Tales of 1001 Nights, Vol. 1

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This 75-minute compilation and its companion volume are just about the only acknowledgments on the part of Sire Records that it ever had a progressive rock catalog, somewhere in between signing the Ramones and Madonna. The song lineup on this first volume heavily favors the group's early repertory, including songs originally done for the Sovereign label, represented here in concert recordings from Renaissance Live at Carnegie Hall. How attractive that is depends upon how one feels about those performances, versus the original studio renditions (available from One Way Records domestically and, in superior versions, from HTD Records in England). They were never too impressive on vinyl, although the digital remastering and re-equalization of the material seems to have solved much of that problem. The original Sire studio material, including "Running Hard" and "Black Flame," sound better here than they did on their original vinyl releases, which had fairly noisy pressings and were somewhat top-heavy on the bass. The accompaniments all sound crisper on the CD, the nuances and fine balances between the band and the orchestra much easier to appreciate, and the only major flaw -- and it is a big one -- is the absence of "Song of Scheherazade," their biggest orchestral-accompanied piece ever. Only a four-minute excerpt is included; admittedly, the work as a whole is somewhat overblown, taking up a little more time than it is worth, but it was the centerpiece of two separate albums, which should have told the programmers something about how much it registered to fans.

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