John Renbourn

Saturday, April 24; Focal Point

For as long as anybody can remember, fans of English folk music have been younger than the performers of same. This makes sense when you think about it, seeing as how folk music is received wisdom, a carrying on of traditions passed down through the ages. Those of us who listen to this stuff like to believe the fantasy that this is exactly the way it was hundreds of years ago, give or take a microphone and maybe a pick-up added to the guitar.

Even if you could find people who claimed to listen to English folk music before the early 1960s -- and these people have never turned up at any of the many concerts held in St. Louis -- they're likely to insist that it's all been downhill since Ewan MacColl started writing his own songs.

The dirty little secret of English folk music, though, is that most of the stuff we know -- the works of Martin Carthy, the Watersons, Richard Thompson, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, to name the most obvious members of the pantheon -- is at least as influenced by its own time and place as by the music of centuries past. These people are wonderful personalities first, creative musicians second -- and then you can talk about their adherence to the old ways.

John Renbourn is still best known -- alongside Jansch -- for his work in the '60s band Pentangle, which was a supreme folk/rock/jazz-fusion group. Now he's up there in his own sixties, which means he gets to show off his own traditional repertoire. Renbourn's guitar work, always dexterous and improvisational and dazzling, is as wonderful as it ever has been. If we're lucky, in addition to 400-year-old ballads, he'll drop in some of his especially exquisite takes on works by Abdullah Ibrahim or Charles Mingus.

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