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JOHN RENBOURN

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John Renbourn biography
Born 8 August 1944 (London, England) - 26 March 2015

JOHN RENBOURN was an English folk guitarist and songwriter known mainly for his early collaboration with Bert JANSCH and his founding of the seminal British folk rock group THE PENTANGLE. A technically proficient player, Renbourn left behind an eclectic body of solo work which encompassed acoustic blues, English traditional song, and medieval English and European music. While mainly contemporary compositions, Renbourn's forays into medieval music recreated the modal scales of Renaissance era music, played on acoustic and electric guitar as well as sitar. Albums of note include "Sir JohnAlot", "The Lady and the Unicorn" and "The Hermit".

Renbourn also collaborated with American blues guitarist STEFAN GROSSMAN and recorded both joint and solo works on Grossman's Shanachie Records label which were tutorial as well as artistic works. Renbourn sporadically collaborated with Pentangle vocalist Jaqui McShee in his group ensembles called the John Renbourn Group. Renbourn also collaborated and recorded with British folk stalwarts ARCHIE FISHER, WIZZ JONES, Robin WILLIAMSON, MAGGIE BOYLE and STEVE TILSTON. Having obtained a degree in classical music composition from the Dartington College of Arts in the mid 1980's, Renbourn remained musically active until his death from a heart attack at age 70.

Bio by SteveG April 2018

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JOHN RENBOURN discography


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JOHN RENBOURN top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.00 | 2 ratings
John Renbourn
1965
4.00 | 2 ratings
Another Monday
1966
4.00 | 3 ratings
Sir John Alot Of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thynge And Ye Grene Knighte
1968
3.75 | 3 ratings
The Lady And The Unicorn
1970
4.00 | 1 ratings
Faro Annie
1971
4.58 | 3 ratings
The Hermit
1976
4.00 | 3 ratings
The John Renbourn Group: A Maid In Bedlam
1977
5.00 | 1 ratings
The Black Balloon
1979
4.50 | 2 ratings
The John Renbourn Group: The Enchanted Garden
1980
4.00 | 1 ratings
So Early In The Spring
1980
4.64 | 5 ratings
The Nine Maidens
1985
4.00 | 1 ratings
John Renbourn's Ship Of Fools
1988
3.00 | 1 ratings
Traveller's Prayer
1998
3.00 | 1 ratings
Palermo Snow
2011
0.00 | 0 ratings
John Renbourn & Wizz Jones: Joint Control
2016

JOHN RENBOURN Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

5.00 | 1 ratings
The John Renbourn Group: Live In America
1982
3.00 | 1 ratings
Live In Kyoto 1978
2018
0.00 | 0 ratings
An Evening With John Renbourn + Jacqui McShee
2019

JOHN RENBOURN Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

JOHN RENBOURN Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.00 | 1 ratings
The Guitar Of John Renbourn
2005
5.00 | 1 ratings
The Attic Tapes
2015

JOHN RENBOURN Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

JOHN RENBOURN Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 The Hermit by RENBOURN, JOHN album cover Studio Album, 1976
4.58 | 3 ratings

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The Hermit
John Renbourn Prog Related

Review by SteveG

5 stars The Hermit is the first album recorded by John Renbourn after the break up of Pentangle and John gets a lot out of his system on this totally instrumental solo acoustic guitar outing. Starting off with more of the stately Elizabethan styled tunes that dominated his Sir John A Lot album, Renbourn enlists the help of acoustic master John James to perform a duet on "Lord Willoughby's Welcome Home" that is absolutely stunning as Renbourn and James play variations of the song's main melody, with one in a slightly higher range, as both inject flights of fancy into their picking that always compliment the other player and the song, which was composed in 1600s for the lute.

"The Three Pieces By O' Carolan" maintain the same Elizabethan vibe until John gets to Irish harp icon O' Carolan's best known and final composition titled "Mrs. Powers (O' Carolan's Concerto)". This is where Renbourn really starts to let his impressive finger skills shine as he rattles off light speed-like phrases of cascading notes as he traverses his fretboard with mind numbing accuracy. "The Princess and The Pudding" is more Mock-Tudor stylings (Renbourn's description, not mine) that's based on a jingle that Renbourn heard on either TV or radio in an commercial for cooked pies!

"Faro's Rag" is just that, a rag, with more exquisite finger picking in a much more, naturally, upbeat song comprised of different phrases that John felt worked well together. Even if they didn't, it's hard to imagine the song would have suffered much.

