The Pentangle - Basket Of Light - Review
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critics' view

At the time that I discovered The Pentangle I was part of an acoustic house band in an Irish bar with several older guys who were buried in their acoustic roots. The name Pentangle kept cropping up in amongst the likes of James Taylor, Neil Young, Carole King, The Eagles, Crosby-Stills-Nash, Don McClean, Ralph McTell, and many, many others. I knew about pretty much everybody they were into apart from this mysterious group, The Pentangle, and so, being the inquisitive muso that I've always been, I made it my business to look into what all the fuss was about. I knew I'd probably like them if my fellow band mates did; our tastes were really very, very similar in that sense. However, my discovery was rather unexpected. I got hold of their most commercially accesable album, Basket Of Light, and upon first listen felt like I'd been struck by lightening… …twice. It really was that powerful. Definitely folky, but with middle-eastern influences too, and certain leanings towards Fairport Convention. John Renbourn and Bert Jansch were both semi-familiar names to me, though I had no idea why. Maybe my destiny lay in discovering The Pentangle all along?

The riveting opening track, Light Flight, (which found commercial success as the theme tune to the 70's BBC TV series Take Three Girls) is a hypnotising jaunt built upon a very unusual rhythmical hook. Jacqui McShee's vocal is sublime, giving the track a truly medieval feel, and the duelling guitar parts of Renbourn and Jansch are magical. The climatic harmonies are out of this world; existential almost. Once I Had A Sweetheart is a stereotypical, traditional folk song perfectly executed. Springtime Promises, sang by John Renbourn, is a bright, optimistic track enlarged by some wonderful acoustic playing. Lyke-Wake Dirge - an early English poem concerning the progress of the soul in the afterlife - is almost biblical in its interpretation. The mood is dark, but the harmonies stunningly beautiful.

Train Song is a very middle-eastern sounding lament for the passing of the steam train -essentially British thematically, but wonderfully constructed to demonstrate the broad musical influences on this versatile band. Hunting Song is based on the fascinating story of the magic drinking horn sent by Morgana the Fay to the court of King Arthur, sketching the numerous incidents on its way. Again, the music is entrancing. Such songs show the maturity of these musicians, exploring history lyrically whilst supplementing the story with such accurate sound-scapes. Sally Go Round The Roses is bass driven by the great Danny Thompson - another severely influential musician spawned by The Pentangle, whereas The Cuckoo is another marvellous interpretation of a folk traditional in which McShee's vocal sears. The closing number, House Carpenter, is a haunting Southern ballad derived from the English folk song The Daemon Lover, in which the lover is the Devil personified. It is an uncanny ending to a revolutionary record - one that anybody who has a love for the acoustic guitar should own.

A few years back I met John Renbourn in my local Arts Centre after he had played a gig with Robin Williamson of The Incredible String Band. What a great man! He was very humble, extremely friendly, and seemed to take more interest in asking about my own music than talking about his. He even told me that he'd been sat outside a local cafe having a coffee earlier that day and had spotted me walking by, and said he just knew that I'd be at his gig. The feeling was instinctive. He then told us several unbelievable stories about how he had jammed with Hendrix backstage, before reluctantly signing our records. His modesty was unreal. For a man to have achieved so much, and to have been one of the pioneers of The Pentangle - Britain's finest kept secret in my eyes, and yet so down to earth was just stunning. Basket Of Light is a fabulous reminder of this group's enchanting powers; a wonderful record that can only be described as a spiritualistic experience to hear. A gem.

P. R. Mullen
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Mushy The Beatle' is a classic albums blog run by Paul Mullen of Southport, Merseyside: "I am a dreamer. I prefer to look forward than look over my shoulder. I believe in fate. I believe that humour is the answer to the world's problems. I think that music is the saviour of free spirits such as me." external-link.png

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