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CRUEL SISTER

The Pentangle

Prog Folk


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Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
3 stars 3,5 stars really!!!

The fourth album from the pentangle can only be a slight disappointment when one knows how superb was their previous album, but there are many other interesting points most notably a side-long epic Jack Orion.

The Maid Deep In Love track is yet another great tune starting with the now-famous but ever-impressive bowed bass underlined by a violin then the crystal clear vocals of McShee take over while a welcome harmonica closes off the track. When I Was In My Prime also brings nothing new to the Pentangle palette but remains enjoyable. Lord Franklin comes with a harmonium underlining but is rather tame until its middle section where an electric guitar comes in. Cruel Sister is a rather lenghty track so typical of them but it has a déjà-vu feeling.

Progheads are waiting to read about the side-long track, but alas a small deception is around the bend as nothing really develops during its 18 min length even if there are excellent moments in it. The first part is your average but pleasant Pentangle track but being ended abruptly but a medieval sounding flute with a droning contrabass and medieval troubadour rythms, but the section is also abruptly ended by another guitar ostinato underlined by lovely bells rings, to lead via some meandering solos towards the starting verses again. There are clumsier guitar strums again to start in the last part. My main gripe towards this track is the lack of link towards the separate movements and maybe a lack of chord progression that would've pasted those parts together. In stead we have a rather clumsy collage of some parts: too bad it was not lacking much to be a real chef d'oeuvre.

Although weaker than the two albums surrounding it, Cruel Sister is still a mighty and worthy album but it is imperfect.

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Send comments to Sean Trane (BETA) | Report this review (#59387)
Posted Wednesday, December 07, 2005 | Review Permalink
clarke2001
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars A pleasant routine.

Sweet Sister is lovely and dreamy album. It is perfect by no means - but it's good enough to be enjoyable. I was somewhat disappointed, I must admit, but my disappointment is more in the fact that other PENTANGLE works are simply astonishing, while this one is not on the same level.

Why? Frankly, I don't know. First of all it's quite short - which is not necessary a bad thing, but after the last chord faded out, I felt something is missing. Complexity? Well, this one is not very complex, but that is not the issue. THE PENTANGLE were capable of writing very simple and yet highly enjoyable tunes. Diversity? How much diversity do you expect from a Celtic Folk? It's true, they used to cover medieval themes, classical miniatures, jazz and blues. This is not the case. But that shouldn't be a problem neither, or in the worst case, just a secondary reason why is this album less enjoyable than its predecessors. Perhaps the main reason is because songs are laking that instant catchy component, although after of listens I started to appreciate melodies. And structure. And musicianship. And the lyrics...

Anyway, it seems that I can't pin down what is missing in this enjoyable album, so let's have a word or two about the songs themselves: "The Maid That's Deep In Love" contains lovely, floating melody blessed by heavenly Jacqui's voice...the loveliest female voice in both prog and folk music ever (with all the respect to Sonja Christina and Sandy Denny and fans!). Main melody is repeat with guitar before (and after) Jacqui's singing. Okay, that was one lovely ballad.

A nice and quite rare example of unaccompanied vocal not only in prog but in rock music in general is "When I Was In My Prime". No instruments here, just Jacquie McShee with a little help of reverb. A strict, repetitive structure of the song is not making song less enjoyable or boring; actually it's giving a song a certain feel of ancient times. Lovely lyrics about a girl and her love compared to a rose of specific colour.

"Lord Franklin", sung by John (and he's got lovely and emotional voice too), is very quiet, mellow folk tune that was not appealing to me at the beginning, but after a half a dozen of listening, I started to appreciate the song. However, it's not very demanding or unpredictable for a prog rock fan, not even from a prog-folk point of view.

"Cruel Sister" is a little bit too long, maybe. Again, a simple pattern is followed all the time through the song (respecting the traditional structures, obviously) and although the song is lovely (that word again!), and melody catchy in a sing-long way, I feel that somehow song's length asks for a bit more things going on. Instrumentation is not very memorable, but the lyrics are. It's a whole story - a tragic story to be precise, even scary at the moments. The band actually took an old folk fairytale as a basis for a song.

Side-long "Jack Orion" is the only "real progressive rock" song here, not only for it's length; it utilises different parts, different instruments (including recorders and dulcimers) and their solos, and a nice vocal interplay(s) between Jack's and Jacqui's voice. Although the song is well-structured tapestry of different (but similar) variations, there are no really surprising or dramatic moments here, but the song is very well focused and mature.

