Although the fifth album Reflection was a commercial success it is not the best album by the group. However that does not matter because in fact this album is a very interesting album indeed. It is quite an achievement really since the album had many problems coming to completion. By 1971 and four albums, the band Pentangle were showing signs of cracking up. There were all sorts of problems. They moved studio to a new place with unfamiliar equipment that kept causing problems. A mixing desk caught fire, Danny couldn’t hear his own bass, fewer microphones and band members being late or not turning up for recording sessions all caused tension.
But actually the end result is a great album and one that could easily be over looked or forgotten. The album unlike its predecessors that had used more British Traditional songs, used instead more North American Traditional pieces to play with. In fact there is also a strong sense of American blues as well.
Wedding Dress is an American Tradtitional song and the vocals have a suitablly American flavour.And with Bert on banjo it helps to give it the Appalacian mood that it deserves. Next track is also from American Tradition, Omie Wise is a ballad of Murder and the arrangement here is brilliant. Another Traditional tune is Rain and Snow and the arrangement with Banjo and sitar cements the sound of the album as being a Pentangle or Renbourn influenced one. Helping hand is another song that continues the Traditional feel. But that is not all, there is also the track So Clear, also from Traditional source and this time with a piano in the arrangement. The Final Track, the title track to the album, is an ambitious project. The band moved studio again to one with better facilities. They used sixteen track recording equipment. The tune is Traditional and the lyrics are by Jacqui McShee, It is a long 11 minute piece and possibly the best track on the album. Pentangle throw everything at it. The arrangement is rich. There are psychedelic hints in the mix along with drums, bass, jazz, blues, folk, harmonica, guitars, and great vocals. Also on the album we get the song Will the Circle be Unbroken, which was originally a hymn. And also of note is the beautiful song So Clear by Renbourn.
The album was recorded within an atmosphere of great tension within the group and it became the last album on the Transatlantic record label. But it is a wonderful album and should be in the collection of Pentangle recordings if you like Pentangle. The CD version is good with a good booklet that also reproduces the pictures that originally formed the gatefold of the original vinyl version. Although these pictures are small and stuck on the side of the informative writing. Do not over look this album it is really very good.
There isn't quite the same excitement about this as Basket of Light or Cruel Sister; it's mellower, quieter, more introspective. Inspiration, perhaps, was starting to ebb. For me the highlight is John Renbourn's 'So Clear'; a beautiful song and career high point for him, featuring some really special lead guitar. There are some other excellent pieces, but I'm not completely sold on the jazz workout which is the final, title track: it doesn't really go anywhere. If I was being cynical it has the stamp of 'we have to fill this album out with something' on it.
Not first on your Pentangle list, then, but if you like their other early stuff this is definitely worth getting.
Album number five is not the most exalted realease in the Pentangle cannon but for me it's just as essential as Sweet Child or Basket of Light. It was however, a critical (if not a commercial) success at the time of it's release in 1971.
The most strking thing about Reflection is the sheer quality of the production and the gorgeous warm clear sound that is evident from the first strident notes of 'Wedding Dress' to the last meanderings of the 11 minute folk/jazz/psyche closing opus 'Reflection'
The playing is tight and assured as you would expect and the songs (mostly trad folk songs) are of the finest quality throughout. Although relations within the band were allegedly strained at the time, this still feels like a group offering and the five principle players are given plentiful opportunity to shine. For me Danny Thompson's stand up bass underpins all tracks and unifies the sound and feel of the whole album.
Personal highlights are the Jaqcui vocal on the spiritual 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken' and Bert's wonderful 'When I get home' but in all honesty the whole thing is unwaveringly brilliant.
Pour another glass of ale, chuck a log on the fire, inhale your herb of choice and enjoy - Fab!