The title track "The Hermit" is a technical tour de force that is absolutely stunning as John again traverses the fret board with a combination of finger twisting finger placements while rapidly playing notes that extend from one end of the fretboard to the other. It's a song that I've never heard Renbourn play in concert and I can only assume it's one that has to be performed when all the planets are in alignment. "Goat Island" is pure bluesy Pentangle complete with a Bert Jansch styled finger picked melody over which John adds bluesy leads and is another standout track. "Old Mac Bridgitt" and "Bicycle Tune" are more piano styled rags with a bit of Jelly Roll Morton thrown in (Old Mac) and again are technically imprssive but are a bit sedate after hearing "The Hermit" and "Goat Island". "John's Tune" has a jazzy blues vibe but is not as impressive as "Goat Island", but the album closer "Carline's Tune" is another Pentangle-like gem. Again featuring a Jansch styled main melody, John goes blues ballistic with impressive finger slides, string pulls, bends, hammer ons and anything else he can think of in order to make his guitar strings protest and cry. It's ends too quickly but great music always does.

Some may feel that Renbourn does a lot to break the continuity of some songs by his overuse of tricky leads and additions, but at no time is his playing obstructive or distracting. Technical prowess is nothing without melodic genius and Renbourn always displays both attributes throughout his playing on The Hermit. Indeed, The Hermit along with The Black Balloon and The Nine Maidens albums were Renbourn's pinnacle of composition, historical reference and virtuoso playing and will always remain totally unique and fresh sounding in the folk rock and folk prog canon.

 So Early In The Spring by RENBOURN, JOHN album cover Studio Album, 1980
4.00 | 1 ratings

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So Early In The Spring
John Renbourn Prog Related

Review by SteveG

— First review of this album —
4 stars So Early In The Spring was a recording of opportunity for John Renbourn as it allowed him to re-record many of his earlier recorded folk and folk/blues songs in a modern state of the art recording studio. This allowed all of the subtle nuance of his playing style to actually be heard for the first time and really shine. All the songs of this 1980 album were part of Renbourn's 1979 stage repertoire so he needed little practice in burning up the fretboard of his acoustic guitar. Most mesmerizing is his "live in the studio" playing of the traditional songs" So Early In The Spring", " To Glastonbury", "Peacock Rag" and the bluesy "If You Haven't Any Hay" which, if anyone never saw Renbourn play live, would swear that his playing was of multi tracked guitars instead of the single guitar played for these songs.

Renbourn's vocals haven't improved much at this juncture but at least he sings without trying to over compensate and the choice of recording traditional folk songs over his much beloved blues covers also helps as this material was probably never intended for accomplished vocalists. The poignant "Banks of The Sweet Primroses" and a spirited reading of Jackson Franks' folk standard "Blues Run The Game", along with it's excellent production values, probably places this album in a 4 star category (3.5 rounded up) but I can only recommend it for dedicated followers of the late artist.

 The Nine Maidens by RENBOURN, JOHN album cover Studio Album, 1985
4.64 | 5 ratings

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The Nine Maidens
John Renbourn Prog Related

Review by SteveG

5 stars Its impossible to list anything recorded by John Renbourn as not being of quality as the man had absolutely no regard for any kind of commercial success. So, we are left with a bevy of fine albums by the late guitar virtuoso. The Nine Maidens stands out because it is simply the pinnacle of Renbourn's ability at composition, arrangement and, naturally, guitar playing. The man was always trying to improve his craft and never, to my mind, hit any sort of plateau and remained there.

What is also different about this all instrumental album is that Renbourn forgoes his need to combine a guitar tutorial with an artistic endeavor as his did on his celebrated albums The Hermit and Black Balloon, which both featured very staid, if ornate, pre Renaissance and baroque era songs that Renbourn reworked for guitar. The Nine Maidens is made up of six songs composed by Renbourn that start out in the familiar stately Elizabethan styles that he so loved like a reworking of his celebrated "Lady Nothinge's Toye Puff" from his Sir John Alot album which is followed by "The Fish In The Well" and "Pavan D'Aragon". Both songs can't fail to conjure up mental images of knights, kingly courts and stately galliards with future damsels in distress. Renbourn has done this before but never as accomplished. What really sets this album apart, from a prog perspective, is the collaborations with longtime alumnus Tony Roberts and Toby Peddley on North Umbrian Pipes and recorder, respectively, on the manic but sublimely melodic "Circle Dance" which is a wonderful set up for the magnificent mini opus that entails the album's three part title track. Indeed, more stately guitar soon gives way to a Celtic romp of dual recorders and congas that would have made Mike Oldfield envious as it would have easily stood out had the music from "The Nine Maidens" been included on an album like Ommidawn or Hergest Ridge. "Variations On My Lady Carey Dompe", that anticipates "Circle Dance", is another clinic in pre medieval grandeur that does seem to start to overstay it's welcome but Renbourn's lightning fast injections of lead guitar make one anticipate what he'll play next as he battles with the galloping melodies of a recorder throughout the song.

