Britfolk lifetime achievers still on form in the studio and live on this fine re-issue.
David Sheppard 2007-07-18
Recipients of a Lifetime Achievement gong at the 2007 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, Pentangle were one of Britain’s first ‘supergroups’ and remain copper-bottomed bastions of UK folk. It wasn’t always thus. Regarded as quixotic mavericks in their late ‘60s/early ‘70s heyday, the combination of finger-picking guitar maestros Burt Jansch and John Renbourn, airy-piped balladeer Jacqui McShee and the nimble rhythm section of Danny Thompson and Terry Cox, birthed a unique and remarkable jazz/folk/pop hybrid which few could emulate. Despite this, Pentangle drew rock and folk fans in droves and even troubled the singles chart before the original line-up hit the buffers in 1973. Versions of the band have regularly regrouped since 1981 and a little over a decade after first re-emerging, founders McShee and Jansch teamed up with lead guitarist Peter Kirtley, bassist Nigel Portman-Smith and drummer Gerry Conway to form what many regard as the most effective, post-‘70s Pentangle incarnation.
The first fruit of the collaboration, the One More Road album, appeared in 1994, garnering healthy reviews. On it, McShee’s crystalline voice showed no sign of wear, lending a luminous soprano yearning to the traditional “Will Of Winsbury” and an uncharacteristic contralto ache to the band composition “Travelling Solo”. Jansch was also on fine form – his distinctive picking style both decorous and propulsive on “Oxford City”, his lugubrious vocals leading the picaresque American pioneering yarn, “Lily Of The West”. Though Kirtley’s sinuous solos occasionally hit the spot, the three new recruits are generally rather anonymous - less integral band members, more supporting players. The album suffers too from its overly clinical, squeaky clean, early ‘90s production – too much reverb, too much gloss, not enough flesh and blood.
Live 1994 is more spirited affair and technically jaw-dropping at times. “Bramble Briar” floats on a lovely tangle of interleaved guitars, instrumental “Kingfisher” is MOR blues-jazz injected with adrenaline urgency and “Sally Free And Easy” is elegantly languid folk rock, with Jansch and McShee’s contrasting voices entwining before Kirtley takes things home with a coruscating solo apparently on loan from Robert Cray. Much of the rest exudes an esprit de corps missing from the studio album and, being the band’s ostensible swansong, provides a more fitting testament to what was, even in 1994, an enduring British musical institution.