Box set showcases criminally overlooked band
Pentangle's music never fit within well-defined musical categories. As its many-sided name suggests, the group incorporated elements of traditional British folk music, blues, jazz and '60s psychedelic jams into a heady mix that sometimes led to puzzling conundrums: opening gigs for Alice Cooper, Charles Mingus covers featuring glockenspiel, 20-minute extended improvisational workouts on centuries-old murder ballads. With a lineage like that, it figures that they're great—and virtually unknown. With any luck, The Time Has Come will restore them to the prominence they deserve.
Though overshadowed by better-known contemporaries Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, Pentangle spearheaded the Trad revival of the late '60s and early '70s. And as this 4-CD box set amply illustrates, they defined the hoary template and then took the music to timeless, marvelously inventive places. Comprised of a jazz rhythm section, requisite folk thrush Jacqui McShee, and two superb albeit very different guitarists in medieval enthusiast John Renbourn and alternate-tunings maestro Bert Jansch (who taught Nick Drake a thing or two), Pentangle obliterated boundaries at every sonic turn.
This box set splits the difference between the career overview for newbies and the rarities/outtakes approach for hardcore fans. All of the group’s best-known songs are here, though at times in live or alternate versions. It’s a generous five hours of music, during which you’ll hear about half the tracks from the group’s six studio albums, the entire 1968 Royal Festival Hall concert (portions of which appeared on the band’s second album, Sweet Child), and several tracks from Renbourn and Jansch solo albums. It’s a fine primer, and longtime fans will appreciate the previously unreleased tracks from early-’70s TV appearances and long-forgotten soundtracks. Although the sound quality is somewhat dubious, there are incandescent takes on “Tam Lin” (same words, but very different music from the well-known Fairport Convention version) and “Pentangling,” an extended improvisation that showcases Renbourn and Jansch in full flight. With neo-folkies like Beth Orton and Devendra Banhart appearing on and championing the latter-day Jansch albums, the release of this box couldn’t be more auspicious. Want to discover a great band? The time has come.