Renbourn never made another instrumental album to better The Nine Maidens and I can only surmise that he simply didn't want to. 5 stars.

 The Black Balloon by RENBOURN, JOHN album cover Studio Album, 1979
5.00 | 1 ratings

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The Black Balloon
John Renbourn Prog Related

Review by SteveG

— First review of this album —
5 stars The second jewel in John Renbourn's amazing trilogy of all instrumental acoustic guitar tutorial albums, sitting between The Hermit and The Nine Maidens, The Black Balloon is another virtuoso tour de force, and to many it's his best.

John returns us to the Tudor era of The Hermit with the traditional tune "The Moon Shines Brightly". Another stately court dance, whose melody opaquely approximates the melody of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" in some of it's phrases, and where John approximates a harpsichord on his figure picked acoustic with subtle variations throughout. A somber opening that sets the stage for Renbourn's virtuouso "The English Dance" which is an upbeat melodic candy store, as John sends out a cascade of notes as he traverses his guitar with breathtaking speed and dexterity. Once again, employing an alternate tuning, John's melodies are punctuated with tricky fills and leads that are never repeated but always add to the song's gorgeous melodies. Indeed, this tune has been a staple of Renbourn's live playing up until his death and was a favorite of both his and the audience's. The "Medley: Bouree I and II" is more stately dance where Renbourn painstakingly alters his notes while staying true to the two melodies which are split apart by minor and major tonal settings.

"The Mist Covered Mountains Of Home/The Orphan/ The Tarboulton" are an Irish air, jig and reel, respectively, that were originally intended for the fiddle. These traditional tunes are expertly rendered by Renbourn, who adds melodic accompaniment from the impressive Tony Roberts on flute, and where Renbourn surprises by joining Roberts with crystalline notes from his beloved Gibson 335 electric guitar.

"The Pelican" and "The Black Balloon" are original Renbourn compositions where John branches out to the progressive elements more developed that were found on the stellar "Nine Maidens" album which followed this one. Both entail tricky electric and acoustic guitar interplay, with Tony Robert's flute returning in a jazzy mode on the latter song. These long pieces are so spellbinding that their long lengths seem to pass by in just a few minutes.

The Black Balloon is Renbourn's best sounding album with warm, detailed crystal clear sound, which is absolutely the icing on the cake of this fantastic offering from this master of the acoustic guitar.

 John Renbourn by RENBOURN, JOHN album cover Studio Album, 1965
3.00 | 2 ratings

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John Renbourn
John Renbourn Prog Related

Review by SteveG

3 stars John Renbourn's first official solo album release is naturally of greater historical as opposed to artistic value. It does have many high points such as showcasing, for the one and only time, what an awesome slide guitar player Renbourn was especially on the track "Louisiana Blues" It also showcases Renbourn's Achilles heal which was his limited vocal abilities which was always magnified whenever Renbourn tried to sing American blues songs. His thin nasal voice , while working well on British traditional songs was just sorely out of place on songs like "John Henry", "Candyman", and "Motherless Children".

A couple of oddities almost make this album essential and that's the two instrumental duets that he performed with the future Pentangle partner Bert Jansch. Indeed, while "Blue Bones" is interesting, "Noah and Rabbit' is phenomenal and points the way for the duo's future jazz/blues fusion projects on the album titled Bert And John and the early Pentangle albums like their eponymous debut and it's follow up titled Sweet Child. 3 stars due to the album's up and down characteristics seems about right.

 The John Renbourn Group: Live In America by RENBOURN, JOHN album cover Live, 1982
5.00 | 1 ratings

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The John Renbourn Group: Live In America
John Renbourn Prog Related

Review by SteveG

— First review of this album —
5 stars John Renbourn's on again off again post Pentangle collective known as the John Renbourn Group made a spectacular live album that also served the purpose of releasing more "new music" by this group. They were even nominated for a folk album Grammy Award for The John Renbourn Group: Live In America. The only British folk or folk artists to be nominated in the era of the 70s and 80s as far as I know.

