Amongst the artists who, to a greater or lesser extent, explored ways to marry traditional British folk with the energy of rock in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and Pentangle stand out as three of the most memorable. But while Fairport and Steeleye would move further towards a rock aesthetic, Pentangle remained driven and defined by the sound of two acoustic guitars, courtesy of Bert Jansch and John Renbourne. Electric instruments and driving drums weren't uncommon on classic albums including Basket of Light (Reprise, 1970) and Cruel Sister (Reprise, 1970), but the overall ambience remained largely unplugged.
A decade after breaking up the mid-1970s, founding members Jansch, vocalist Jacqui McShee, bassist Danny Thompson and percussionist Terry Cox reformed Pentangle, lasting, through a number of personnel changes, for another decade. Hux's remastered reissue of Pentangle's final two albumsthe studio recording One More Road (Permanent, 1993) and Live 1994 (Hypertension, 1995)as a two-CD set is a reminder that this latter-day incarnation of Pentangle, also featuring bassist Nigel Portman-Smith, guitarist Paul Kirtley and drummer Gerry Conway (an alumnus of both Fairport and Jethro Tull), was just as compelling as the group in its popular heyday.
One More Road mixes original writing (collaborative efforts from the entire group) with creative arrangements of traditional songs including the gentle "Oxford City, the haunting ballad "The Lily of the West and the lilting "High Germany. McShee's voice is reminiscent of Clannad's Maire Brennan (Brennan's brother Paul guests, in fact, on "High Germany ), but with Pentangle's blending of jazz and blues overtones, she's a looser singer. Still, on the a capella traditional tune "When I Was in My Prime, McShee uses the power of nuance to deliver a mesmerizing performance.
Kirtley gets plenty of opportunity to shine on Live 1994, and though he's not as distinctive a player as, say, Fairport's Richard Thompson or Jerry Donahue, he's still an inventive soloist and in-touch accompanist. It's Jansch's bright acoustic guitar and raw voice that, alongside McShee, draws the clear line between mid-1990s Pentangle and earlier versions. Differentiating itself from its contemporaries in any decade, Pentangle's take on "Come Back Baby a straight-ahead acoustic bluesfeels completely authentic, while the group-composed "Meat on the Bone is a logical descendent of Van Morrison's jazz-tinged "Moondance.
Throughout both discs, Portman-Smith's sinewy and elastic fretless bass meshes perfectly with Conway, a drummer whose career has been defined by making the deceptively simple consistently interesting.
With both albums only receiving brief runs and limited distribution, they've been unfairly relegated to obscurity. Thanks, then, to Hux's Brian O'Reilly for reviving two fine albums that show 1990s Pentangle to be just as engaging as its better-known 1970s line-up.
Personnel: Gerry Conway: drums; Bert Jansch: guitar, vocals; Peter Kirtley: guitar, vocals; Jacqui McShee: vocals; Nigel Portman-Smith: bass, piano, vocals; Mike Piggott: violin (CD1#4, CD1#6, CD1#8); Paul Brennan: whistle (CD1#6).