Pentangle – Basket Of Light – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

This is only the second Transatlantic British pressing of Pentangle’s third album to hit the site, and it’s an exceptionally good one, with Super Hot Stamper sound or something close to it on both sides. It’s also the quietest copy we have ever offered, with impossibly-rare mostly Mint Minus surfaces.

The British Tubey Magic you would expect is here, of course, along with what sounds like Gregorian chant and what is definitely a sitar. Now I ask you, how can you go wrong with a mix of English Folk Rock, Gregorian chant and sitar?

The true foundation of the music is provided by two legendary guitar heavyweights, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. With Jacqui McShee’s almost unbearably sweet vocals soaring above them, this album presents the classic 1969 lineup at its best, with superior

Sweet Child, the followup, does not seem to be as well-recorded for some reason. The first album is positively amazing but we have not seen a clean British copy in years and don’t expect to any time soon.

It’s Acoustic!

Inside the fold-open cover you will read that all the instruments played on this album are acoustic (and acoustic is even misspelled with two ’c’s!)

Acoustic is a good word in my book — the unprocessed folky sound found throughout the album has its audiophile credentials fully in order, especially in the area of guitar harmonics, as well as drums that sound like real drums actually sound. (How many of the ’70s rock albums in our Top 100 have that natural drum sound? Not many when you stop to think about it.)

Bert’s The Man

Bert Jansch is considered one of the greatest acoustic folk guitarists who ever lived. Word has it that he strongly influenced the playing of Jimmy Page, who may in fact have stolen some of Jansch’s best licks. We will leave that controversy for others to sort out; stolen or not, the licks are plenty hot for those of you who like your acoustic guitars complex and folky (as opposed to, say, Cat Stevens’s guitars, which tend to be simple and poppy, not that we love them any less for it).

Previously we had said this about our Reprise copy: “I wouldn’t doubt that the Transatlantic original British pressing might even sound better, but have you ever seen one? I haven’t, and don’t expect to. They’re always thrashed when you find them anyway.”

Well, we found some, and sure enough the best of them really do sound great.

Side Two

A++, with more top end than others we played. The vocals are breathy, and the glockenspiel sounds real and tonally correct.

The bass is thin on track one but good on track two, as usual. A bit more Tubey Magic and this copy would have been right up there with our shootout winner.

Side One

A+ to A++, the reverse of side two, with more Tubey Magic but not all the clarity of the best. Track two is really nice, with breathy vocals and especially natural sounding reverb. A++!

Hi-Fi Free

Notice how there is nothing — not one instrument or voice — that has a trace of hi-if-ishness. No grain, no sizzle, no zippy top, no bloated bottom, nothing that reminds you of the phony sound you hear on audiophile records at every turn. Silky sweet and Tubey Magical, this is the sound we love here at Better Records.

We bash the crap sound found on the recordings of Diana Krall, Patricia Barber and their ilk because we’ve heard records like this and know that THIS is what a good female vocal recording should sound like. There is a difference, and this record will make that difference clear to anyone who cares to play it.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Light Flight (Theme from Take Three Girls)
Once I Had a Sweetheart
Springtime Promises
Lyke Wake Dirge
Train Song

Side Two

Hunting Song
Sally Go Round the Roses
The Cuckoo
House Carpenter

AMG  Review

Although Sweet Child is usually cited as the group’s high-water mark, Basket of Light finds them at their most progressive and exciting. Highlights of this album — which actually reached the Top Five in the U.K. — include the buzzing jazz dynamics of “Light Flight,” their moving rendition of the traditional folk song “Once I Had a Sweetheart,” their reinvention of the girl group smash “Sally Go Round the Roses,” and “Springtime Promises,” one of their finest original tunes.

Pentangle are usually characterised as a folk-rock band. Danny Thompson preferred to describe the group as a “folk-jazz band.” John Renbourn also rejected the “folk-rock” categorisation, saying, “One of the worst things you can do to a folk song is inflict a rock beat on it. . . Most of the old songs that I have heard have their own internal rhythm. When we worked on those in the group, Terry Cox worked out his percussion patterns to match the patterns in the songs exactly. In that respect he was the opposite of a folk-rock drummer.” This approach to songs led to the use of unusual time signatures: “Market Song” from Sweet Child moves from 7/4 to 11/4 and 4/4 time, and “Light Flight” from Basket of Light includes sections in 5/8, 7/8 and 6/4.

Writing in The Times, Henry Raynor struggled to characterise their music: “It is not a pop group, not a folk group and not a jazz group, but what it attempts is music which is a synthesis of all these and other styles as well as interesting experiments in each of them individually.” Even Pentangle’s earliest work is characterised by that synthesis of styles. Songs such as “Bruton Town” and “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme” from 1968’s The Pentangle include elements of folk, jazz, blues, and early music.

