Pentangle was widely perceived as past of the British folk rock movement which arose in the latter half of the 1960s. However, the group was far more eclectic than the leading exponents of the genre—most notably, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, and Lindisfarne—with a recorded repertoire that spanned jazz, blues, Indian ragas, traditional English folk music, and self-penned pop-rock material.
This eclecticism was largely the result of the diversified backgrounds of the group members. Pentangle’s music featured the interplay of two acoustic guitar virtuosos, Bert Jansch and John Renbourne. Jacqui McShee’s unadorned vocals possessed a crystalline purity which effectively conveyed the emotional depth of traditional folk ballads; the fact that Jansch and Renbourne were also very capable singers made possible the inclusion of additional colors and textures. Bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Terry Cox provided a jazz-inflected underbelly to the overall group synergy. The dynamic blend of these sometimes disparate elements in The Pentangle (Reprise 6315; 1968; #21 UK, #192 US) opened a new direction for the British folk scene.
Although later releases failed to measure up to the promise of the debut LP, Pentangle’s sheer musicality and inherent good taste ultimately redeem them all. The double album, Sweet Child (Reprise 6334; 1969), employs a half-studio/half-live format. The solo segments provide much insight as to the respective contributions of each member. The jazzy, improvisational feel of these early works is largely absent from Basket of Light (Reprise 6372; 1970; #5 UK, #200 US); a more standardized folk-rock approach tends to dominate most the tracks.
The group’s best-known recording, Cruel Sister (Reprise 6430; 1970; #51 UK, #193 US), revealed the encroachment of progressive rock values. Side two of the original disc consisted of an extended suite-like treatment of the traditional ballad, Jack Orion. Despite fine musicianship and the use of varied instrumentation (including wind instruments and muted electric guitars), the critical consensus held that the piece failed to sustain interest. Later albums—Reflection (Reprise 6463; 1971; #183), Solomon’s Seal (Reprise 2100; 1972; #184), and Pentangling (Transatlantic 29; 1973; compilation of earlier material; not issued in U.S. until 1977)—saw the group revert back to a more predictable song set format. Although more original material began to appear, most of it lacked the distinctiveness of the classic folk material.
Since Pentangle’s breakup in 1973, individual members remained active in the music business. Jansch and Renbourne, in particular, issued a considerable number of critically acclaimed solo albums. The original group members got back together to record Open the Door (Varrick 017; 1985). Jansch and McShee—along with a shifting lineup of supporting players—kept Pentangle going until the mid-1990s. McShee has continued to use the name within the context of what is essentially a solo career.
|Back to Folk Music||Back to Table of Contents|