Cruel Sister was an album recorded in 1970 by folk-rock band Pentangle. It was the most folk-based of the albums recorded by the band, with all the tracks being versions of traditional songs. Whereas their previous album had been produced by Shel Talmy, and featured quite a heavily produced, commercial sound, Cruel Sister was produced by Bill Leader, noted for his recordings of folk musicians.
“Lord Franklin” is a version of the traditional ballad, also known as “Lady Franklin’s Lament”, which describes Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition to discover the Northwest Passage. John Renbourn sings the lead vocal and plays both acoustic and electric guitar.
“Cruel sister”, the song which provides the title for the album, is a traditional ballad (known in some versions as The Twa Sisters), telling the story of the violent rivalry between two sisters for the love of a knight.
The whole of side two of the album is taken up with an extended version of the ballad “Jack Orion”, previously recorded by Jansch on his own Jack Orion album. “Jack Orion” is a version of the Child ballad “Glasgerion”. The arrangement on Cruel Sister develops through several sections with different rhythms and instrumentation.
The album cover features engravings by Albrecht Dürer. The front cover displays his “The Men’s Bath” (Das Männerbad) (date unknown). The picture on the back cover is his The Sea Monster (Das Meerwunder), dating from 1498. (by wikipedia)
Originally released in 1970, this was the fourth release from the British folk-rock group Pentangle and may qualify as their swan song. With only five songs, Jacqui McShee, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Terry Cox, and Danny Thompson create a dense, layered sound that is woven within the fabric of each song like a tapestry. Although known for their eclectic approach and love of jazz, here the group concentrates on traditional material like “A Maid That’s Deep in Love” and the 18-minute “Jack Orion.” A Pentangle fan will immediately note that John Renbourn is playing an electric guitar on “A Maid That’s Deep in Love.” This departure from purely acoustic doesn’t create a bigger Fairport Convention or Steeleye Span sound but is imbedded quietly into the song.
What really sets both this song and “When I Was in My Prime” apart is McShee’s clear, vibrant vocals. On “When I Was in My Prime,” she sings unaccompanied, proving that her talent runs as deep as the better-known Jansch and Renbourn. The seven-minute title cut also features McShee singing an absolutely lovely ballad with darker undertones. Renbourn sings the enjoyable though straightforward “Lord Franklin.” The crowning jewel of this masterpiece is the epic “Jack Orion,” though one has difficulty imagining what possessed Pentangle to record a folk song that took up an entire side of an album. Jansch shares vocals with McShee on this multiple part song, and generous time is left for Renbourn to turn in a bluesy, then jazzy, electric solo. Cruel Sister shows Pentangle at their artistic height, combining all of their skill and inspiration to create a vital and enduring album. (by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.)
Terry Cox (drums, percussion, dulcitone, vocals)
Bert Jansch (guitar, dulcimer, concertina, recorder, vocals)
Jacqui McShee (vocals)
John Renbourn (guitar, sitar, recorder, vocals)
Danny Thompson – double bass (1, 4, 5)
01. A Maid That’s Deep In Love 5.27
02. When I Was In My Prime 2.53
03. Lord Franklin 3.28
04. Cruel Sister 7.00
05. Jack Orion 18.36
All songs: Traditionals