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Posts tagged ‘Pentangle’

Fifty Year Friday: Spirit, Led Zeppelin, Turtles, Pink Floyd, Renaissance, Pentangle

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Spirit: Clear

Spirit probably would have made the big time if they had played at Woodstock as planned, possibly right before Hendrix and his band played the festival’s last set. As it was, the band ended up going on a a multi-venue promotional tour. To make matters worse, lead guitarist/singer/songwriter Randy California  who had previously played with Jimi Hendrix for three months (it was Hendrix that give the originally named “Randy Wolfe” the new last name of California to distinguish him from Randy Palmer whom Hendrix named “Randy Texas”) and drummer/singer/songwriter Jay Ferguson begin to have differences of opinions on the style and direction of the band.  In the middle of all of this,  Spirit released their third studio album, Clear, an album with elements of early prog, blues-rock and psychedelic rock.  “Dark Eyed Woman” is probably the best known track, but the album contains two quality instrumentals on side two and has generally good, though not world-changing, material overall and some quality guitar work from Randy California.

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Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin II

On October 22, 1969, Led Zeppelin released their second studio album, more polished and musically interesting than their first and a undeniable success commercially, reaching #1 on the charts in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, Spain, Denmark, and Holland. Included is “Whole Lotta Love”, “Living Loving Maid”, the passionate ballad, “Thank You”, and “Moby Dick” which features a drum solo that always brought to my imagination the virtuosic dribbling of a basketball. Though Led Zeppelin would get even better, this is a pretty good album, full of energy, life, and creativity.

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The Turtles: Turtle Soup

While newer groups are making significant commercial inroads, some older groups are winding down.  The Turtles released their last of five albums, an album very much in the style of the late sixties, closer to 1967 or even 1966 than late 1969.  That said, this is a fairly decent album with some good acoustic guitar work on the first side. Also of interest, is that the album is produced by The Kink’s Ray Davies, and one can hear this in several songs such as in the opening of “The House on The Hill.”  The most interesting composition is “John and Julie”  which includes added strings that enhance the qualities of the song. The one track on the album to get any notable airplay is “You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain” which shares a few too many similarities with their 1968 hit, “Elenore” — such blatant mimicking of a previous hit, though, is not new for the Turtles, whose 1965 single, “Let Me Be”, followed almost immediately after the success of “It Ain’t Me, Babe”, sounding suspiciously similar.

This final studio album, though, did not mean an end for the Turtles, for their very best songs reflected the sixties so well, that they were not quickly forgotten — this is particularly true of their best song, and only number one hit, “Happy Together.”

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Pink Floyd: Ummagumma

Released on October 25, 1969 in the U.K. and in early November in the U.S., Ummagumma (pronounced “OOH-ma GOO-ma”) is a two record set, the first LP containing material recorded live in April and May 1969 and the second an interesting collection of individual contributions, both in terms of authorship and performance, from the band.  The first side is an indispensable document of 1969 Pink Floyd live, performing some of their earlier psychedelic space-rock classics, and serves as the main attraction of the album.  The second LP which showcases each band member’s individual efforts, has its moments, but clearly the group is much better together than as isolated soloists. Nonetheless, this set of solo offerings on the second LP is still more interesting than most avant-garde and exploratory music of its time.

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Renaissance: Renaissance

The first iteration of the newly formed band, Renaissance, formed by two former Yardbird band members, Keith Reif and Jim McCarty, released their very first album in October 1969. From the start, with John Hawken’s classically-influenced piano, the listener knows this is a special album. Reif and McCarty had tired of the heavier rock sound of the Yardbirds and were looking to blend folk, rock and classical elements — and classically-trained Hawken was a perfect fit for their vision.  Most of the material is has a fresh, progressive tone to it, effectively mixing rock, jazz, folk, pop and classical elements including incorporation of material from Rachmaninoff, Chopin and Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata.

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Pentangle: Basket of Light

Released on October 26, 1968, this is the most commercially successful album for Pentangle and one of their best.  It opens with a Brubeck-like “Light Flight” with its off kilter meter of 5/8 and 7/8 with a 6 beat middle section. Quite the composition, it was the theme for the BBC’s “Take Three Girls” about three young woman in hip and swinging 1969 (to 1971) London.

