I bought Tuscany, not sure what I was going to get; I last purchased a Renaissance album in the late 1970's. I first thought was that it sounded a little twee in places and, in particular, 'Life in Brazil' was awfully like a happy clappy evangelist tune. I was also unsure about the synth stuff; screaming Moog (effective though it is) and Annie Haslam on the same track ('One Thousand Roses')didn't seem quite right somehow and the twiddly synth 'oboe'on the same track was a bit irritating.
Then I began to notice the subtle gems hidden among the more showy pieces. 'Pearls of Wisdom' and 'In my Life' are loving wistful ballards while 'Dear Landseer' has a majestic quality to it. 'Dolphin's Prayer' was rather striking as I was playing the CD as the news came in that the Yangtze River dolphin had become extinct. 'Eva's Pond' simply has an ethereal quality. 'The Race' really does race along (the synth works this time) and there's a hint of ambiguity in the lyrics, suggesting that athletes are a bit obsessed with winning to the detriment of friendship. Go on, someone, play it at the 2012 olympics, I dare you!
As always, Annie Haslam sings faultlessly albeit with, maybe, slightly less gusto than she did (heck, none of us are getting any younger). The instrumental work is as proficient as ever and the lyrics are more focused than the rather obscure stuff of some of their 70's songs. But, when Annie sings wordless passages the spine truly tingles and that is why there's something worth building on in Tuscany; the top and tail sections on 'Lady from Tuscany', if extended, would constitute a stunning track in their own right.
Renaissance fans will not be disappointed. There's enough classy stuff here to justify the modest purchase price.