Sunday, April 12, 2015
Sir John Alot of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thyng & Ye Grene Knyghte - John Renbourn
Reprise Records RS 6344
The great English guitarist John Renbourn passed away last month much to my sorrow. As I've mentioned in many past posts, I became interested in English folk music following my discovery of Fairport Convention as a teenager. I started with Fairport and branched off into Steeleye Span and Pentangle which is where I learned of Renbourn. This was the first Renbourn solo album that I bought. It was originally released in 1968 in England on Transatlantic Records. At the time I had never heard a record like it. The mixture of folk, jazz and classical in Renbourn's work and his skill and dexterity on guitar impressed me a great deal. Since then I've heard plenty of folk and jazz guitar records and I still think this record sounds pretty amazing. It starts with the courtly "The Earle of Salisbury" which is listed as a traditional song but it is normally attributed to the English Renaissance composer William Byrd. I hadn't heard much music from this era at the time and I adored Renbourn's stately playing of this delicate tune. It prompted me to explore Renaissance music with many happy results and I'm still a fan of that music. The song is followed by "The Trees They Do Grow High" which features Ray Warleigh on flute. Renbourn is listed as the composer but it is a traditional song that is known by many other titles generally featuring the words "Daily Growing." This was the first place that I heard the song, but Renbourn also recorded it with vocals on Pentangle's album "Sweet Child" (which I did not have at the time.) That is my favorite version, but this instrumental one has a lot of appeal, particularly Warleigh's jazzy flute lines. "Lady Goes to Church" was written by Renbourn but it sounds more like something a Renaissance troubadour might have composed. It is very elegant with some remarkable fret work from Renbourn. Side one concludes with "Morgana" which is one of my favorite tracks on the record. It begins with Warleigh playing a Renaissance style air on his flute supported by Renbourn and then Terry Cox joins in on drums and the song takes off with some propulsive runs from the players. They proceed to run through several more Renaissance style tunes all of which are highly engaging. It blew me away as a teenager and it still sends me. Side one focuses on ancient music, but side two concentrates on jazz and blues and is more likely to appeal to rock fans. It opens with "Transfusion" by the jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd and it was originally recorded by the Chico Hamilton Quintet in 1962. Renbourn has retained the frenetic quality of the original with a lot of help from Terry Cox on African drums. Renbourn's fingers are flying throughout the cut. It is one of my favorite tracks on the record and it ends way too soon. "Forty-Eight" is credited to Renbourn and Cox and it is a more sedate track although it still has a jazzy feel to it. Cox plays glockenspiel and drums on it. Renbourn wrote "My Dear Boy" which is a short but kinetic exercise with a ragtime flavor. "White Fishes" is a collaboration with Ray Warleigh who also plays flute on the song. Both men deliver some exciting jazz-influenced runs, it is another stand-out track. Next Renbourn covers Booker T and the MGs' "Sweet Potato." The song lacks the seductive groove of the original but Renbourn increases the tempo slightly and with help from Cox on percussion the song rocks quite nicely. Lots of fun. The album concludes with "Seven Up" by Renbourn and Cox. It is a raga-influenced track with dynamic interplay between Renbourn and Cox that is very invigorating to listen to. A fantastic track that ends the album on a high note. I regret to admit that I've yet to acquire all of Renbourn's solo albums, but this is my favorite of the ones I have. There is not a mediocre cut on it and most of it is simply outstanding, a great acoustic guitarist at the peak of his powers. Between his solo work and Pentangle, Renbourn made a lot of great music that has delighted me for several decades now and for which I am immensely grateful. Recommended to fans of Bert Jansch and Davy Graham.