on 12 December 2000
If you have never heard of Pentangle, you are in for a treat. In many ways this was a band's band. It featured three top notch musicians - Bert Jansch,John Renbourn and the bass player Danny Thompson, together with the haunting pure voice of Jacquie McShee. In their day they enjoyed a burst of fame around 1970, and their influence can be felt in many far away places - Neil Young cites Bert Jansch as being a master of the acoustic guitar.
Their music occupies some strange mediaeval world, like a tarot pack come to life - yet they were not simply folk traditionalists. They ran to blues and jazz, and even when singing folk their take was unique: far less strident than Steeleye Span or Fairport Convention, very supple and airy music.
This anthology I unhesitatingly give 5 stars to because it is unbelievable value. That's what you get when a band is criminally overlooked by history.
Standout tracks are a matter of personal choice - but listen to the beautiful Lord Franklin, the haunting I got a Feeling, and my own favourite, the band's take on the Charlie Mingus jazz standard Goodbye Porkpie Hat.
Pentangle survives to this dayalbeit in a mutated form, but this was the band in their commercial and critical hey-day. They were taken very seriously at the time.
The other intriguing thing is that some of these songs turn up as fodder for the Grateful Dead's own acoustic forays circa 1970. Wierd huh? Not so strange - they both shared the bill at the fillmore on a number of occasions.
Bert Jansch is one of those unclassifiable geniuses, and evenif you don't like his laconic and offkey delivery, you can't help but be dazzled by his guitar artistry.
I could go on and on.. this is a steal. BUY IT!!
on 15 July 2001
On many of these tracks, Pentangle come out as a very good jazz band. "I Got a feeling" is actually the music from "All Blues" by Miles Davis, with lyrics added (although they haven't given Davis a credit -- I suppose when this was first recorded, not as many people had heard "Kind of Blue") and it's done quite well. Danny Thompson (not related to Richard) is a genuine jazzy bass player and John Renbourne has credible jazz chops. Bert Jansch is the quintessential folk guitarist but he can handle the jazzy stuff pretty well too. My favourire track is "Light Flight" which is mainly in 5/4 time and is impressively groovy and musically very interesting (Jacqui McShea does some great and innovative harmonising with herself). The English folk stuff has many of those grim murder-type ballads with lots of cool rhythmic accents. There's even some accapella ("When I Was in My Prime" -- another tragic song) and "Lord Franklin" is a standout with its combination of folk and rock guitar licks. All in all, an excellent compilation -- Pentangle really could play!
At face value, Pentangle created fine interpretations of British folk tunes, plus a number of well-judged originals adding to the richness of their tradition; some of those tracks might be seen by purists as popularising and possibly cheapening the genre, but most would agree that Light Flight, I've Got A Feeling and similar tracks have made a major contribution to the development of folk-pop.
But impressions can be misleading. Bert Jansch, Jacqui McShee et al have created a legacy filled with subtle inflections and exquisite touches. Their sources are many and varied, but enjoy the delicious jazz phrasing in Jansch's guitar and the bluesy bass chords and timing used throughout these 31 tracks. At times, McShee's soaring voice seems to apply a gospel fervour to her material, where Jansch's voice can only be described as unique!
The mixing pot yields some spectacular results, plus one or two odd-sounding experiments that don't quite work. For example, I'm not sure the arrangement of Let No Man Steal Your Thyme is as effective as it might have been, though it's churlish to criticise when the vast majority is utterly delightful.
Overall, a fine retrospective of Pentangle, all the more so in view of Jansch's recent 60th birthday concerts including a host of guests - not least Jacqui McShee, still in fine voice.