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The Pentangle - The Pentangle CD (album) cover

THE PENTANGLE

The Pentangle

 

Prog Folk

3.88 | 37 ratings

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Raff
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars One of the most amazing albums to be released in that fateful year of 1968, Pentangle's debut - in spite of its short length, which nowadays would make it little more than an EP - still sounds fresh and exciting, brimming with stunning musicianship, brilliant ideas, and Jacqui McShee's pure, soaring soprano. It is a pity that, to this day, the band are mainly known to a restricted élite of devotees of traditional folk music from the British Isles, and to very few other people besides.

Often compared to their contemporaries Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, both in terms of inspiration and because of the presence of a female vocalist, I have always found them to be a cut above those two otherwise excellent bands. Definitely more sophisticated and less 'hey nonny nonny' than either, Pentangle were, to all intents and purposes, a supergroup which, besides McShee's magical voice, could boast of a team of formidable guitarists in John Renbourn and Bert Jansch, and the extraordinary skills of Danny Thompson (still very much in demand as a session man at the ripe old age of 70) on double bass. Their music, acoustic for the most part, blended jazz, blues, country, psychedelic and even world music elements with their British folk sources, producing an end result of surpassing warmth and elegance, almost unique even in those exciting years.

The Pentangle opens with Thompson's droning double bass, played with a bow, then McShee's crystal-clear voice intones the three verses of the aptly called Let No Man Steal Your Thyme. This traditional folk tune, with its beautiful yet stark imagery taken from nature, warns young girls not to surrender their virtue, lest men tire of them soon afterwards. Only slightly over two minutes long, the song is one of Jacqui's best vocal performances, passionate and restrained at the same time. The three instrumentals on the album provide a perfect showcase for Renbourn's and Jansch's duelling acoustic guitars, backed by Terry Cox's subtle drumming and Thompson's astonishing bass lines. McShee, undoubtedly one of the very best female singers of any generation, and as gifted as the much-celebrated Annie Haslam, is however devoid of the latter's often saccharine-sweet tones.

The closing track, Waltz, and the longest song on the album, the seven-minute-plus Pentangling (which also features some vocals), sum up the band's approach to music quite perfectly, with an understated complexity that would put many so-called 'prog' bands to shame. Another highlight is the ballad Bruton Town, a tragic tale of two lovers separated by male oppression and class prejudice, which shares its subject matter with a well-known tale from Boccaccio's Decameron (the tale of Lisabetta and the pot of basil). Besides the intricate interplay between the various instruments, the song sees all three of the band's vocalists (Jansch, Renbourn and McShee) alternate in the telling of the story, with a lovely dramatic effect. Way Behind the Sun is instead reminiscent of traditional American folk, and sees McShee's adopt a somewhat more earthy (as well as lower in range) approach in her singing.

If you enjoy flawlessly-played acoustic music, and beautiful, expressive vocals, you will thoroughly enjoy this album from a band that has been very unfairly forgotten by far too many music fans. A very well-deserved four stars from this reviewer.

As a post-scriptum, with this review I have reached the same number (164) as someone who will sadly never be able to overtake me again.... I dedicate this review to my friend Antoine, someone whom I did not get to meet in person, but for whom I felt a deep affection and regard. We miss you, Antoine, and will never forget you.

Raff | 4/5 |

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