The rest of the album is a mix of rearranged folk songs and new compositions, all performed beautifully and artfully on acoustic instruments with lead vocals distributed between Jacqui McShee, Bert Jansch, and John Renbourn.   A good album to start with if you haven’t devoted much time listening to Pentangle or wish to enjoy some quality English Folk Rock.

Fifty Year Friday: Spirit, Pentangle

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Spirit: The Family That Plays Together

In November 1968, Spirit follows up their impressive first album with an even stronger and more polished second album, again produced by Lou Adler with arrangements by Marty Paich.

The album starts out with Randy California’s rock classic “I Got A Line On You Babe”, first released as a single a couple of months prior to availability of the album, achieving some airplay on FM radio before later becoming a modest hit on AM.  Full of energy and unstoppable enthusiasm with a aggressive, celebratory guitar work, it represents youthful romantic optimism reversing the viewpoint of that classic Kink’s song “You Really Got Me” but sharing many musical and emotional qualities.

“It Shall Be” is evocatively sensual with flute and wordless vocals alternating in A-B-A-B-A form with a more down-to-earth B section. This is followed by a set of three semi-psychedelic songs by Jay Ferguson, and a country-like tune, “Darlin’ If” composed by Randy California

Side two opens up strongly with “It’s All the Same,” a mixture between psychedelic and early seventies rock, including a brief, relatively uninteresting drum solo in the middle.  The second track, is Caifornia’s “Jewish”, a short but expressive modal-melody pre-progressive track with Hebrew lyrics.  The album ends with with three more Jay Ferguson tracks, each with its distinct identity but all three incorporating elements of the psychedelic era of songwriting;  note the intriguing guitar work in the not-always-so-consistently-interesting last track, “Aren’t You Glad.”

Bonus tracks are available on the CD, including the artful, ambient instrumental, “Fog” and two other instrumentals by keyboardist John Locke as well as Ferguson’s sweeping,  gothically dark “Now or Anywhere.” 

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
1.I Got a Line on YouRandy California2:39
2.“It Shall Be”
3:24
3.“Poor Richard”Jay Ferguson2:31
4.“Silky Sam”Ferguson4:57
5.“Drunkard”Ferguson2:27
6.“Darlin’ If”California3:37
Side two
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
7.“It’s All the Same”
4:41
8.“Jewish”California3:23
9.“Dream Within a Dream”Ferguson3:13
10.“She Smiles”Ferguson2:30
11.“Aren’t You Glad”Ferguson5:25

1996 reissue bonus tracks
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
12.“Fog”
  • Locke
  • Cassidy
2:23
13.“So Little to Say”Ferguson2:58
14.“Mellow Fellow”Locke3:46
15.“Now or Anywhere”Ferguson4:20
16.“Space Chile”Locke6:25

Spirit

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Pentangle: Sweet Child

This fine double album, one LP from a live concert in June 1968, and the other from 1968 studio recordings, sparkles with precise, consistently clearly articulated acoustic and vocal passages that nicely blend folk, rock, jazz and classical renaissance elements to provide an engaging audio and musical experience.  Highlights of the live LP include Danny Thompson’s rendition of Mingus’s Haitian Fight Song, the group’s interesting take on Mingus’s homage to legendary Lester Young, “Good Bye, Pork Pie”, and the medley of three renaissance dances. Highlights of the studio LP include the immersive contrapuntal “Three Part Thing”, Jaqui McShee’s rendition of “Sovay”, the jazzy Brubeck-like instrumental “In Time”, the bluesy “I’ve Got a Feeling”, the classic folksy “The Trees They Do Grow High” and the final track of side two, “Hole in the Coal.”  Throughout the four sides the interplay between the two guitars and bass is exceptional.  Additional tracks are available on CD that were not on the original two LP Set.

Wikipedia Track Listing

 

Pentangle

Fifty Year Friday: British Folk Rock

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Continuing the trend of merging rock and British folk music as exemplified by Donovan, The Incredible String Band, and the then relatively unknown Roy Harper, the spring and summer of 1968 warmly welcomed The Incredible String Band’s third studio album, The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter and Pentangle’s and Fairport Conventions first studio albums, both self-titled.

Released in March of 1968, The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter continues much along the lines of the Incredible String Band’s two earlier albums, with Robin Williamson continuing to extend his cache of musical weapons and share writing responsibilities with fellow band-member and multi-instrumentalist Mike Heron.  As on the previous album, Williamson and Heron supplement this recording with additional musicians.

