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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


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

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

3.17 | 3 ratings
John Renbourn
1965
4.08 | 3 ratings
Another Monday
1966
4.00 | 5 ratings
Sir John Alot of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thynge and Ye Grene Knighte
1968
3.86 | 5 ratings
The Lady and the Unicorn
1970
4.08 | 3 ratings
Faro Annie
1971
4.50 | 5 ratings
The Hermit
1976
4.40 | 5 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
4.00 | 2 ratings
Palermo Snow
2011
5.00 | 1 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
4.00 | 1 ratings
Live in Italy
1998
4.00 | 1 ratings
Live in Kyoto 1978
2018
3.00 | 1 ratings
An Evening with John Renbourn + Jacqui McShee
2019
4.00 | 1 ratings
John Renbourn Group - A Maid in Bremen (Live at Roemer, Bremen, Feb. 14th 1978)
2020

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
 Live in Italy by RENBOURN, JOHN album cover Live, 1998
4.00 | 1 ratings

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Live in Italy
John Renbourn Prog Related

Review by SteveG

— First review of this album —
4 stars This live solo outing of Renbourn is noteworthy as it's one of the rare documents of John in his later acoustic guitar virtuoso and elder statesman persona. In what started off life as probably a bootleg before John claimed it as his own and licensed it off in an official release, John himself guesses that this 46 minute concert recording dates sometime from the 80s. If John was still living I'd formally disagree. After securing a music degree in composition and arranging from Dartmouth College in the late 80s, while improving his playing skills to superhuman levels, this is definitely the John Renbourn of the 90s and beyond.

The former Pentangle member re-interprets his old standbys like "Great Dream From Heaven" and "Sweet Potato" with subtle changes in arrangement while interjecting jaw dropping finger picked leads that would have impressed greats like Davy Graham and Django Reinhardt. John's confident demeaner shines through in his playing. He knows he's one of the greats by this juncture and he's happy to flaunt it, much to the delight of his audience. John's vocals are also more confident, deeper and commanding at this point, which makes the rare appearance of "Lord Franklin" from Pentangle's "Cruel Sister" album all the more poignant and touching. Live In Italy is an important document in the development and growth of John Renbourn, which at this point, looked like it had no end. 4 stars for the content and excellent sound quality.

 Faro Annie by RENBOURN, JOHN album cover Studio Album, 1971
4.08 | 3 ratings

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Faro Annie
John Renbourn Prog Related

Review by SteveG

4 stars The last album ever to be recorded for and released by Transatlantic Records by any of the Pentangle members, Faro Annie is a bit of an unexpected gem. Acoustic guitar virtuoso John Renbourn eschews his fascination with pseudo Elizabethan music and concentrates on good old British folk and American folk and blues songs. Gone also is the guitar virtuosity and chamber like music that made Sir John Alot and The Lady And The Unicorn, respectively, so unique. This time around, the subdued guitar playing has let Renbourn concentrate on his usually lack luster vocals and he got them to really shine on songs like "White House Blues" and "Buffalo Skinners", the later featuring just acoustic guitar and other worldly sitar played by the great man himself. "The Cuckoo" is another song to get the fine spooky sitar treatment. Other standouts are "Little Sadie" and the English folk standard "Willy O' Winsbury", both recorded with mournful fiddle playing by Renbourn's then girlfriend Sue Draheim, with Renbourn doing one of best recorded vocals on the latter.

Old Pentangle mates Danny Thompson, and Terry Cox turn up on double bass and drums, respectively, and add a funky vibe to "Kokomo Blues", "Shake Shake Mamma" and the album's instrumental title track. All are good, but it's the songs with just Renbourn's acoustic or electric guitar, sitar, harmonica and vocals that really shine, and show that Renbourn's depth of knowledge of folk and blues was more than just skin deep. And this album, lovingly played, sung and recorded, demonstrates just how much he loved those genres. 4 stars.

 An Evening with John Renbourn + Jacqui McShee by RENBOURN, JOHN album cover Live, 2019
3.00 | 1 ratings

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An Evening with John Renbourn + Jacqui McShee
John Renbourn Prog Related

Review by SteveG

— First review of this album —
3 stars This live outing featuring old Pentangle stablemates John Renbourn and Jacqui McShee is a warm and cozy trip down musical memory lane. Featuring a few Pentangle folk gems like "Cruel Sister" and "Turn Your Money Green", as well as gems from their own solo albums like "My Johnny Was A Shoemaker" and "Lindsey", this is two old pals showing how much they enjoy each other's company as well as performing together. Both in their mid sixties, the power of Jacqui's voice is not as forceful as it once was and John has developed a weather worn croak, but who cares? These two icons still thrilled the crowd and Renbourn's guitar skills have not diminished one iota. And McShee's acapella renditions of the haunting "The Nightingale" and the "The Bonny Greenwoodside" should give goosebumps to anyone with a pulse So, if your a long time fan, this album is worth owning.
 The Hermit by RENBOURN, JOHN album cover Studio Album, 1976
4.50 | 5 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.

 Live in Kyoto 1978 by RENBOURN, JOHN album cover Live, 2018
4.00 | 1 ratings

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Live in Kyoto 1978
John Renbourn Prog Related

Review by SteveG

— First review of this album —
4 stars Live In Kyoto finds a solo John Renbourn at the height of his solo powers with this mesmerizing and fun live outing. His repertoire was quite predictable at this juncture but a galvanized John even ventured back to a few instrumental classics that he hadn't played in years like "Earle Of Salisbury" and "Transfusion" from his ground breaking Sir John A Lot album. And Renbourn sounds like he'd been playing them constantly for years as his playing is letter perfect and sounds a bit better than the studio versions, unbelievably. Old standards like "Candy Man", "Anji", and "I Know My Babe" sound wonderful and the enthusiastic Japanese audience really adds a great vibe to this wonderfully recorded live outing. 4 stars.
 John Renbourn by RENBOURN, JOHN album cover Studio Album, 1965
3.17 | 3 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.

Thanks to kenethlevine for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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