Pentangle: The Albums: 1968-1972 CD Box Set Review

When it comes to reissues, there are few companies out there to rival how consummately well Cherry Red Records does it. The company’s mouthwatering catalogue, encompassing their various sub-labels, is truly astounding these days and seems to get even better and more expansive by the month.

The attention to detail that Cherry Red lavishes on its releases gives collectors that vital inner confidence that they will always be getting a quality product, often supported by excellent booklets and essays and other worthwhile bonus material.

Pentangle devotees should therefore be thankful that it was Cherry Red who compiled this magnificent box set; the first time their albums have ever been presented in a deluxe package of this nature. Initially released to coincide with their 50th anniversary in 2017, Pentangle: The Albums: 1968-1972 has mercifully been recently repressed so that anyone who missed it initially can make up for lost time. And I heartily recommend that anyone with even a passing interest in this hugely influential band acquires it.

Very reasonably priced at £39.99 via the Cherry Red website, this is an exemplary 7-CD set that has been beautifully remastered from original tapes and vinyl.

It’s impossible to imagine any future releases sounding better. The sonics are just stunning, with wonderful midrange clarity and superb top and bottom end extension. As good a recent example of just how far 16/44 digital has progressed that I can think of.

These versions truly rival the original vinyl. I can, for example, just as easily listen to the box set version of Basket of Light as I can my original LP pressing. With the considerable benefit of the bonus material, I find myself playing the CDs more often than not these days.

Offered in an attractively designed box with a slide-out container, each album is presented as a miniature replica of the original vinyl artwork, in gatefolds where applicable. This is something that I’ve come to love with CD reissues in recent years, completely addressing old criticisms about the inadequate way CD used to be presented. The artwork on each CD also makes it look like a miniature LP; wonderful attention to detail.

To accompany what will inevitably be many happy hours of listening to this set, there’s a superb 88-page booklet with over 20,000 words of sleeve notes, including a Q&A with band members, some very readable essays, a timeline and details of each track across the following albums: The Pentangle, Sweet Child, Basket Of Light, Cruel Sister, Reflection and Solomon’s Seal. A complete set of the six original Pentangle albums between 1968 and 1972.
Better yet is the inclusion of a wide range of bonus tracks on each album, 22 of which have never been previously released!

Irrespective of its modest physical footprint, this is one of those box sets that almost takes your breath away on initial unboxing, as it is pretty much a dream come true for any Pentangle fan, arguably folk’s first ever “supergroup”, bringing together the legendary Bert Jansch and John Renbourn on guitar, Danny Thompson‘s peerless bass playing, Terry Cox on drums and the unique singing talents of Jacqui McShee.

Your voyage through Pentangle: The Albums: 1968-1972 is certain to reinforce the inescapable truth that Pentangle was the most remarkable fusion of folk, jazz and a wide range of other musical styles. Utterly timeless music, and yet this box set is a most timely reminder of the fact.

And while it’s undeniable that the first three Shel Talmy produced albums are the most essential, there’s much to enjoy on every album here, particularly the extremely versatile repertoire on 1971’s Reflection and their excellent final offering Solomon’s Seal. And let’s not overlook the epic and unmissable Jack Orion on Cruel Sister from 1970.

The eponymous debut album was a bold statement of intent at the close of that most storied year of 1967. There was nothing quite like it beforehand and it certainly helped to pave the way for many bucolic folksy explorations to follow in the rock scene, most famously including Led Zeppelin’s acoustic excursions and the entire output of Jethro Tull, of course.

1969’s Basket of Light, top five in the UK, speaks for itself and is a wonderfully balanced set of all that was best about The Pentangle, including Light Flight, arguably their most well-known song.
And yet it’s the 1968 double live/studio album Sweet Child that, for me, towers above it all as the best overall representation of what the band was all about.

The box set version of Sweet Child is just superb, with wonderful extra tracks that seem so integral to the fabric of the album that it’s now impossible to imagine listening to it without their significant augmentation.

In summary, this is an utterly faultless collection for fans and will doubtless expand the appreciation of The Pentangle, who were around for a relatively short time span, but who made a massive impact on the contemporary music scene during, and indeed beyond, those all too short years.

While Cherry Red’s curation of these albums is far beyond any criticism, it would have perhaps been the perfect final touch to include a DVD with some of the really interesting live material that exists, as is increasingly common in today’s box sets. But there can be no complaints. I’m exceptionally proud to have this in my collection. Don’t miss it!

Chris Wright | Now Spinning Magazine

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