The first time I heard this group was around 1972 from their inclusion in a Warner Brothers’ Loss Leader compilation. Starting around 1969, Warner Brothers released $1 compilation albums of their artists, and these albums were my first exposure to Van Dyke Parks, Pentangle, Steeleye Span, Family, Curved Air, and Martin Mull, and the Incredible String Band.  I remember anticipating what a band called “The Incredible String Band” would sound like and when I got to the track, the next to last track on side two of the two LP set, I was disappointed as I was expecting a large string ensemble or exotic bowed instruments as opposed to a small folk group.

So its only lately again that I have explored the music of Incredible String Band, and for the most part it still isn’t music that excites me. I have avoided including mention of them in “Fifty Year Friday” as I like to stay with albums I really like, but due to the historic importance of this band, its appropriate to acknowledge both them and their third album in this particular post.

The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter certainly includes a wonderful mix of instrumentation and it is peppered with many interesting moments.  The unconventional instrumentation and the use of 24 track technology enhances the underlying compositions and provides a level of sophistication to the music.  Unfortunately, the music is overly repetitive, and not particularly adventurous melodically or harmonically, often suffering from lack of originality (“The Minotaur’s Song” is clearly modeled after Gilbert and Sullivan.)   The highlight of the album is the thirteen-minute “A Very Cellular Song” which incorporates a diverse set of musical components and textures, but unfortunately none sound particularly original and the repetition of the melodies borders on annoying.    The following passage provides an example of this — each couplet is a repetition of the melodic “couplet” and so gets a bit tiring as there is no development or contrast throughout this section:

And I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight,
Lord, I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight,
 
One of these mornings bright and early and fine,
Goodnight, goodnight.
 
Not a cricket, not a spirit going to shout me on.
Goodnight, goodnight.
 
I go walking in the valley of the shadow of death.
Goodnight, goodnight.
 
And his rod and his staff shall comfort me
Goodnight, goodnight.
 
Oh John, the wine he saw the sign
Goodnight, goodnight.
 
Oh, John say, “I seen a number of signs”
Goodnight, goodnight.
 
Tell “A” for the ark that wonderful boat.
Goodnight, goodnight
 
You know they built it on the land, getting water to float.
Goodnight, goodnight
 
Oh, tell “B” for the beast at the ending of the wood.
Goodnight, goodnight.

You know it ate all the children when they wouldn’t be good.
Goodnight, goodnight.
 
I remember quite well, I remember quite well.
Goodnight, goodnight

And I was walking in Jerusalem just like John.
Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.

The quality of lyrics is also a challenge for me.  In some cases the lyrics appear to be written first and the music added as an afterthought and in other cases the lyrics seemed to have been improvised over the music, as if by trial and error, until they sort of stuck.  Overall, I don’t hear an abundance of craftsmanship or refinement in the lyrics or the music.

And so, this is not an album that I find completely engaging.  Yes, there are some  good moments and good music, including the opening track if it was less repetitive, but there is too much content here that comes across as stream of consciousness or improvised inspiration that is then extended and over-repeated.  At a minimum, I expect an album to keep me entranced and ensnared — not covertly coaxing me to consider what else I could spend my time listening to.

That said, this is a critically acclaimed album, nominated for a Grammy and is rated five stars by both Rolling Stone Album Guide and by allmusic.com.  It was also influential for groups like Led Zeppelin and praised by Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and John Peel.  Don’t let my opinion of this work keep you from checking this out yourself.  I encourage anyone that has not heard The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter to listen to it on their streaming music service or via youtube.com at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgQuVeMOyAk .  Please let me know what you think in the comments.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Robin Williamson, except tracks 4, 5 and 9 by Mike Heron.

