Saturday, September 17, 2011

Pentangle - The Pentangle (1968 uk folk-blues-jazz fusion, electric-folk - 2001 Castle/Santuary remaster - 7 bonus tracks - FLAC)


Were Pentangle a folk group, a folk-rock group, or something that resists classification? They could hardly be called a rock & roll act; they didn't use electric instruments often, and were built around two virtuoso guitarists, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, who were already well-established on the folk circuit before the group formed. Yet their hunger for eclectic experimentation fit into the milieu of late-'60s progressive rock and psychedelia well, and much of their audience came from the rock and pop worlds, rather than the folk crowd. With Jacqui McShee on vocals and a rhythm section of Danny Thompson (bass) and Terry Cox (drums), the group mastered a breathtaking repertoire that encompassed traditional ballads, blues, jazz, pop, and reworkings of rock oldies, often blending different genres in the same piece. Their prodigious individual talents perhaps ensured a brief lifespan, but at their peak they melded their distinct and immense skills to egg each other on to heights they couldn't have achieved on their own, in the manner of great rock combos like the Beatles and Buffalo Springfield.

When Pentangle formed around late 1966 or early 1967 (accounts vary), Jansch and Renbourn had already recorded one album together (Bert and John), and done some solo recordings as well. Jansch was more inclined toward blues and contemporary songwriting than Renbourn, who was stronger in traditional British folk music. Jacqui McShee, whose bell-clear, high singing set the standard (along with Sandy Denny) for female British folk-rock vocals, began rehearsing with the pair. After a false start with a forgotten rhythm section, Thompson and Cox -- who had been working with Alexis Korner -- were brought in to complete the quintet.

Pentangle's first three albums -- The Pentangle (1968), the double-LP Sweet Child (1968), and Basket of Light (1969) -- are not only their best efforts, but arguably their only truly essential ones. With Shel Talmy acting as producer, the band rarely took a misstep in its mastery of diverse styles and material. Thompson and Cox gave even the traditional folk ballads a jazz swing and verve; the guitar interplay of Jansch (who was also a capable singer) and Renbourn was downright thrilling, each complementing and enhancing the other without showing off or getting in each other's way. McShee's beautiful vocals, though not as emotionally resonant as her close counterpart Sandy Denny, were an under-appreciated component to the band's success with the pop audience.

And Pentangle were very popular for a time, at least in England, where Basket of Light made number five, and "Light Flight" was a small hit single. They introduced some electric guitars on their early-'70s albums, which generally suffered from weaker material and a less unified group effort. The original lineup broke up in 1973; Jansch and Renbourn (who had never really abandoned their solo careers) continued to record often as soloists, and remained top attractions on the folk circuit. Thompson joined John Martyn for a while, and has remained active as a session musician, in addition to recording some work of his own for the Hannibal label. The original group reunited for the reasonably accomplished Open the Door album in the early '80s, and other versions of the group recorded and toured throughout the '80s and '90s, usually featuring McShee and Jansch as the sole remaining original members.
by Richie Unterberger ~

Pentangle's debut album is an outstanding and groundbreaking release for the times , as this was 68 . Folk had just experienced a revival in the early part of the decade and Dylan had launched folk-rock with his groundbreaking Highway 61 Revisited just a few years after. In Europe a Scotsman Donovan Leitch had become UK's answer to Dylan and had tremendous success. At the time of that Dylan H61R album, two Scotsman John Renbourn and Bert Jansch were both renowned folk artist a bit in the Raconteur-Troubadours tradition and had released a few albums each. Three other Scotsmen had also formed the Incredible String Band who had an outstanding series of three albums developing more than just Folk rock but mixing some psychedelic twist, other traces of medieval folk and Indian classical music. Somehow, one could not really say that they fitted well with other folk rock artist from The Byrds to Fairport Convention.

Then the two Raconteur-Troubadours decided to join forces (they had already collaborated in an album to both their names) and created The Pentangle with another Scots Jaqui McShee, with a superb voice as well Danny Thompson (who would become one of the best Contrabass player in the world) and solid drummer Cox. With this debut album, they struck right on the button and the opening track is a real statement of what is to come next; Although only a cover of a standard trad folk, you just know you are in for a real trip right from the bowed bass drones to the glistening McShee vocals and subtle twin electric guitars that will highlight the rest of the album. The music is a delightful mix of Jazz, Blues and Folk, a real fusion of the three, so much so that the end result instantly pleased a rock crowd. The average progheads must not look too hard at finding the usual traits the he expects from progressive music, but really know that the Pentangle was truly a groundbreaking act, much more so than say Fairport Convention and they deserve to be called progressive folk. But the intense chemistry that bound those five musicians is so awesome that the communicative interplaying is so complete that you would never swear this was a debut album. The lengthiest track on the record Pentangling is the perfect example to illustrating this with some excellent improvisation from the two guitarists.

One of the strength of Pentangle is that they have three justified lead singers but both Jansch and Renbourn have fairly similar voice timbre that it is rather hard to know which one of the two is signing), but none want to take the spotlight alone and the many songs where they share vocals duties (as if such a trio would call those gorgeous harmonies a duty - they would certainly say it was a pleasure) with such ease and perfect sense of collaboration that you'd swear they were doing this from the crib. The classic Bruton Town is a real gem to show you this point. Among the other highlights is Waltz, which sounds like it should've been played with a banjo (the instrument is present on Pentangle album), but we are so content with that great acoustic guitar interrupted by a bass solo, that signals up that Thompson may just be the backbone of the band.

The debut album is certainly a real stunner for the times but hardly their only worthy album: they will have no less than six outstanding albums in a row, before stopping the studio recordings, but Pentangle will record many live albums after that under different line-ups.
by Sean Trane ~

Let No Man Steal Your Thyme:


Bert Jansch / acoustic guitar, vocals
John Renbourn / guitars, sitar, vocals
Jacqui Mc Shee / vocals
Danny Thomson / double bass
Terry Cox / drums, percussion, glockenspiel, vocals


1. Let No Man Steal Your Thyme (2:48)
2. Bells (4:02)
3. Hear My Call (3:08)
4. Pentangling (7:15)
5. Mirage (2:02)
6.Way Behind The Sun (3:11)
7. Bruton Town (5:21)
8. Waltz (5:06)

Bonus Tracks:

9. Koan (alternate version) (2:11)
10. The Wheel (alternate version) (2:00)
11. The Casbah (alternate version) (2:18)
12. Bruton Town (edit 1-5-3)
13. Way Begind The Sun (alternate version) (2:49)
14. Way Begind The Sun (instrumental) (2:38)
Total Time: 53:25

[ Rip and Scans by CrunchyFrog ]

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