Various Artists

The Pentangle Family

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The Pentangle Family is a beautiful two-disc set that traces the development of the classic folk-rock group Pentangle from the mid-'60s to the early '70s. This collection features a number of songs by Bert Jansch and John Renbourn -- individually and as a duo -- as well as a number of selections by Pentangle. The group grew quickly, adding singer Jacqui McShee to the guitar duets of Renbourn and Jansch, and filling out the rhythm section with drummer Terry Cox and bassist Danny Thompson. It is revealing to hold Jansch and Renbourn's work side by side with Pentangle recordings. Together, Jansch and Renbourn primarily recorded guitar albums; the addition of a rhythm section within Pentangle would inject a dense, layered sound into the group's music. Surprisingly, early songs like "Traveling Song" and "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme" from 1968's The Pentangle show that the group quickly found its course. The lovely vocals, a touch of blues guitar, and perfectly selected material give the group a sound unlike any other folk-rock group in England. The first disc ends with several instrumentals from Renbourn's 1968 solo release, showing an increased interest in renaissance and medieval music. The second disc covers the full flowering of Pentangle, featuring a number of songs from Sweet Child, Basket of Light, Cruel Sister, and Reflection. "Market Song" and "Sweet Child" show that the group played as well live as it did in the studio. McShee sings high above Jansch's deep vocal, creating an affecting contrast. The members of Pentangle also didn't mind foregoing the vocals to show off their instrumental prowess, as on "Hole in the Coal," featuring Jansch and Renbourn trading leads and supported by intense, solid percussion. While this instrumental is bluesy, it also owes a great deal to jazz, with Thompson's bass solo sounding like something straight out of a Charles Mingus recording. "When I Was in My Prime" and "Lord Franklin," both from Cruel Sister, find the band at its pinnacle, delving deep into folk material. Pentangle's later material, such as "Wedding Dress" from Reflection, shows the group changing directions, perhaps losing steam. McShee dropped her high, stylized vocals for this album, and the band approached the material in a fairly straightforward manner. Overall, this collection offers an excellent introduction to the original Pentangle and the early work of Jansch and Renbourn. This is folk-rock at its finest.

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