Pairing up with former Pentangle vocalist Jaqui McShee and old mate flautist Tony Roberts, Renbourn also recruited fiddle player Sue Draham from the Albion Band and renowned tabla player Keshav Sathe to fill out the band's sound. Sathe was an inspired choice as he fills the often used hand percussion role that Pentangle mate Terry Cox filled on many of Renbourn's instrumental guitar albums. The group's first album together A Maid In Bedlam from 1977 was chock full of traditional British folk songs and fit the void left by the beak up of Pentangle quite well, while it's follow up The Encahnted Garden stuck to more moody pre Renaissance fair that was too stiff and stately and therefore was not as exciting as the group's debut.

For the Live In America dates, the group toured with fiddler and vocalist John Molinuex who replaed Draham in The Enchanted Garden sessions. Another inspired choice as the man's basso voice excellently rounds out the vocal mix of McShee, Renbourn and Roberts which is so exquisite on songs like "Lindsey", the unacompanied "Ye Mariners All", "John Dory" and the perenial "So Early In The Spring". Just to distingusih her self from the males, McShee does an acapella version of the "Cruel Mother", itself a companion song to the Pentangle's take on the traditional song "Cruel Sister" and of course the audience is spell bound. Renbourn does a few solo turns on guitar on the incrdible droning and fast as lightning "English Dance" and "Breton Dances" instrumentals before being joined on the psuedo Eastern "Sidi Braham" which features snake charmer flute from Roberts and a tabla solo by Sathe. Molinuex takes a solo vocal on the old trad. song "Farewell Nancy" before the group all join in on a somewhat conjested version of "John Barleycorn" which closes the album. That song is the only misstep in the concert performances as the overlapping vocals by various group members are a bit too sloppy when compared with the studio version found on The Enchanted Garden.

A very good concert recording helps to make this double album a real treat and it ranks with the best that was offered by the Pentangle a decade earlier. 5 stars.

 Sir John Alot Of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thynge And Ye Grene Knighte by RENBOURN, JOHN album cover Studio Album, 1968
4.00 | 3 ratings

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Sir John Alot Of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thynge And Ye Grene Knighte
John Renbourn Prog Related

Review by SteveG

4 stars John Renbourn's third solo album titled Sir John Alot of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thynge And Ye Grene Knighte (there, I said the entire thing once!) was his jumping off point into pre renaissance music and his bevy of instrumental guitar albums that followed. While relying on pastiche compositions, Renbourn approximated, almost too well, the themes of kings, courtly castles, galliards, knights and damsels in distress in an opening round of stately songs in "The Earle Of Salisbury" and the "Lady Goes To Church". Which themselves bookend an instrumental version of the traditional song "The Trees They Do Grow High", which helps to keep this unique album squarely in the category of British folk just in case too many at the time questioned it's place in the musical hierarchy. Indeed, the entire album is instrumental and features just Renbourn on acoustic guitar with help on few songs from Pentangle member Terry Cox on hand drums and glockenspiel along with Ray Warleigh on flute.

As if the album's title was not enough to telegraph that Renbourn was taking all this in a very tongue and cheek manner, at the end of his forth pseudo Elizabethan song "Morgana", he switches gears and jumps headlong into Charles Loyd's rollicking R&B tune titled "Transfusion" that sounds a great deal like an instrumental version of Ray Charles' "What I Say". Following directly on side 2 into the swinging "Forty Eight" which further reinforces Renbourn's sense of fun and adventure while also reaffirming his prowess as a master guitar player. Renbourn returns briefly to merry old England with "My Dear Boy" before swinging into the blues with "White Fishes" and the infectious "Sweet Potato" before bringing his steaming guitar picking to a climax with the self penned "Seven Up" that features Cox going ballistic on hand drums.

At a time when rock and pop music was reaching into virgin territories, Sir John Alot fits nicely into the eccentric climes of 1968. As well it should being released just one month after Renbourn's flagship project Pentangle released their eponymous debut studio album. The sky was limit at the time and John Renbourn was only just starting to take flight. 4 stars.