The album itself is more than the sum of its parts...but somehow that is not enough to rise this album above the average-good level. But it will provide joy for any fan of folk and prog-folk if the lack of complexity will not raise an issue.

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Send comments to clarke2001 (BETA) | Report this review (#116904)
Posted Friday, March 30, 2007 | Review Permalink
Raff
PROG REVIEWER
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.

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Send comments to Raff (BETA) | Report this review (#152618)
Posted Sunday, November 25, 2007 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars After Pentangle's masterpiece Basket Of Light came Cruel Sister and it was a big let down after such great efford the year before. Not that it was bad, far from it. But one must see that the band was not on one of their most inspired moments, so Bert Jansch (along with bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Terry Cox) let singer Jacqui Mcshee and guitarrist John Renbourn take charge this time. Cruel Sister is, therfore, very much the duo's baby, really. There is littlle of the band's fantastic jazz, baroque and blues approaches here. This CD was made entirely of traditional folk tunes arranged and performaed by Pentangle, but not everybody plays on every track (When I Was In My Prime features only McShee singing a capella for exemple). There is not a single original song on the entire record.

The result is nice, but not much else. Only Renbourn and McShee seemed really interested. The 18 minute version of Jack Orion was not quite successful: it is just too long and the prog parts they tried to devolp seem ragged. somewhat forced and rather dull. The remanining tracks are nice, but pale in comparison to their previous work. I guess this is an album that will satisfy the trasditional folk fans more than The Pentangle's real audience.

In all I think Cruel Sister is a good CD, but not one of their best. It has its moments and you'll enjoy it if you like the more traditional folk side of Pentangle.

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Send comments to Tarcisio Moura (BETA) | Report this review (#190249)
Posted Sunday, November 23, 2008 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Past their prime? No, but this is no light flight

Pentangle's fourth album, released in 1970, indicated a subtle but clear change of approach by the band. The most obvious development is the inclusion of electric guitar, played by John Renbourn. Up until this point, the band had proudly boasted of their acoustic only approach. On the other hand, this proved to be an album made up entirely of traditional material, with no band compositions or even cover versions included.

The opening tracks feature the wonderful voice of Jackie McShee. "A maid that's deep in love" tells a tale of a young lady dressing up as a man in order to follow her lover to sea. The arrangement is surprisingly intense for a Pentangle song, but this version of a popular song brings out the melody well. The following "When I was in my prime" is an unaccompanied solo by McShee, who carries the song with consummate ease.

Renbourn takes centre stage for the reflective "Lord Franklin", which tells the story of an ill fated quest to find a passage in the seas north of Canada. Bert Jansch adds some effective concertina* playing here, while McShee's background vocalising contributes to the fine atmosphere. The seven minute title track has a simple repetitive melody in the way of so many traditional folk songs. Four of the five band members contribute to the vocals here, the song relating a story of sibling rivalry and worse.

* The concertina player is actually unclear as the sleeve notes for the CD indicate that it is McShee playing, while the song credits state Jansch.

The second side of the LP is occupied in its entirety by "Jack O'Rion", (or "Jack Orion") an 18 minute rendition of a song which previously appeared on a Jansch solo album. It also featured on the Fairport album "Tippler's tales" and on Trees debut release. Originally called "Glasgerion", the song tells a good old tale of debauchery and deception in lengthy narrative format along the lines of The Strawbs "Vision of the lady of the lake". The instrumentation is adventurous as is the vocal arrangement, and although the song may not be a prog epic as such, it is by far the most challenging number the band created during their career. The latter part of the song is reminiscent of Fairport's interpretation of "A sailor's life", with a lengthy lead guitar work out.

As a commercial venture, and as the follow up to the highly successful "Basket of light", "Cruel sister" was something of a disaster. As a folk rock album with prog folk overtones, this is a fine work. It's true this is no light flight, but the album should please those in these parts with a prog folk inclination.

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Send comments to Easy Livin (BETA) | Report this review (#190692)
Posted Friday, November 28, 2008 | Review Permalink
kenethlevine
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog-Folk Team
3 stars "Cruel Sister" finds PENTANGLE succumbing to the trends of the dawn of the 70s by including electric guitar and a side long epic - after all, nearly everyone else was doing it. On the whole, it's handled well technically but lacking somewhat emotionally.

