John Renbourn and Jacqui Mcshee have performed as a guitar and vocals duo since August 1966. Their association predates Renbourn's stunning folk blues baroque guitar and McShee's soaring voice forming the foundations of Pentangle with Jacqui singing on John's second album ANOTHER MONDAY, released on Transatlantic Records. Apart from reunion tours in 2008 and 2011 John's association with Pentangle ended in the early 1980's, while Jacqui has continued as vocalist in a number of incarnations of what is now Jacqui McShee's Pentangle, but the Renbourn Mcshee duo continued to tour intermittently until John's death in 2015. Apart from a small label live DVD in 2005, the live album AN EVENING WITH is the duos first and sadly only release.
"The Trees They Do Grow High" here performed with vocals from both, dates back to the early days of Pentangle. "My Johnny Was A Shoemaker" is another song that John and Jacqui have performed since the 60's. The guitar from John is fluid, sliding between his distinctive Folk blues guitar style and some decidedly jazzy moments, Jacqui's vocal is intimate perfection. "I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes" written by Blind Willie Johnson is the blues song that John and Jacqui first recorded together on ANOTHER MONDAY. John's guitar still has that drone feel, but the nimble florishes over the top are more poetic and powerful. What Renbourn in 66 called Jacqui's low chorus is even more brooding and powerful. Some blues get better with age and fifty plus years gives the performers and the lyrics gravitas and weight. "Dark Islands" is a poignant traditional tune played with space and grace by John, managing as always to sound like two guitarists, flowing into Joseph Spence's "Great Dreams Of Heaven". "The Nightingale" and performed solo by Jacqui and "The Bonny Greenwoodside" are showcases for her captivating voice, demonstrating her ability to stand on her own and deliver the goods unaccompanied. "Little Niles" was written by Randy Weston a jazz pianist, dedicated to his son Niles originally released on the album of the same name in 1958. John Renbourn has been playing this since forever and it has appeared a few times on live albums and on PALERMO SNOW his final solo studio album. In terms of arrangement, tempo and feel John's version is closer to Dollar Brand's solo piano version than Weston's full band romp, but Renbourn's playing is so characterful and rich that he owns the piece with his use of harmonics, bends and nimble runs of notes. As a masterclass in solo guitar Celtic Folk Jazz it is further evidence of Renbourn's grace, chops and power on his instrument. "Lament For Owen Roe O'Neill" includes "Bunyan's Hymn", "I Saw Three Ships" and "Newgate Hornpipe" from John Renbourn's TRAVELLERS PRAYER studio album. After the airy jazzy "Little Niles" this is beautiful hymn like folk music, Renbourn is fluid and lyrical, clearly possessing at least three hands and captivating for near seven minutes of this utterly charming sequence. There are no song credits, only titles, on the packaging of this album, it was compiled by Joel, John's son and while a captivating set and clearly a labour of love, its difficult not to feel that there are couple of hiccups with titling. Anyone familiar with Renbourn's catalogue will recognise "Come All You Tramps and Hawkers" as also containing a version of Archie Fisher's Lindsay, another favourite of John's. The initial instrumental is beautiful with a suggestion of the fingering and notes of the pipes and the version of "Lindsay" is another joy. "Kokomo" is another duo favourite. John's folk blues guitar is powerful, with some very stident solo passages. Vocals from both are on the money and Jacqui delivers an atmospheric blues growl. "Cruel Sister", title track of The Pentangle album, is a chilling Folk Psych masterpiece with both guitar and voices building atmosphere. "South Wind / The Blarney Pilgrim" is five minutes of space, string bends and sensitive playing with the pensive slow "South Wind" and the sprightly dance of "The Blarney Pilgrim". A masterpiece of playing that Renbourn and the audience are audibly enjoying. "Turn Your Money Green" is a folk blues that the pair first recorded on the 1968 SWEET CHILD album. Written by Furry Lewis in 1928. It reads like a theme song for this duo who delighted audiences and listeners for nearly fifty years, 'stick with me baby indeed'.
Sadly I doubt that this album will be as widely anticipated as The Pentangle's debut, a fact wryly recorded on John Peel's period sleeve notes on that 1968 release, underground hipster taste has moved on, but for fans of acoustic music, folk blues and all things live, this is a delightful record of a two masters of their instruments. My enthusiasm and joy at hearing it is only tempered by the fact that it documents a duo that with the death of John exists only in the past. A jewel of a recording, that sits very well against two musicians strong and exciting back catalogues.
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