a long time. The thing I liked the least about the album was the way its jacket came unglued around the edges, but some British products are like that.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 10/74.

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From its origins as a final resting place for fallen-by-the-wayside Yardbirds, Renaissance has evolved into a band proficient at early classical rock. Annie Haslam is an amazing vocalist, with an unusually wide range and a comprehension of emotive manipulation which is awesome. The Michael Dunford-Betty Thatcher writing team consistently produces strong material, and the production is such that Renaissance seems able to summon the gist of a thousand years' experiences at the snap of their finger. Nevertheless, the band lacks the virtuoso instrumentalists necessary to place their superior compositions on a popular par with those of Yes, EL&P and other giants in their field -- limiting Renaissance to the level of development classical rock knew in 1970. Within that restriction Turn of the Cards is a knockout, but one can't help get the feeling that time is passing this band by.

- Gordon Fletcher, Rolling Stone, 9/12/74.

An extension of 1973's Ashes Are Burning, even better produced and more unified thematically, but slightly lacking in the freshness and vibrancy of its predecessor, and the classicism is the strongest element. Some of the material has an almost topical basis, which made it most unusual for progressive rock at the time. * * *

- Bruce Eder, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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