 The Lady And The Unicorn by RENBOURN, JOHN album cover Studio Album, 1970
3.75 | 3 ratings

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The Lady And The Unicorn
John Renbourn Prog Related

Review by SteveG

4 stars John Renbourn's forth acoustic solo album and first real foray into pre Classical and pre Baroque instrumental music was quite an eye opener when it was first released in 1970 and was credited, either rightly or wrongly, with helping start up the genre known as "Early Music" in the UK. Unlike Renbourn's pseudo Elizabethan album Sir John Alot, The Lady and The Unicorn actually reproduces 13th and 14th century English, Italian and French songs and dances that are collected in stately medleys like "Trotto/Salterello", "Lamento Di Tristan/La Rotta", and "Bransle Gay/Bransle De Bourgogne". These songs also feature Pentangle member Terry Cox on hand percussion and heavenly glockenspiel, as well as Fairport stalwart Dave Swarbrick adding fiddle on the latter song as well as to the medley "Veri Floris/Triple Ballade". Renbourn's acoustic guitar fills the void left by both lute and harpsichords being absent most admirably.

Somber concertina accompanies the last medley "Alman/Melancholy Galliard" before Renbourn goes solo with low level electric guitar (a rarity!) on Bach's "Sarabande". As if all this is too relaxing, Renbourn then finales with a medley of the traditional songs "My Johnny Was A Shoe Maker/Westron Wynde/Scarborough Fair" accompanied by the remarkable Tony Roberts on flute to instill a merry send off.

The Lady And The Unicorn is so outside the realm of rock that the music contained therein makes a group like Renaissance sound almost raucous in comparison, but that's all part of this remarkable album's charm. 4 stars for something that remains truly unique and singular almost 40 years after it conception.

 The Attic Tapes by RENBOURN, JOHN album cover Boxset/Compilation, 2015
5.00 | 1 ratings

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The Attic Tapes
John Renbourn Prog Related

Review by SteveG

— First review of this album —
5 stars Compiled from his earliest known but never released recordings, "The Attic Tapes" is important because it illustrates one of the key influences of the Pentangle sound, the striking "folk baroque" style of finger picked acoustic guitar playing of co-founding member John Renbourn. While often overlooked due to the sheer innovation of folk legend Davy Graham, who slightly predated him, and the charismatic personality of Pentangle co-member Bert Jansch, Renbourn is without a doubt the virtuoso of this trio. His lighting fast combination of finger picking, walking bass lines and bluesy leads and accents, augmented by a battery of alternate open tunings, is as jaw dropping now as it was when Renbourn first appeared on the British folk scene in the early 1960s. This compilation of early Renbourn material that was compiled just months before his passing is as musically enjoyable to listen to as is it's historical importance to understanding the development of British folk music.

First off, from a great sounding private tape recorded in 1962, is an electrifying version of Davy Graham's "Anji" that was recorded a few months before even Graham committed the song to vinyl and even outshines the celebrated version played on Bert Jansch's debut album from 1965. From there, Renbourn does a clinic of presenting many American influenced folk blues numbers made almost into standards by American blues travelers in the UK and Europe at the same time such as "Candy Man", "Buffalo", "Cocaine (Blues)", and "I Can't Keep From Crying Sometime". Indeed, Josh White, Bill Broonzy, Jack Elliott and even banjo player Daryl Addams are filtered through Renbourn's playing along with a smattering of British blues standards such as "National Seven" and driving instrumental "Train Song".

Renbourn's pleasant but limited vocals don't oversaturate this material as several guests such as Beverly Martyn (John's wife), and follow folk traveler Mac MacLeod break up the Renbourn monotony. There's even a fantastic appearance by Davy Graham singing the old American standard "Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out" with Renbourn adding dreamy fluid leads to cap off the song.

The mastering of these great sounding early tapes is first rate resulting in sound quality that is so good that "The Attic Tapes" can easily be played alongside any of the Pentangle albums that were originally issued by Transatlantic Records in the late 1960s. 5 stars for this definitive and great sounding historical document from the late great John Renbourn.

 Another Monday by RENBOURN, JOHN album cover Studio Album, 1966
4.00 | 2 ratings

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Another Monday
John Renbourn Prog Related

Review by SteveG

4 stars John Renbourns' second solo album sets the tone for both his future Pentangle endeavors and his pre Renaissance and pseudo Elizabethan solo outings like Sir John Alot and The Lady And the Unicorn. Renbourn's acoustic playing is virtuoso folk-blues that is tempered by brief forays into psuedo early music like "Ladye Nothinge's Toye Puffe" and "One for William," the latter of which also features oboe. Future Pentangle member Jaqui McShee joins Renbourn on 3 songs but Renbourn's future preoccupation with divergent musical themes would quickly take over his desire to sing and with so much for him to explore in the near future, his limited vocal skills would never be missed. 4 stars
Thanks to kenethlevine for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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