Pentangle – ‘Through The Ages: 1984-1995’ (2022)
1985 saw vocalist Jacqui McShee, guitarist/vocalist Bert Jansch, double bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Terry Cox joined by violinist/guitarist Mike Piggott release ‘Open The Door’, the first new Pentangle album in thirteen years.
The reincarnated band, with numerous personnel changes, would go on to issue six LPs, five studio and one live, in the next eleven years, all of which are compiled in the new boxed set ‘Through The Ages: 1984-1995’ on Cherry Red Records’ Cherry Tree imprint.
Disc one centers around ‘Open The Door’ the first album released by Pentangle without guitarist John Renbourn. Of the LP’s ten tracks, seven were band originals, six credited to the quintet, the seventh to Jansch solely. Also included were two traditionals arranged by the band, and ‘Mother Earth’ a protest tune written by Milton Nascimento, also known as Bituca, a Brazilian singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. The album opening title track is a gorgeously delicate melodic traditional tune, with McShee’s vocals and Jansch’s acoustic guitar aided by Piggott’s violin accents. ‘Dragonfly’ was written in 5/4 time by Piggott to spotlight Jansch’s guitar, with Cox’s drum rolls and Piggott’s violin as complements. ‘Mother Earth’ is Nascimento’s ecological protest tune given new life by Cox’s percussion, Jansch’s smooth acoustic work and beautiful vocal harmonies courtesy of McShee and Jansch. ‘Child Of Winter’ was the first Pentangle tune which McShee wrote both music and lyrics for and features delicate Jansch guitar figures along with haunting vocals by McShee with Piggott adding hints of electric guitar. ‘The Dolphin’ is a poignant tune with Jansch’s acoustic and Piggott’s electric guitars to the fore. ‘Lost Love’ is credited to Jansch alone and features an extended solo by Piggott, whose electric guitar melds perfectly with Jansch’s acoustic. Cox’s ‘Sad Lady’ has a beautiful lead line and solo by Piggott with the writer’s drums and percussion driving the melody. ‘Taste Of Love’ is a folk rock beauty with Piggott’s restrained solo blending with Jansch’s ringing acoustic. ‘Yarrow’ is a traditional tune with McShee’s vocals and Jansch’s guitar carrying the melody and Piggott contributing a gorgeous violin interlude, Thompson’s double bass is tasteful as always, but stands out in particular on this number. ‘Street Song’ opens with a capella vocal harmonies from Jansch and McShee, with Thompson adding a double bass solo, Piggott a violin interlude and Cox gorgeous drum fills, a wonderful ending to ‘Open The Door’. The disc is completed by six tunes from BBC Radio 2’s ‘Folk On Two’ including a take on the folk rocker ‘Bruton Town’, live versions of ‘Dragonfly’ and ‘Yarrow’ from the 1985 LP and ‘Sunday Morning Blues’ an uptempo folk rocker whose subject of hangovers and alcohol abuse was sadly fitting for Jansch’s lifestyle at the time. The disc closes with a take on ‘Is It Real’ from BBC Radio 2’s ‘Nightride’.
Disc two opens with 1986’s ‘In The Round’ the first Pentangle album without Danny Thompson who was replaced by bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Nigel Portman-Smith. Album opener ‘Play The Game’ features Jansch on banjo, with Piggott adding an electric guitar solo. ‘The Open Sea’ is a showcase for Jansch’s acoustic guitar and the tight rhythm section of Portman-Smith and Cox. ‘She Moved Through The Fair’, a traditional tune arranged by the band, focuses on McShee’s vocals and Jansch’s guitar with Piggott delivering a violin solo. Cox’s ‘Set Me Free (When The Night Is Over)’ features Portman-Smith on piano and bass with Cox contributing fine efforts on percussion and DX-7 synthesizer, yielding an Al Stewart feel, with Piggott’s guitar solo reminiscent of Tim Renwick. Piggott’s guitar solo is gorgeous in Jansch/Portman-Smith’s ‘Come To Me Baby’. A studio take of ‘Sunday Morning Blues’ blends Piggott’s electric and Jansch’s acoustic guitars nicely, the latter’s interlude nothing short of stunning. Cox DX-7 interlude highlights his ‘Chase That Devil Away’. Jansch’s ‘The Saturday Movie’ is a cowboy and Indian tale to which he adds a gentle acoustic solo. The band’s arrangement of the traditional ‘Still Agrar’ features Cox on DX-7 and two violin solos by Piggott. ‘Circle The Moon’ returns the focus to McShee’s vocals and Jansch’s acoustic work. The album closes with Jansch’s ‘Let Me Be’, its acoustic guitar and bass line rendering the feel of a tune by America with Piggott adding a restrained electric solo to play the song and album out. The disc is completed by six tracks from a 1987 ‘Nightride’ performance including takes on ‘Bruton Town’ and ‘Circle The Moon’.
