on 17 February 2011
After (for me) the relative disappointment of his last album, Traveller's Prayer, this is a glorious return to scintilating form for The Professor.
I'm particularly delighted that he's finally recorded Little Niles, a Randy Weston tune which he has been gigging for more years than I can remember. It's an outstanding piece of playing, as is the title track, Palermo Snow.
The playing is as inventive, as varied, and original as ever, with unmistakable Renbourn bluesy nuances in the most unlikely of places. Even the improbably-titled "Weebles Wobble but the Don't Fall Down" (a Renbourn composition that bears no discernable similarity to the jingle) and Blueberry Hill are great.
For me, the only disappointing tracks are Sarabande (Eric Satie) and Bach's Cello Prelude in D. Both are played beautifully, but I've never heard a Sarabande I liked, and the Cello Prelude, while more than competent, is just a pale shadow when compared with a great cello version like Tortelier's.
These minor reservations apart, this is an outstanding CD from one of the inventors and greatest exponents of modern fingerstyle guitar.
It's also worth mentioning that Dick Lee plays clarinet on the title track, on Little Niles and on Ugly James, and is sounding better than ever, adding a new dimension to music when he comes in.
on 15 February 2011
You have to wait a long time between albums (except live ones) with 10 years between each of the last two but it is truly worth the wait. The standout for me is the title track which is entrancing. I have listened to it about 100 times now and am still getting new nuances. This is breakthrough stuff. Funnily enough, reading the other review, Sarabande is a bit static for me but I love the rest.
As a Pentangle fan, it was always for me about John not Bert. He has never really been anything but immaculate, apart from his very first album back in the 60s that was a bit rough! The Black Balloon, Nine Maidens, The Hermit, Sir John Alot etc stands the test of time. Having seen him about 30 times live or more, I hope he showcases some of this on the upcoming tour- I shall be cheering him on. It would be nice if some nationals picked up the album and were positive. JR interviewed in OK mag.....
Sadly the world is a deeply unfair and unjust place and while the reputation of the impeccable John Renbourn gently ticks over, Bert Jansch his great sparring partner both within and outside of Pentangle is rightly/regularly namechecked by a the glitterati of rock guitarists as a massive and central influence. Yet Renbourn is by any standards one of the great British guitarists of his generation and friends who particularly love British folk music speak of him in the most hallowed tones with his very distinctive fingerstyle and massive impact on acoustic play. He is a true renaissance man with his musical interests covering a huge musical landscape ranging over classical, folk, jazz, blues to that huge box marked Celtic/Renaissance/Medieval. If you have not had the privilege yet to hear this virtuoso guitarist as a starting point either please check out the great bluesy version of Charlie Mingus's "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" or the absolutely sublime "The Hermit" both to be located on his "Best of" retailing at an obscenely reasonable price on Amazon. Your world will be a better place for it.
While Renbourn has released various live concerts over recent years "Palermo Snow" is his first proper album since 1998s "Travellers Prayer" and what an event it is to have him return and in such style. The old goats sense of humour is firmly intact and frankly I never imagined that a song dedicated to those roly poly toys beloved of a certain generation of children and their theme tune "Weebles wobble but they dont fall down" would figure on a Renbourn album but here it is beautifully played and executed. His cover of "Blueberry Hill" is an equally a lovely bit of mischief with Renbourn showing a style that most guitarists can only dream of as he weaves complex patterns around Fats Domino great classic. That said it is the slower more reflective pieces here which really impress not least the beautifully picked "Sarabande" and a glorious version of J S Bach's "Cello prelude in G" also recently heard on the West Wing played by the great Yo Yo Ma both versions of which bring a rather large lump to the throat. Hopefully then you get the picture, in short if you love the guitar played by an absolute master of the art check out John Renbourn's lovely "Palermo Snow" (its worth it alone for the outstanding highlight that is the seven minute title track) and pay due respect to a master musician whose name your children should sing in praise throughout our villages.
The Palermo of the title refers to Palermo in Sicily, a place that John Renbourn had been many times.
This last and final studio album by John came out in 2011. It was the first new studio recording in 13 years.
The album moves much more solidly towards a classical guitar feel rather than the folk, blues jazz or early music style of earlier work. Sarabande, track six, for example is a piece adapted from Eric Satie. And track seven is an arrangement of Cello Prelude in G by J.S. Bach.
There are hints of Jazz in terms of composition as Renbourn adapts Randy Weston’s Little Niles, with a hint of Charles Mingus.
Also present on the album is Dick Lee on Clarinet. Who offers some melodic flavour and light relief,
Most of the songs are by Renbourn and there is some incredible original material here.
The album sounds great and has its own unique style and atmosphere.
John died in 2015 after a long career recording folk guitar works in his own individual style.
This then is his final album and a good one to end on. This is a quality recording not to be missed.
Just to add my voice to the chorus of praise for this excellent album. There are already half-a-dozen very good reviews here; I haven't all that much to add to them. John Renbourn is a great guitarist who hasn't lost any of his brilliance, and this is a hugely enjoyable, varied album of a master playing superbly and with immense enjoyment in a variety of pieces and styles...but you almost certainly knew that already.
What it comes down to is this: if you like John Renbourn, you'll like this. It's up there with his best over the last forty years and more (and with excellent recorded sound, by the way). Don't hesitate - this is a terrific album.
on 12 August 2011
I completely endorse the three other reviews above. Palermo Snow is the work of a master of his art. His approach to composition, according to him, is to "..regard the guitar as something like a keyboard instrument, with the possibility of playing separate parts, rather than embracing a style....which you then have to fit....the music into. My concern is playing the type of music I like. How it actually sounds is an accident".
Amazingly he composes entirely on paper (he has a degree in composition) and only later works out the guitar fingering - a true musician.
In my opinion this album is the pinnacle of his compositional career and his approach is well illustrated in the track 'Dery Miss Grsk' (apparently titled from a letter by a child with severe autism addressed to his much loved teacher). In this track the complex moving parts are spell-binding and, for me as a poor guitarist, virtually unfathomable, it is a very beautiful piece of work.
Having said that the album, as a whole,is something of a dog's dinner being such a divers mixture of musical styles and (even) recording quality. Well, if it is a dog's dinner, it is one made from the very finest ingredients with a rich and nutritious sauce.
If I owned the last copy in the World and someone tried to take it from me I would fight them to the death and I would win!