Pentangle

The Pentangle

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There's something exciting about the first album of a band that goes on to greatness, and The Pentangle, by the group of the same name, is no different. Here, the listener witnesses the first studio work of a band struggling to get their essence down on vinyl. Of course Bert Jansch and John Renbourn's reputations as guitarists preceded the band, but the addition of bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Terry Cox gave the band an acoustic rhythm section like no other folk-rock group. Singer Jacqui McShee became the last piece of this intricate English puzzle, delivering high, expressive vocals that contrasted and merged so well with Jansch's deeper pipes. The group doesn't hold back on their first outing. On "Hear My Call" McShee offers a dreamy vocal, floating high above the bluesy guitars. The soaring vocal and firmly grounded rhythm highlight one another, creating a carefully layered sound that is present in all of Pentangle's best music. This dynamic works equally well in "Pentangling," with McShee and Jansch's voices combining light and dark shadows to concoct a strangely atmospheric harmony. The rocking and rollicking "Way Behind the Sun" is another standout, and the instrumentals "Bells" and "Waltz" are complex and lively. The album's spacious arrangements take full advantage of stereo, mixing instruments to different tracks so that the listener, for instance, can always hear Jansch's guitar on one side and Renbourn's on the other. This group, it seems, had it all. Equally comfortable with traditional songs, instrumentals, and originals, they made few missteps on their early albums. Like Fairport Convention and the Incredible String Band, Pentangle specialized in updating British Isles' folk music. The Pentangle, re-released on CD in 2001 with seven bonus tracks, is a dazzling debut and a must-have for fans of English folk-rock.

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