Annie Haslam

Live Under Brazilian Skies

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This album is both an Annie Haslam solo career and Renaissance-lite presentation. Haslam finds a balance between the two sides of her repertory, and even introduces one pleasant if not earth-shaking song, "Brazilian Skies," written for the occasion of the concerts where this album was recorded. There's a fair amount of material here associated with her '80s and '90s career, most notably "Moonlight Shadow," and the album reaches out to some other sources as well, including a pair of sentimental favorites of hers, the '50s standard "Nature Boy" and Rodgers & Hammerstein's "If I Loved You" from Carousel, and Yes' "Turn of the Century" (from Going for the One), and she doesn't sell any of that material short. The most solid and consistent body of music here, however, consists of the Dunford/Thatcher copyrights and other songs associated with Renaissance. With David A. Biglin handling all of the instrumental chores (mostly piano, which he plays very elegantly, and acoustic guitar) and backing vocals, the music has a lean, almost airy texture that gives Haslam's singing even greater presence here than it had on the original recordings. That's not a bad thing, and on "The Young Prince and Princess," she practically wears the song like a second skin; one easily forgets that the words and music are not hers. Of Haslam's recent repertory, "Moonlight Shadow" comes off as an "unplugged" number compared with its studio original, which brings delightful exposure to Haslam's richly intoned and beautifully emotive singing (though this version bears about the same relationship to the studio original that Eric Clapton's acoustic version of "Layla" does to the Derek & the Dominos original). By contrast, "Blessing in Disguise," fromHaslam's 1995 solo album, doesn't work quite as well, despite the reflective tone of this performance, which gives it a startling intimacy. In addition to "After the Oceans Are Gone" from the same album (which has more of a beat than almost anything else on this CD), Haslam also introduced two more original songs here, "Summon the Angels" and "Seashell Eyes," both of which are worth hearing. The former, featuring the unfortunate presence of a drum machine, has since turned up on her studio album The Dawn of Ananda, while the latter, a rather dramatic piece with a beautiful solo piano part, is unique to this album. Not all of it comes off that well -- her version of "Turn of the Century," while suitably dramatic, lacks some energy and tension that might make it stand up better across six minutes. But one must give the nod to the versions of the Renaissance songs done here (which range across the group's whole history) over those covered on releases by Michael Dunford's Renaissance -- on that repertory, Haslam's singing still has it over any competition in terms of range and expressiveness.

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