I remember the first time I heard this album. My thought at that time was: “what the hell is this doing in the rock section?” I still find myself at a loss as to what genre of music Pentangle make, but I am still in love with the sounds of this album. Pentangle was five world-class musicians making beautiful music in keeping with the musical traditions they were schooled in themselves: traditional English folk, jazz and popular music. Guitarists and vocalists John Renbourn and Bert Jansch were already highly respected folk guitarists before Pentangle began, but by the time they released their third album Basket Of Light in 1969 they had managed to take their traditional musician’s musician reputation to a much wider audience thanks to touring, radio and vocalist Jacqui McShee’s unbelievably beautiful voice. So they were a success making non-commercial music yet they used the apparatus of rock music to become famous. I’m sure I heard about them on KFML radio or in the pages of Rolling Stone. No matter how it happened, I distinctly remember being stunned by the sophisticated musicianship and downright “adult” flavor of the album.
Beginning with the minor hit “Light Flight” the band sets the stage for a hypnotic excursion around the world of music. Folkish leanings are undercut by the complex interlocking guitar parts of Renbourn and Jansch, whose playing is always technically amazing, but maintains a light breezy touch lending all the songs a relaxed feel. The mood never goes south as they wend their way through various idioms, incorporating an avant-jazz bass break, traditional Christian hymns, medieval dirges, and a stunning take on the mysterious American R&B classic “Sally Go Round The Roses.” Originally recorded in 1963 by the unknown girl-group The Jaynetts, “Sally Go Round The Roses” is one of those magical songs that has a certain quality; indescribable, unforgettable, and unlike anything else. It is hard to imagine another group taking on such a singular achievement and succeeding, but Pentangle make the song their own, with Jacqui McShee’s soaring voice replacing the swampy mystery of the original with a clear beauty that lends a new and thrilling element to an already great song.
I love rock music. I tend to hold it above all other music. But in my heart of hearts I have always held out an understanding that there are other types of music that replace the visceral excitement and youthful energy of rock with studied virtuosity and advanced understanding of musical theory. Pentangle remarkably find an intersection between these two roads. They make easily listened to music that allows the listener to go as deep as they want. If you want to leave them in the background as a pretty accompaniment to your day, this album perfectly fits that bill. However if you want an audiophile experience with the highest level of musicianship imaginable Basket Of Light is a never-ending source of joy.
--- Paul Epstein