Pete Townshend described their sound as “fresh and innovative.” By the release of their fourth album, Cruel Sister, in 1970, Pentangle had moved closer to traditional folk music and begun using electric guitars. By this time, folk music had itself moved towards rock and the use of electrified instruments, so Cruel Sister invited comparison with such works as Fairport Convention’s Liege and Lief and Steeleye Span’s Hark! The Village Wait. Pentangle is thus often described as one of the progenitors of electric folk.

In their final two albums, Pentangle returned to their folk-jazz roots, but by then the predominant musical taste had moved to electric folk-rock. Colin Harper commented that Pentangle’s “increasingly fragile music was on borrowed time and everyone knew it.”

Pentangle (or The Pentangle) are a British folk rock band with some folk jazz influences. The original band were active in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and a later version has been active since the early 1980s. The original line-up, which was unchanged throughout the band’s first incarnation (1967–1973), was: Jacqui McShee, vocals; John Renbourn, vocals and guitar; Bert Jansch, vocals and guitar; Danny Thompson, double bass; and Terry Cox, drums.

The name Pentangle was chosen to represent the five members of the band, and is also the device on Sir Gawain’s shield in the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight which held a fascination for Renbourn.

The original group formed in 1967. Renbourn and Jansch were already popular musicians on the British folk scene, with several solo albums each and a duet LP, Bert and John. Their use of complex inter-dependent guitar parts, referred to as “folk baroque”, had become a distinctive characteristic of their music. They also shared a house in St John’s Wood, London.

Jacqui McShee had begun as an (unpaid) “floor singer” in several of the London folk clubs, and then, by 1965, ran a folk club at the Red Lion in Sutton, Surrey, establishing a friendship with Jansch and Renbourn when they played there. She sang on Renbourn’s Another Monday album and performed with him as a duo, debuting at Les Cousins club in August 1966.

Thompson and Cox were well known as jazz musicians and had played together in Alexis Korner’s band. By 1966, they were both part of Duffy Power’s Nucleus (a band which also included John McLaughlin on electric guitar). Thompson was well known to Renbourn through appearances at Les Cousins and working with him on a project for television.

In 1967, the Scottish entrepreneur Bruce Dunnett, who had recently organised a tour for Jansch, set up a Sunday night club for him and Renbourn at the (now defunct) Horseshoe Hotel in Tottenham Court Road. McShee began to join them as a vocalist and, by March of that year, Thompson and Cox were being billed as part of the band. Renbourn claims to be the “catalyst” that brought the band together but credits Jansch with the idea “to get the band to play in a regular place, to knock it into shape”.

Although nominally a ‘folk’ group, the members shared catholic tastes and influences. McShee had a grounding in traditional music, Cox and Thompson a love of jazz, Renbourn a growing interest in early music, and Jansch a taste for blues and contemporaries such as Bob Dylan.

The first public concert by Pentangle was a sell-out performance at the Royal Festival Hall, on 27 May 1967. Later that year, they undertook a short tour of Denmark — in which they were disastrously billed as a rock’n’roll band — and a short UK tour, organised by Nathan Joseph of Transatlantic Records. By this stage, their association with Bruce Dunnett had ended and, early in 1968, they acquired Jo Lustig as a manager. With his influence, they graduated from clubs to concert halls and from then on, as Colin Harper puts it, “the ramshackle, happy-go-lucky progress of the Pentangle was going to be a streamlined machine of purpose and efficiency”.

Pentangle signed up with Transatlantic Records and their eponymous debut LP was released in May 1968. This all-acoustic album was produced by Shel Talmy, who has claimed to have employed an innovative approach to recording acoustic guitars to deliver a very bright “bell-like” sound. On 29 June of that year they performed at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Recordings from that concert formed part of their second album, Sweet Child (released in November 1968), a double LP comprising live and studio recordings.

Basket of Light, which followed in mid 1969, was their greatest commercial success, thanks to a surprise hit single, “Light Flight” which became popular through its use as theme music for a TV drama series Take Three Girls (the BBC’s first drama series to be broadcast in colour) for which the band also provided incidental music. The album went all the way to number five in the charts. By 1970, they were at the peak of their popularity, recording a soundtrack for the film Tam Lin, making at least 12 television appearances, and undertaking tours of the UK (including the Isle of Wight Festival) and America (including a concert at the Carnegie Hall). However, their fourth album, Cruel Sister, released in October 1970, was a commercial disaster. This was an album of traditional songs that included a 20-minute long version of “Jack Orion”, a song that Jansch and Renbourn had recorded previously as a duo. It failed to go higher than number 51 in the charts.