Needless to say, the highlight for die-hard proggies is the 18 minute + "Jack Orion", even if it is really an extended trad styled folk song with a few jams and some lead guitar thrown in. It's really not much more than an extension of some of the themes first presented on their debut, although they've thankfully had their fill of celtified Motown by now. For me the real highlight is the lovely title tune: granted this has as much to do with the haunting beauty of the melody and lyrics than the interpretation. In fact I first heard it interpreted by JEAN REDPATH under a different title and was smitten.

Elsewhere, it's more of a mixed bag. McShee and Jansch overdo it with understatement and sing with all the feeling of subjects under a hypnotist's spell. "A Maid that's Deep in Love" shows where the embryonic CLANNAD would get its material and stylistic start, but that Irish family struck at the heart of the subject matter and carried it as much with emotion as with their own jazzy flair. "Lord Franklin" finds a credible lead from Jansch ably backed by McShee, again a bit tightly wound and controlled for my tastes.

PENTANGLE was certainly a pioneering group, but "Cruel Sister" demonstrates their limitations and why they would eventually be surpassed by younger and more invested siblings.

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Send comments to kenethlevine (BETA) | Report this review (#263060)
Posted Wednesday, January 27, 2010 | Review Permalink
snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Jacqui McShee has excellent voice for folk songs. Pentangle, having its roots in British folk music and early British jazzy blues, on this album play what they know best - simple, very minimalistic acoustic folk rock with jazzy arrangements.

Album's atmosphere is excellent, with dreamy Jacqui voice, acoustic music support, down tempo ballades and many tasteful instrumental excurses to jazz and blues. If you like English folk you will like this music for sure. If you're just listener searching for diversity, possibly this album is too folksy, a bit monotonic, not enough energetic, and not very progressive for sure. But even in that case you really will enjoy some beautiful folksy melodies and tasteful musicianship.

Album mostly for folk rock lovers, but pleasant listening for any fans of beautiful music as well.

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Send comments to snobb (BETA) | Report this review (#295956)
Posted Tuesday, August 24, 2010 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Maybe I'm alone on this one, but I actually strongly prefer this one to Basket of Light, which I found kind of, well, lightweight. I felt that album tended to straddle the fence between folk and rock without actually effecting an interesting fusion of the two, so I greatly prefer the approach this time around - which is much more rooted in folk, in particular folk music from times of history, with old and out of fashion instruments and delightful songs about murder, suicide, bloodshed and madness set to beautiful acoustic tunes.

There are of course rock touches here and there, such as the instrumental workouts and occasional eccentric touch that spices up the sidelong epic Jack Orion, and a little electric guitar creeping in here and there to add a little accent, but by and large this is just good meaty folk music performed well. You can keep your Basket of Light; this sinister folk Sister is much more to my tastes.

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Send comments to Warthur (BETA) | Report this review (#471392)
Posted Tuesday, June 28, 2011 | Review Permalink
Sinusoid
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars I thought that BASKET OF LIGHT was an instant breath of fresh air in the prog-folk realm; have a strong folk base but allow jazz and rock to creep into the structure of the band giving a fresh and progressive take on an otherwise very traditional genre of music. The followup CRUEL SISTER doesn't feel quite as fresh, but still a tremendous album nevertheless.

What I don't like about CRUEL SISTER is how the jazz and rock framework from the previous album gets marginalised here. Other than Denny Thompson's basslines, we're mostly in the folk business here. And I understand that Jacqui McShee is a good folk singer, but the acapella piece ''When I Was in My Prime'' is unnecessary.

There's a lot to like about CRUEL SISTER, like the cold and haunting title track whose bassline is rather chilling. ''A Maid That's Deep in Love'' and ''Lord Franklin'' are good enough folk songs for what they're worth. But a lot of the weight of this record is on the sidelong epic ''Jack Orion'', an epic that more than delivers on its length. The pacing of the piece is near perfect, seamlessly flowing from one idea to the next yet giving the audience ample time to digest each theme properly. There's no going overboard with this piece; it's better than advertised.

I still find CRUEL SISTER to be a slight letdown from its predecessor immediate, but that doesn't stop it from being a fantastic folk album in its own right.

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Send comments to Sinusoid (BETA) | Report this review (#810623)
Posted Sunday, August 26, 2012 | Review Permalink

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