ILLUSION – Everywhere You Go

Edsel 2023

No use in thinking what is done or what will be: a definitive roundup of the shimmering oeuvre by a British band who turned miracles into mirage.

Everywhere You Go

The story of various musical flocks that flew from THE YARDBIRDS’ nest over the decades is rather labyrinthine and includes such dissimilar, in terms of status and sound, ensembles as raucous LED ZEPPELIN and quiet STAIRWAY – most of those, like SHOOT and RENAISSANCE conceived not by the mothership’s acclaimed axemen but by beat-master Jim McCarty. A songwriter par excellence, with hits “Still I’m Sad” and “Shapes Of Things” among his credits, McCarty had to discover the force of his lungs when, on the verge of rejuvenating the last of the aforementioned teams with the line-up which started it all, before stepping out and passing the reins to the people who would lift the same name much higher, singer Keith Relf – Jim’s old friend, fellow Yardbird and a partner in TOGETHER – tragically died. Expanding their ranks – as Keith’s sister Jane, Louis Cennamo and John Hawken reinstated in their roles as, respectively, warbler, bassist and keyboard player – with guitarist John Knightsbridge and drummer Eddie McNeill, and using the title of RENAISSANCE’s 1971 LP as alias, the veterans relaunched their enterprise. Not meager, their legacy is spread too thin over the years – and its comprehensive overview has been long overdue.

Packaged in a neat hardcover booklet, the four discs of “Everywhere You Go” is a roundup many fans longed for – the complete collection of all the heard, plus a good smattering of unheard ILLUSION tracks – as the boxset presents a unique chance to chart the British unit’s creative evolution and perceive the connections hidden on the map of their journey. While the sonic elements of this ensemble were basically the same as the instrumental, and vocal, ingredients of its predecessor, and "Out Of The Mist" picked up where “Illusion” left off, there’s a principal, albeit deceptively insignificant, difference between the band’s two eras: if their first span felt progressive, the artists pushing boundaries with regard to mélange of soft-rock and baroque, the group’s reemergence signaled aural shift from fearless experimentation to pursuit of an alluring tune. The six-strong front may have linked their second advent to the collective’s previous spell by reimagining the stately, yet airy, “Face Of Yesterday” which took on a new meaning in the wake of of Keith’s demise on 1977’s “Out Of The Mist” and included the barely-there “Man Of Miracles” which he had co-penned in their self-titled sophomore effort, produced by another ex-Yardbird, Paul Samwell-Smith, in 1978, but that was as far as the symptoms of the team’s move from the past towards fresh approach went.

Embracing unlikely sensibilities, the sextet chose to begin both of these albums with Jim’s epic ballads – not to project grief over their loss yet to pull the listener into the deep and let the simmering feelings of “Isadora” and “Madonna Blue” envelop and melt even the hardest of hearts. As Hawken’s piano waves open the portal for McCarty’s leading lines and Relf’s delicate support – their voices partially reversed on the former piece’s precious demo appended here as a bonus alongside its haunting French version, recorded from scratch – the melodic wonders sink into one’s psyche, Cennamo’s elastic bass providing a safety net for the vocal fragility before Knightsbridge’s six strings serve up a searing solo. That’s why there’s a need for the diaphanous, ’70s-flavored “Roads To Freedom” and “Never Be The Same” to follow the opening numbers, setting optimism in the platters’ course via McNeill’s frisky grooves and Jane’s graceful fluttering over the band’s bedrock – only looking for conceptual patterns between the two song cycles would be futile.

Whereas the classically-informed, lullaby-esque “Beautiful Country” is enchanting, with woodwind woven into the track’s tender fabric – although the cut’s original run-through, added here too, had more spatial guitar passages, as does the released variant of “Solo Flight” whose cosmic pulses combine acoustic riff and electric charge – “Everywhere You Go” has orchestral shroud to wrap around its arresting strum and ripple, and the tidal, synthesizer-colored ebb and flow of “Candles Are Burning” come across as life-affirming, to bring ILLUSION’s debut LP to a glorious, nigh on anthemic finale, as RENAISSANCE’s "Ashes Are Burning" did a few years earlier. Just as smoldering, in a crooned manner, is “Please Be Home” – but this song, appearing here for the first time, didn’t land on the album and, thus, didn’t slow the record’s current.

