Album Reviews

Jacqui McShee’s Pentangle – Feoffees’ Lands

(GJS) UK release date: 16 May 2005

Fully 38 years ago, the original Pentangle was formed by folk vocalist Jacqui McShee, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Danny Thompson and Terry Cox. The band’s fusion of progressive rock, folk and jazz elements innovated its own space during something of a folk revival and by the 1970s had garnered a swell of interest. Then your reviewer was born.

For those who missed Pentangle first time round, sashay forth to the mid-1990s. McShee formed her second Pentangle, this time featuring Fairport Convention drummer Gerry Conway, keyboardist Spencer Cozens and guested Ralph McTell – the latter by now a leading light on the roots scene.

In 2005, Jacqui McShee’s Pentangle are breezing along somewhere just beneath the radar but with five lifetimes of experience and stories to share. The band “tours each year, usually at Easter,” says the press release for new record Feoffees’ Lands. (Can you imagine a Franz Ferdinand release in a similar vein? Me neither.) The almost part-time nature of the band is utterly at odds with the music industry of 2005 for sure. But with Cozens touring with Joan Armatrading and John Martyn, Conway continuing full-time with Fairport and McShee herself still collaborating with Renbourn, they’re far from lazy.

Indeed the approach is refreshing. These musicians have been around the block and have very little to prove – so this current Pentangle comes across as a project instigated for a love of music and a joy in improvisational collaboration, and one that is unlikely to be troubling the album charts. Considering the repertoires of the various musicians involved, it’s no surprise that Feoffees’ Lands is a veritable chocolate box of eclecticism.

Opener Banks Of The Nile sets the pace. A traditional folk song arranged with an experimental jazz sensibility, it sits comfortably alongside Capercaillie‘s wistful moments. Indeed, McShee’s beguilingly fragile yet tuneful vocals remind of Karen Matheson. Capercaillie’s use of piano and synth again bear comparison on Nothing Really Changes and No Sweet Sorrow.

An altogether different beat runs through Acrobat (It’s Just A Circus). Live, this is the band’s current standout track, and thus it proves on the record. Sax parps, piano chords and a freestyle bass underpin expressive delivery from McShee. Guaranteed to get hips swinging, this is as upbeat a number as the album offers.

Cozens takes over vocal duties on Now’s The Time, a piece that sits somewhere between Art Garfunkel and The Jackson Five. Like McShee’s, his vocals are relaxed, unstrained and augmented by all manner of musical phrases delivered by flute, piano and sax.

One of the jazz standards makes for a highlight – You’ve Changed, most associated with Billie Holiday but also covered by Eva Cassidy and George Michael, amongst many others. The arrangement is relatively straightforward and would be quite at home in a smoky jazz bar basement.

The record began with a traditional song and it ends likewise with what begins as an eerie arrangement of Broomfield Hill, a piece covered by Martin Carthy and even Natacha Atlas. They didn’t rock it out pyschedelically like guest guitarist Martin Barre does here though, careering off halfway to territory more usually inhabited by Ozric Tentacles before calm is restored.

While a fascinating record in and of itself, Feoffees’ Lands is intriguing for another reason too – there are so many influences present that one is almost obliged to go and seek them out. Whoever said entertainment and education had to be mutually exclusive?

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Jacqui McShee’s Pentangle – Feoffees’ Lands