Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
The Pentangle - Cruel Sister CD (album) cover


The Pentangle


Prog Folk

3.41 | 54 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Special Collaborator
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
4 stars To be perfectly honest, I am somewhat amazed at the low rating this excellent album has received so far. Though probably not on a par with its predecessor, "Basket of Light", widely hailed as the band's masterpiece, "Cruel Sister" appeals to me profoundly for a number of reasons. Odd as it may sound, I find myself irresistibly drawn to the album's overall somber atmosphere and gloomy, even disturbing lyrical content.

Ever since I was a child, I've been fascinated by folk and fairy tales. I've also spent the past three years researching folklore for my PhD dissertation, so it goes without saying that I have some in-depth knowledge of the subject matter treated by most prog-folk bands. Being an English major, I have also had a lifelong interest in English folklore: therefore, the output of bands such as Pentangle, Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention, with their highly individual take on folk ballads chock-full of themes like love, death and sorcery, was inevitably bound to find its way into my heart and my ears.

However, the album opens in a more upbeat tone, with the lilting, romantic melody of "A Maid Who's Deep in Love", an endearing tale of a girl dressing up as a man and boarding a ship to the New World in order to look for her sweetheart, but attracting the interest of the ship's captain. Jacqui McShee's lovely, crystal-clear voice conveys the story with a sort of affectionate amusement, and the listener cannot help ending up rooting for the gallant captain. In the following track, "When I Was in My Prime", McShee's inimitable pipes get a chance to shine on their own, without any instrumental accompaniment, singing a melancholy tune of love found and lost, bitterness and regret. The mournful tale of "Lord Franklin", lost in the icy wastelands of the Arctic, is sung instead by John Renbourn in a sober, understated way which perfectly complements the subject matter.

In my opinion, the title-track is one of the album's highlights - a gloomy, haunting ballad about love, betrayal and death, based on a very common folktale motif known as "The Singing Bone". A girl kills her younger sister out of jealousy, but her crime is exposed by a magic harp built by three wandering minstrels out of the dead girl's breastbone, and strung with her hair. The song's musical structure may at first sound monotonous, as is in the tradition of authentic folk ballads, in which the second and four lines of each verse act as a refrain. There are no apparent changes in the tune, though an attentive listener can notice how the ballad starts almost a cappella, with Jacqui McShee intoning the opening lines, "There lived a lady by the North Sea shore..." - then the other instruments gradually kick in, chiefly John Renbourn's and Bert Jansch's masterful acoustic guitar interplay.

The album's pièce de resistance comes at the very end, in the shape of 18-minute-plus epic "Jack Orion" - another tragic tale of love and death based on a triangle involving Jack himself, a princess and a treacherous page boy. While the other songs are quite simple in structure, this is a real progressive tour de force, involving the use of different instruments and a dramatic approach to singing, in which Jacqui plays the role of the princess, and Jansch interprets both of the male characters. The lengthy instrumental sections see a dazzling display of musical skill on the part of the five band members, introducing a strong jazzy feel into the fabric of the traditional folk tune. The results are quite impressive, though the song has also being indicted of being somewhat self-indulgent. Taken as a whole, "Jack Orion" is nevertheless a superb example of authentically progressive folk.

"Cruel Sister" is a highly recommended offering from a great band combining flawless musicianship, breathtaking female vocals, and a very original approach to the reworking of traditional folk music from the British Isles.

Raff | 4/5 |


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Share this THE PENTANGLE review

Social review comments () BETA

Review related links

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives