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John Renbourn - The Hermit CD (album) cover


John Renbourn


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4.50 | 5 ratings

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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.

SteveG | 5/5 |


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