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The Pentangle - Solomon's Seal CD (album) cover


The Pentangle


Prog Folk

3.26 | 32 ratings

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2 stars In some ways the Pentangle's 'Solomon's Seal' can be compared to Fleetwood Mac's 'Mirage' that would release a decade later. Sure, their musical styles are almost diametrically opposed, but in both cases we see bands at the apex of their careers from the standpoint of technical ability, yet both were struggling financially despite huge commercial success and broad public appeal. Both were on the verge of breakup; both delivered studio work that was palatable but lacked the sort of creative experimentation and risk of earlier efforts; both had to reach deep in their bags of tricks to come up with enough material to complete full-length albums. And both were on the Warner label, although that I suppose is nothing more than trivial coincidence.

While Mac dipped into material from solo projects and castaways from prior studio sessions for songs, the Pentangle leaned heavily on traditional folk tunes along with a contemporary cover of the Cyril Tawney song "Sally Free and Easy" for more than half the album's material. All are decent renditions, and the band were certainly not strangers to either traditional or cover material, having recorded more than a dozen each in prior years. But in most of those cases the stellar musicianship and creative arrangements of Renbourn, Jansch, Cox and McShee took these offerings to new places. Not so much here, particularly with the traditional songs which are mostly delivered verbatim with not much more than hints at the band's interpretive potential.

There are exceptions to be sure, my favorite being "High Germany" with its liberal use of percussion, Jansch's dulcimer and Renbourn's recorder. Jacqui McShee's voice is as angelic and folkishly perfect per usual. And the rather mainstream-sounding original tune "People on the Highway" hints at a direction the band might have pursued had they managed to hang on into the mid-seventies.

But not much else stands out, at least not for me. "Willy O'Winsbury" lacks conviction or panache, and the last two tracks ("Jump Baby, Jump" and "Lady of Carlisle") seem perfunctory at best. In all this is a fairly weak end, especially considering the immense talent possessed by the five members of the band.

I suppose another Fleetwood Mac comparison fits here as well. Both bands were in a sense on the verge of musical obsolescence given changing tastes and trends. For the Mac the days of MTV and later grunge would overshadow their slick West-Coast shtick for most of the rest of that decade. And for the Pentangle the folk revival was playing out both in Europe and on the American continent, being supplanted quickly by trite pop, disco and even the fledgling whispers of punk circa garage rock. And since both bands were essentially being positioned by their respective management as popular music acts these changes spelled doom without some sort of drastic shift in style, so perhaps the collapse in both cases was for the best. Jansch would leave after the supporting tour fizzled shortly after this release, and the Pentangle would cease to exist for a decade. Again like the Mac, Pentangle would reform a few times with various lineups including at times the original members, but never again wielded the same sort of magic they held in their heyday. All things indeed must pass.


ClemofNazareth | 2/5 |


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