Disc three opens with the nine tracks from 1989’s ‘So Early In The Spring’, with Pentangle’s revamped lineup including Gerry Conway on drums replacing Cox, mandolin/electric guitarist Rod Clements taking over for Piggott, and Tony Roberts appearing on flute and whistle. ‘Eminstra’ is a regal sounding tune with Roberts’ flute, Jansch’s acoustic guitar and Portman-Smith’s keyboards and bass contributions standing out, along with Conway’s precise drumming. The title-track is a re-recording with Jansch and McShee in the spotlight and Conway’s 4/4 influence obvious. The tune’s atmospheric melody profits from sprite acoustic accents by Jansch, a tasty electric lead line by Clements and Roberts’ floating flute. ‘The Blacksmith’ again focuses on Jansch’s acoustic guitar and McShee’s haunting vocals. ‘Reynardine’ like the previous tune came to the band from Jansch, this tune appearing on his 1971 LP ‘Rosemary Lane’. Band original ‘Lucky Black Cat’ is an electric folk rocker with Clements’ lead line and Conway’s drums driving the beat, the former’s solo nicely complementing Jansch’s vocals. Another highlight is ‘Bramble Briar’ with Jansch and McShee contributing beautiful harmony vocals, Clements’ electric solo blending nicely with Jansch’s intricate acoustic work and contrasting nicely with the 4/4 timing of the band, in no small part due to Conway’s influence and somewhat to the chagrin of Jansch. The disc is filled out by three tracks from a 1988 Queen Elizabeth Hall performance aired by BBC Radio 2 and two live takes from Maine Raoul’s in Portland, Oregon in 1991 including ‘Child Of The Winter’.
Disc four begins with the 1991 LP ‘Think Of Tomorrow’ with McShee, Jansch, Portman-Smith and Conway joined by new mandolin/electric and acoustic guitarist/vocalist Peter Kirtley and guest Frank Wulff on flute and whistle. ‘O’er The Lonely Mountain’ is a delicate, melodic tune with Jansch’s guitar and McShee’s evocative vocals joined by Kirtley’s gentle electric solo, Conway’s tasty drum fills and Portman-Smith’s keyboard contributions. ‘Baby Now It’s Over’ is a forlorn tune with Jansch’s moody guitar and vocals fitting perfectly. ‘Share A Dream’ is a haunting melody with Kirtley’s electric solo and Portman-Smith’s piano blending beautifully. ‘The Storyteller (Paddy’s Song)’ returns to the gentle acoustic work of Jansch and McShee’s vocals with Wulff’s flute gorgeously evocative. ‘Meat On The Bone’ blends Kirtley’s electric guitar with electric piano from Jansch, the former’s short solo playing the song out. ‘Every Yes, Every No’ is a relaxed acoustic tune with electric guitar accents and McShee’s vocals reminiscent of Joni Mitchell or Sandy Denny, while Kirtley’s solo brings Tim Renwick to mind again. ‘Straight Ahead’ is an instrumental with nice tempo changes and an acoustic solo by Jansch. ‘The Toss Of Golden Hair’ is a delicate melody with Jansch’s acoustic guitar and McShee’s vocals aided by Wulff’s atmospheric flute. ‘The Lark In The Clean Air’ another traditional tune arranged by the band melds Jansch’s acoustic with Portman-Smith’s harpsichord. ‘The Bonny Boy’ is an uptempo folk rocker with Kirtley’s guitar and Conway’s drums and congas leading the shuffle beat, Jansch adding delicate acoustic guitar and Portman-Smith piano accents. ‘Colour My Paintbox’ is another uptempo folk rocker with gorgeous guitar by Kirtley and drum fills by Conway, Jansch’s acoustic guitar and Portman-Smith’s piano giving texture and Jansch’s electric piano interlude the perfect ending for the song and album. The disc’s bonus material begins with four tunes from a 1991 performance at New York City’s Bottom Line including a take on the album’s title track. A 1991 live take from Putney’s Half Moon and the German single remix of ‘Colour My Paintox’ complete the disc.
