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The Pentangle - Finale CD (album) cover


The Pentangle

Prog Folk

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5 stars Saving their best for last?

Finale is a live album that consists of the original folk/jazz/bues rock pioneering Pentangle members, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Terry Cox, Danny Thompson and Jacqui McShee, that was recorded during a summer reunion tour in 2008, but not released until this year. Guitarists Jansch and Renbourn have now both, sadly, passed away. Finale is a fitting memorial to their fine artistry, which seemed to have shone the brightest when the two were in the company of the afore noted drummer, double bassist and lead vocalist, respectively. The group's first six studio albums are equally represented with Finale's nineteen songs.

Having won a Life Achievement Award by BBC Radio 2 in 2007, the original Pentangle members finally put long standing differences, both artistic and personal, aside in order to celebrate their music and their long time fans, with a series of stellar performances that were expertly captured for prosperity. The recordings were aided by state of art mobile digital recording techniques, that were further enhanced by Jansch selecting the best song performances and mixing them, while Renbourn aided in their mastering.

The result is some of the best sounding Pentangle recordings to date, be they live or studio. The low resonances reproduced by Danny Thompson's propulsive bass playing was merely hinted at on any of the group's first six studio albums, while Terry Cox's drums finally sound real and dynamic instead the thin cardboard box bashing that came across on the band's early albums.

Only Jacqui McShee sounds just a bit thin on a couple of songs (a recording glitch perhaps), otherwise, her vocal delivery is still strong, if just a bit measured.

And what of the two guitar heroes? Well, Renbourn plays with an authority that was only suggested at back in the day, and, if it can be believed, plays better then he did forty five years earlier, and that includes some wonderful sitar playing on two tracks. Jansch mostly ceded the guitar honors to Renbourn this time around, as he was too busy singing lead, or alternating lead vocals with McShee, on about a third of this album's songs. Jansch still had a wonderfully strong voice at that time and it doesn't sound as if had aged a single day. But don't fret. He exchanges red hot guitar leads with Renbourn on the instrumentals "In Time", and the Mingus jazz standard "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat", just like in the days of yore.

However, to dwell on the individual band members defeats the purpose of this fine album. Its the chemistry that was generated anytime these powerhouse musicians were in earshot of each one another that is to be enjoyed and celebrated. The jazz inflections and solos from Thompson and Cox, the fluid guitar lines of Renbourn, Jansch's percussive finger picking and world weary baritone, and of course, McShee's cooing bluesy siren calls which were often contrasted by her near angelic traditional folk song delivery. Only drummer Tony Cox, who hasn't played in anger (or at all!), for the last 20 years sounds a bit stiff and workmen like, but he was never a focal point of the band's music and no song suffers because of his long absence away from a drum kit.

I could be bemoan the absence of standout songs like "Way Behind The Sun" from the group's eponymous debut album, or "Train Song" form the Basket Of Light album. However, that's only because so much of their early collective output was so outstanding that fifty of their songs seem like essentials. What more can a reviewer say than that?

If you only own one Pentangle album, it should be Finale. If you own most of their output, then this album is icing on a very delicious and rich musical cake. Simpy put, it's an essential album artistically, sonically and, most of all for those who were initiated into Pentangle long ago, emotionally.

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Posted Thursday, December 8, 2016 | Review Permalink

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