Guitarist Paul Tasker and singer Iona Macdonald have quietly been building up a reputation as a class act folk duo locally since their humble beginnings on the Danny Kyle stage at Celtic Connections a few years ago. Garnering praise from the likes of The Willard Grant Conspiracy's Robert Fisher, they have contributed to the latest Willard Grant album and Macdonald has joined him on tour. Taken under the wing of producer Malcolm Lindsay (who provides the string arrangements and keyboards here) their debut album is a collection of songs displaying some of their oft quoted influences (Bert Jansch, Fairport Convention) although precious little of Gillian Welch. This is a very polite, (anglo) celtic album where precise diction, control and poise are all to the fore and The Pentangle's angular intellect appears to be more akin to this than, say, Fairport's raggle taggle music.
That said, there is much to admire here. The arrangements and playing are excellent. Tasker excels at times on guitar and there is no doubting Macdonald's vocal skills. There is no quibble about the resemblance to the late Sandy Denny on a song such as "Pilgrims Tale" but this should be seen as a bonus, not a distraction. This song displays all that is good about the album - rippling guitars, tenebrous strings (a whiff of Nick Drake and Robert Kirby methinks), a song to sink into, powerful and enveloping. The following song "On My Mind" is more of the same only better with percussive slide guitar and some wonderful, understated piano chords.
The majority of the songs here are slow paced ballads that, live, would demand a hushed respectful silence. When the pace quickens it never really moves beyond a trot and that is a minor failing of this album. The jazzy "Happiness" for example, fails to swing. A spell with a more rootsy line up could add a much needed sense of ribaldry and adventure that is sadly missed here.