Disc five opens with the eleven tracks comprising the ironically titled 1993 album ‘One More Road’ on which Mike Piggott guests on two tracks and whistle player Paul Brennan on one. The album has many highlights. ‘Travelling Solo’ is a mid-tempo folk rocker, a gorgeous mix of Kirtley’s electric and Jansch’s acoustic guitars with McShee’s vocals and a hot bass line by Portman-Smith with Jansch capping the tune with an acoustic solo outro. ‘Oxford City’ features a Kirtley solo soaring over the top of Jansch’s acoustic guitar and McShee’s vocals. ‘Endless Sky’ is an introspective singer/songwriter tune with Jansch’s guitar and vocals to the fore, McShee adding backing vocals and Portman-Smith organ. ‘The Lily Of The West’ is a mid-tempo number with Jansch’s ringing guitar and vocals front and center as he sings of Kentucky with Piggott contributing violin and Kirtley an understated solo. ‘High Germany’ and ‘Willy Of Winsbury’ are re-recordings from the original band’s swan song LP ‘Solomon’s Seal’ while ‘Hey, Hey Soldier’ is a showcase for Jansch’s acoustic guitar. The album closes with a beautiful version of ‘Are You Going To Scarborough Fair?’ popularized in the US by Simon & Garfunkel. The tune is a tour de force with Jansch’s acoustic guitar aided by Kirtley’s electric lead, Conway’s drums and percussion and Portman-Smith’s organ, Kirtley adding a crisp, clean solo and Bert’s quirky vocals perfectly suited for the tune. The disc closes with four tracks from a 1994 gig at Whelan’s in Dublin including a take on Pentangle’s classic ‘Light Flight’.
Disc six contains the twelve tracks included on the final album released during Pentangle’s second lifetime, 1995’s ‘Live 1994’. The set opens with a six minute take on ‘Bramble Briar’ with Jansch and Kirtley’s guitars becoming one, the latter contributing a soaring solo as Conway keeps perfect time. ‘Sally Free And Easy’ has Jansch singing as Kirtley plays, McShee contributing vocal harmonies and Kirtley an effortless solo. ‘Kingfisher’ is a breezy jazzy electric and acoustic guitar take with a Kirtley solo bringing to mind Hendrix’s cover of ‘All Along The Watchtower’. ‘Come Back Baby’ features Jansch vocals, with his guitar blending perfectly with Kirtley’s, the latter adding a stunning solo. ‘When I Was In My Prime’ is a melancholy bit of a capella by McShee. ‘Meat On The Bone’ is another light jazzy number with Jansch singing introspectively of his relationship with alcohol, Kirtley again soloing effortlessly. ‘Travelling Solo’ is a gentle take with Jansch’s guitar and McShee’s vocals featured, Kirtley adding yet another tasteful solo. Kirtley sounds like Mark Knopfler on ‘The Bonny Boy’ offering not one, but two solos. ‘Chasing Love’ is a mid-tempo take blending the guitars of Jansch and Kirtley. ‘Cruel Sister’, the title track from an early Pentangle album displays McShee’s vocals and Jansch’s guitar. ‘Yarrow’ is again reminiscent of early Pentangle with Kirtley playing the part of John Renbourn soloing the song out after McShee displays her vocal abilities. The album, disc and box set close with a five and a half minute take on ‘Reyardine’ with Jansch’s tones sounding gorgeous, Kirtley adding tints and colors. McShee’s vocals take center stage before Kirtley’s restrained lead line takes over, the tempo quickening and volume rising as Kirtley solos, Jansch adding perfect accents with his acoustic as Jansch and McShee join together to harmonize before the band joins to play the song out to great applause, a wonderful ending to a wonderful musical collection.
The six discs of ‘Through The Years: 1984-1995’ come in cardboard mini-LP replica sleeves which fit nicely in the tortoise shell box. The set comes with a full color 32 page booklet with complete track annotations, lots of photos of the band and commentary by Jacqui McShee, Mike Piggott, Nigel Portman-Smith and box set compiler Colin Harper as well as liner notes by McShee and Harper. The box set contains twenty eight bonus cuts among its ninety two tracks, and Pentangle sounds better than ever thanks to the mastering job of Eroc at The Ranch. The box set will appeal to fans of Pentangle as well as folk and folk rock music and comes highly recommended.
Pentangle – ‘Through The Ages: 1984-1995’ (Cherry Tree 2022)
Kevin i’m counting on you here. As i said elsewhere, i only know the 60’s and early 70’s.
Since i was often satisfied with your recommendations, i risk it.
I have made various comments in various places, i don’t know if you read them ?
Sorry again for the late response to Hendrix etc… but i was in Germany for a week.
If you like early Pentangle, you’ll really like this Josef. Bert Jansch was as good an acoustic guitarist as I ever heard. Jacqui McShee’s voice is absolutely ethereal, Danny Thompson’s double bass always sounded electric to me for some reason, don’t know how he got the sounds, and Terry Cox was an incredible drummer/percussionist. Where are your other comments? I haven’t seen them. I’d be interested in your feelings regarding the Purple Haze Records Hendrix releases, especially the first 6 or 7. Hope you had a good time in Germany.
Kevin, i have made comments under the following reviews. Slack Gang, Neon Heart, The Animals- Animalism. As you read through you will come across repetitions. A mess, sorry.
I will get the Pentangel at the beginning of next month. Hendrix label Purple Haze and 10 cd studio box i will see what i can get hold of.
All a question of money. I think for this month i spent 800e on cds and lps. Of course i can’t afford that every month. But patience is all a matter of time.
Thank you Kevin for all the good tips.