Saturday, 6 August 2016

"Basket Of Light" by PENTANGLE [feat John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, Jacqui McShee, Danny Thompson and Terry Cox] (2001 Essential/Castle Music 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster) - A Review Of Mark Barry...







"...Once I Had A Sweetheart..."


Like their contemporaries Fairport Convention - the sheer numerical talent that made up London's PENTANGLE was always going to produce something special - and a lot. Our motley crew of English tune-weaving gypsies numbered five - technically brill and influential Guitarists John Renbourn and Bert Jansch, a Vocalist in Jacqui McShee that would be mentioned in the same saintly breath as Sandy Denny and a truly dynamite and innovative rhythm section in Bassist Danny Thompson and Drummer Terry Cox.

Both Renbourn and Jansch had been producing much-lauded straight up Folk LPs on Transatlantic Records since 1965 - so by the time they reached their 3rd fusion of Folk and Jazz in Pentangle's "Basket Of Light" - like the Fairports in 1969 - the arrangements - the playing - the production - it all came together. Both bands seemed to be on creative fire. Blighty buyers even rewarded the accomplished but unusual "Basket" LP with a No. 5 chart placing - their highest commercial posting – something none of their other LPs would ever come close to.

And re-listening to "Basket Of Light" on this rather cool Essential/Castle Music CD reissue from 2001 and I'm reminded of the sheer talent on display here. Bit of a forgotten gem that needs to be polished off again methinks. Let's get 'Sally Go Round The Roses' one more time good townsfolk of Surbiton (if the shrubbery will forgive us). Here are the details...

UK released July 2001 (reissued March 2008) - "Basket Of Light" by PENTANGLE on Essential/Castle Music/Sanctuary CMRCD207 (Barcode 5050159120727) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD of the 1969 LP with Four Bonus Tracks and plays out as follows (53:21 minutes):

1. Light Flight (Theme From "Take Three Girls")
2. Once I Had A Sweetheart
3. Springtime Promises
4. Lyke-Wake Dirge
5. Train Song
6. Hunting Song [Side 2]
7. Sally Go Round The Roses
8. The Cuckoo
9. House Carpenter
Tracks 1 to 9 are their 3rd studio album "Basket Of Light" - released October 1969 in the UK on Transatlantic Records TRA 205 and in the USA on Reprise Records RS 6372. Produced by SHEL TALMY - it peaked at No. 5 in the UK LP charts (didn't chart in the USA).

BONUS TRACKS:
10. Sally Go Round The Roses (Alternate Version)
11. Sally Go Round The Roses (Alternate Version)
12. Cold Mountain - non-album B-side of "Light Flight" issued as a UK 7" single February 1970 on Transatlantic BIG 128
13. I Saw An Angel - non-album B-side of "Once I Had A Sweetheart" issued as a UK 7" single May 1969 on Transatlantic BIG 124 (Reprise 0843 in the USA)

The 8-page foldout inlay features in-depth and insightful liner notes from COLIN IRWIN, the LP's original sleeve notes and musician credits (all acoustic guitars baby) and five grainy black and white photos of our unlikely looking heroes. The history of the songs are explained (the poppiness of "Light Flight" and the continuing beauty of "Once I Had A Sweetheart") and even a bit about the long-forgotten "Take Three Girls" BBC TV Series penned by Terence Brady and Charlotte Bingham to which the album opener "Light Flight" was the theme song (first in colour on the BEEB apparently). Best news though is that enriching all of that song info is a warm and expressive ANDY PEARCE CD Remaster. This is a gorgeous sounding CD and the careful digital transfer has only brought that out in spades (Andy Pearce has handled Rory Gallagher, Frankie Miller, Budgie, Bert Jansch, Thin Lizzy, Wishbone Ash and many more CD Remasters and I’ve sung his praises before)...

Clocking in at 3:20 minutes – the sprightly 'Ba Da Do Da' Folk scatting of "Light Flight" was always going to be a single and it's surprising that Transatlantic took until February of 1970 to issue it. A gorgeous and confident vocal from Jacqui McShee is anchored by brilliant acoustic playing from the dynamic duo of Jansch and Renbourn while both Thompson and Cox play a blinder. It's a mark of the chart diversity of 1970 that it went as far at No. 43 in the UK while Reprise in the USA noticed the LP tanking and didn't bother. Renbourn's Sitar playing and Terry Cox's gentle plinking on the Glockenspiel combine with Jacqui's breathy vocals to produce something as lovely and as mad as The Incredible String Band on the Traditional air "Once I Had A Sweetheart". Even now its hippy-dip soundscapes are magical and touching.

A clever switch away from Jacqui to Bert Jansch as lead vocalist for "Springtime Promises" gives us a jaunty acoustic romp similar to "Light Flight”. "Springtime Promises" is a song with infectious rhythms and loveliness at its centre – like sunshine in the English countryside. We get all monk-like with the 'Christ receive my soul' monastery harmonies of Jacqui, John and Terry combining their three voices to brilliant effect on the ancient Traditional "Lyke-Wake Dirge". You can literally hear John Martyn lusting after the sound of the Side 1 finisher "Train Song" (he used Danny Thompson on so many of his LPs) - a genuinely brilliant Pentangle concoction of Acoustic Jazz meets English Folk by way of the 8:15 express to Dorchester. I love this track - the playing - the combo of Jacqui chanting and Bert on the vocals (love is a basket of light) - those slapped and rattling strings – Danny's fantastic double bass bending ending. "Train Song" is a musical concoction where you’re left feeling like something new has just been made right their in your living room - but you just can't nail down what it is...

Side 2 opens with the group-penned "Hunting Song" which is probably just a little 'too busy' for its own good although the musicianship throughout is awesome. The same applies to the frantic "Sally Go Round The Roses" - a British Traditional that once again gets the Pentangle Acoustic Rhythm treatment and comes out as a hybrid of so many genres. Pretty is the word to describe the final two "The Cuckoo" and "House Carpenter" - Traditional airs voiced by Jacqui - both loaded with Acoustic picking and tingling Glockenspiel notes. Both Jansch and Renbourn elevate "House Carpenter" out of the ordinary by switching from Acoustic to Banjo and Sitar respectively. As the American tale of woe builds and builds  - its five and half minutes is split between Jacqui and Bert on vocals - the instruments swirling around you like a menace...

I love it when Extra Tracks on a CD reissue actually turn out to be genuinely complimentary 'bonuses' and just fan-inducing filler. The two Alternate Versions of "Sally Go Round The Roses" both weigh in at 3:42 minutes where the differences are mainly in the Acoustic Guitar soloing going on in the fore and background (both sound awesome too). The "Cold Mountain" B-side is sung by Jacqui and (I think) John and is a blast to hear after all these decades. Better is the strange but brilliant Bert Jansch led "I Saw An Angel" - a very cool combo of Acoustics and Drums with Jacqui wailing her head off in yonder distant studio corner. 

Although it reached No. 5 back in the day - in 2016 you can't but feel that the eclectic and genre-inventing "Basket Of Light" is a hippy artefact that's forgotten and overlooked. Pentangle's 3rd studio album was and is brilliant - and I for one would like to shine new light on its weave of delights...

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