There were no such fears on the ensemble’s second longplay, the ethereal “Louis’ Theme” bouncing of Cennamo’s taut caress and Hawken’s celestial ivories and soaring solemnly to heavenly heights on Relf’s hazy-to-crystal soprano to spread its magnificence into “Wings Across The Sea” – sung, in a duet with McCarty, lower to get earthbound and allow the tribal throb and electronic buzz of “Cruising Nowhere” wash over the calm drift. However, “The Revolutionary” forms belligerent symphonic drama out of initial quietude without leaving the tremulous ground of Jim and Jane’s lyrical delivery which would also crop up in “Cherokee Moon” that was left off the album to ring aloud now as a demo sketch and rehearsal punch. The same can’t be said of “Sister Helena” – another outtake, a cut lacking the strength of the rest… or simply edging dangerously close to “Lalena” from Donovan’s repertoire.

Strangely, nobody considered these two songs as contenders for the platter the group set out to compose in 1979 – given the deficit of material, which necessitated pulling in a perky romp of “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue” from Knightsbridge and STRAWBS’ Chas Cronk and Tony Fernandez, it would seem logical – but what saw the light of day as “Enchanted Caress” in 1989 was a mere collection of full-band, yet still-to-be-polished, pieces. And though the punk-scented cleansing of the scene is easy to blame for the ensemble’s decline, the real reason the sextet’s third offering ended up on the shelf stemmed from their personal circumstances that prevented proper studio sessions from happening, and the sensual “As Long As We’re Together” – the title of one of the tracks issued ten years after the recording – became wishful thinking. To render the overall result truly poignant, there’s a tune preceding the team’s existence, the bottom-end-measuring serenade “All The Falling Angels” laid down by Keith and Louis once they had left ARMAGEDDON, while Jane’s affectionate tone and John’s elegiac touch on “The Man Who Loved The Trees” exudes misty-eyed, sentimental nostalgia, and Jim’s romantic ride through “Nights In Paris” oozes neon-lit delights.

As a contrast “Walking Space” throws the ’80s dance-driven tinsel on the otherwise dim number that gets high on plastic-laden keyboards and is swept away by the folk-informed, gossamer “Getting Into Love Again” before the dually voiced “Living Above Your Head” shows how vibrancy could be independent of the period’s production values. And if the upbeat “Crossed Lines” should make the listener draw breath in awe, “You Are The One” points to the untapped possibilities of the future – something the band didn’t dare to explore until the next century when – billed as RENAISSANCE ILLUSION, shortening the line-up to the core four members and placing McCarty behind the drums again – they came back with "Through The Fire" in a way phoenix could. It’s a spiritual experience, spinning, mandala-like, from the mesmeric “One More Turn Of The Wheel” to this mantra’s reprise and gradually fleshing out the familiar sound of bass and piano, quite insistent now, with Jim and Jane’s transcendental vocal blend and raga drone which will resurface in “Mystery Of Being” to fathom existential abyss with the help of an a cappella stanza, and lend a samsara-related theme in “Glorious One” as a joyous noise.

But then, there’s the captivating figures of “Good Heart” and of the titular hymn that find McCarty’s sidekick in BOX Of FROGS Dzal Martin bend the strings, and the reflective recital of “Blowing Away” that’s enhanced with a cello solo, as well as “Beat Of The Earth” and “Beyond The Day” that reveals the ensemble’s ability to harness unhurried rapture and even embrace new-age. And if “My Old Friend” focuses this philosophy on sorrow, regret and remorse don’t belong in the self-doubt of “If There Was Something I Could Change?” and the hope of “Moving On” – bonuses that go outside Jim’s circle of life which drives the album and mark the final frontier of ILLUSION’s mirage.

Four albums aren’t so paltry a legacy – only, oblivion-bound, this marvelous ensemble went astray in the mists of time instead of being admired. Fortunately, “Everywhere You Go” lays out a plan for those loving ILLUSION or willing to fall in love with the collective: to paraphrase the poem that announced their arrival to the world, it’s easy to lose the sight of all we knew – but there’s a way to remember now.


March 31, 2023

Category(s): Reissues
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