No. Title Length
1. “Koeeoaddi There” 4:49
2. “The Minotaur’s Song” 3:22
3. “Witches Hat” 2:33
4. A Very Cellular Song 13:09
5. “Mercy I Cry City” 2:46
6. “Waltz of the New Moon” 5:10
7. “The Water Song” 2:50
8. “Three Is a Green Crown” 7:46
9. “Swift As the Wind” 4:53
10. “Nightfall” 2:33

 

Incredible String Band

Additional Personnel

pentangle1l

Pentangle released the self-titled first album on May 17, 1968.  The recording’s production brings out the strengths of the acoustic instruments, emphasizing the instruments individually by closely miking them.  The musicians play crisply and with distinction and the vocals fit in very nicely  This album blends folk with jazz and blues techniques and elements,  intermingling traditional tunes with originals, like the excellent “Bells”, creating vital and refined music that is a joy to listen to.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. Let No Man Steal Your Thyme Traditional 2:37
2. “Bells” Pentangle 3:52
3. “Hear My Call” The Staple Singers 3:01
4. “Pentangling” Pentangle 7:02

 

Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
5. “Mirage” Bert Jansch 2:00
6. “Way Behind the Sun” Traditional 3:01
7. Bruton Town Traditional 5:05
8. “Waltz” Pentangle 4:54

 

Pentangle

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Released sometime in June 1968 in the UK, but sadly not available in the US until 1970 except as an import, Fairport Convention’s first album is as much of a rock album as a folk album, blending folk and rock elements convincingly and effectively with use of both electric and acoustic instruments. We have some fine tracks with electric guitars and electric bass, as with the case with the first two tracks, which are really unlike anything else at the time — sounding more like early 70’s rock — and we have some  excellent acoustic work, most notably the fourth track of the album, “Decameron.” Overall, this is a strong, impressive album with some weak spots, like the last three tracks at the end of side two.

My definition of progressive rock is a rather broad one. I will acknowledge any rock music as progressive rock if it pushes past the conventions or boundaries that were generally adhered to by other groups for that time period and makes a convincing music statement while doing that.  I also lean towards considering rock as progressive rock if it is exceptionally excellent and worthy of being mentioned with other great music of previous generations.   For me, “Yesterday”, “Here, There and Everywhere” and “Eleanor Rigby” are included with “Strawberry Fields”, and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” as progressive rock, even though one could argue “Yesterday” is no more a rock song than Cole Porter’s “Night and Day.”

Then there is the style of progressive rock considered as a genre and exemplified by groups like Yes, King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator, and Gentle Giant.  Decades later there have come about a number of groups that imitate these groups,  some of them creating high quality music, but without adding much new or stretching the boundaries of the original music that influenced them.  These groups are also categorized as progressive rock, or sometimes neo-progressive rock.  I would be hesitant to call such music progressive rock unless it really is saying something new or extending into previously unexplored or rarely explored territory.

The instrumental interlude in Fairport Convention’s “Sun Shade” and the instrument introduction to the next track, “Lobster” not only fit my personal definition of progressive rock, but, I think, would have to be classified as being music of the progressive rock genre. In fact, if one thinks strictly in terms of the music of progressive rock landmarks like King Crimson’s “In the Court of the Crimson King”,  one can listen to instances like Vanilla Fudge’s “That’s What Makes a Man” mentioned in last week’s Fifty Year Friday’s post , the Nice’s first album, and the instrumental introduction to “Lobster”, and hear not just the seeds of the progressive rock style, or music that some label as “proto-prog”, but clearly hear the “progressive rock” style of music, set in motion by the progressiveness of earlier efforts from the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, not to mention the earlier progressive contributions of jazz, big band music, be-bop, cool jazz, and hard bop.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Time Will Show the Wiser” Emitt Rhodes 3:05
2. “I Don’t Know Where I Stand” Joni Mitchell 3:45
3. “If (Stomp)” Ian McDonaldRichard Thompson 2:45
4. “Decameron” Paul Ghosh, Andrew Horvitch, Thompson 3:42
5. Jack O’Diamonds Bob DylanBen Carruthers 3:30
6. “Portfolio” Judy DybleTyger Hutchings 2:00

 

Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
7. Chelsea Morning Joni Mitchell 3:05
8. “Sun Shade” Ghosh, Horvitch, Thompson 3:50
9. “The Lobster” George Painter, Hutchings, Thompson 5:25
10. “It’s Alright Ma, It’s Only Witchcraft” Hutchings, Thompson 3:12
11. “One Sure Thing” Harvey BrooksJim Glover 2:50
12. “M.1 Breakdown” Hutchings, Simon Nicol 1:22

 

Fairport Convention

Additional Personnel

  • Claire Lowther – cello
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