First, let me say that John Renbourn is one of the best fingerstyle guitarists in the world, enormously influential in England especially (along with Bert Jansch, Martin Simpson, Wizz Jones, and Davy Graham). This album is a really good example of “Folk Baroque,” a term that was originally applied to Davy Graham’s pioneering explorations of British and American folk, blues, Indian raga, jazz harmonies, North African tunings and Middle Eastern rhythms, all cyphered through his complex and inventive fingerpicked guitar. John Renbourn was indelibly influenced by Graham, and crafted his own style which incorporates the above styles as well as classical and early music. As a member of Pentangle, he showed that folk-rock could be much more than playing folk songs on electric instruments, and that folk music could be played like jazz and vice versa.
The John Renbourn Group leans more towards medieval and renaissance folk than Pentangle, though the presence of Jacqui McShee’s soaring vocals capture the best of Pentangle’s folk side. With flute, dulcimer and tablas accompanying John Renbourn’s guitar, this group sounds unlike any other, and yet is very familiar at the same time. The a-capella ballads are haunting beyond words, bringing to life the ancient, eternal stories they tell. The instrumental numbers are equally captivating, revolving around modal melodies and circular rhythms. Even the phase-shifted dulcimer on “The Month of May is Past / Night Orgies” is tasteful, and is more psychedelic than most everything coming from psych-rock bands of the time. The John Renbourn Group understood how to use the pulsating effect of drones as a counterpoint to melody, so the music is free to expand into different dimensions while remaining anchored to a heartbeat. This music is magic; it weaves a spell. Listen, and you’ll see what I mean.
The John Renbourn Group – Live in America
Label: Flying Fish
listen, and see what i mean. [link updated Oct 2010!]
mp3 320 | w/ cover (by Eric Von Schmidt!) | 159mb
and check out john-renbourn.com, for many fine cds and tour dates
and here’s an article about the connections between Music and the Magi of Renaissance Europe, with more information about the Kabala and astrology than you’ll want to know.