Monday, 19 January 2015
A Maid That's Deep In Love/When I Was In My Prime/Lord Franklin/Cruel Sister//Jack Orion
What do you do when you've just scored an unexpected hit album without even trying? Sell out? Repeat the formula? Plough on with where you were going regardless? Or pay not the slightest bit of attention in the hope that it will all go away? Well, if we were discussing U2 or The Spice Girls the answer would be obvious - but as we've seen already, Pentangle were not your typical band and their first response to their new found success wasn't 'great - here comes the money and the fame and the two ferraris sitting in the garage' but 'great - now we can really educate the public about our favourite music because whatever we release now is going to sell!' 'Cruel Sister' is as challenging as 'Basket' was accessible, stubbornly one-note in contrast to it's predecessor's rainbow colours and as unremittingly olde worlde as Pentangle ever were (compared to 'Basket', which features shades of just about every 60s genre in there somewhere). Confused, most of the Pentangle fanbase they'd spent so long building up disappeared again, but you doubt whether the band actually cared that much - or even noticed, probably. Pentangle just weren't that sort of a band, despite prestigious gigs at the Albert Hall and two bona fide hit singles and for all the brilliance of 'Basket Of Light' you sense that the tortured, twisted tales of terror and times of long ago is much closer to the 'real' heart of this band. After all, fame is nice for short periods but if you're really in it for the music (and care nothing for the money as Pentangle did) over time it erodes away at your time, your attention span, your direction and your confidence and Pentangle simply had too much to say still to be bothered with any of that. As early as the end of 1969, a few months after the spotlight was shone on them, the band had already had enough of the glare and were preparing to move away into the shadows, slowing down their touring schedule, playing to smaller and smaller clubs and rehearsing ever more complex and challenging music.
In short, 'Basket Of Light' was, more by accident than design, a record that perfectly captured it's times in 1969, with the end of the most important decade in musical history greeted with a mixture of optimism and hope mingled with nervy fear and disarray. 'Cruel Sister' certainly carries on that theme, with five songs reflecting the worry, woe and wonder (alright, I'll quite the alliteration now I promise, positively and profoundly and in perpetuity...) of an era - but of the 1760s, not the 1960s. The band don't write anything on this record, which is all taken from traditional folk tunes - none of them common unless you really knew your folk music inside out back in 1970. In retrospect that seems like the most daring move of their short and daring career, not just because the band are taking a chance on material their audience would have been expected but because they did absolutely the opposite of what every other band in their position would have done: cash in on their fame with an attempt to gain extra royalties. After all, it's not as if 'Cruel Sister' is full of humalong standards like 'Scarborough Fair' or 'Girl From The North Country': 'When I Was In My Prime' features Jacqui McShee singing a capella throughout (a first for a 'mainstream' band!), the title track lasts for seven full minutes and 'Jack Orion' for a full eighteen, complete with turbulent twist after turbulent twist. You have to work to get the most out of this album and, predictably, many a fan and critic have turned round and declared that it just isn't worth the effort. But sometimes, like a cruel sister, you have to be harsh to be kind and ultimately 'Cruel Sister' is more rewarding than a second slightly less interesting repeat of 'Basket Of Light' would have been.
Even the folk direction of this album, whilst always an integral part of the Pentangle sound, was a deliberate move against the current at the time. The early 1970s was all about 'electric folk', the antics of lesser bands like Fairport Convention who did what Pentangle had always done: make the folk more accessible by adding a little rock here, a little jazz here and a touch of blues everywhere. Pentangle started as a similar mixture of styles, but few people listening to this record would have guessed just how many and that conscious move back towards pure folk, then seen as passe' and all rather early 60s, is another example of Pentangle deliberately trying to reduce their following to just a few of their faithful followers. The fact that we only get five songs on this record is also an issue for some, with this album 11th in our 'longest average running time per song of every AAA album' back in News, Views and Music issue 219 (at an impressive seven and a half minutes per track!) and not giving you much choice if you don't happen to like something. As the CD sleevenotes for the album puts it 'Cruel Sister was both old school and outrageously new' - Pentangle being as wickedly adventurous and rule-breaking as they possibly could be, whilst being as overtly traditional as they had ever been.
Thankfully Transatlantic have by now ironed out the problems of the early Pentangle albums (well, certainly the first one - having never owned the second on CD I'm still not sure if things improved on the original or whether there was just some really good digital re-mastering going on) so that, heavy going as it can be, when you're in the right mood there's no better album on which to hear Pentangle at their telepathic best, jamming away as if they're all heading to the same destination despite the map to get there being sketchy at best. Just look at 'Jack Orion', a song done as-live the entire way through, with solos that come from nowhere, shaking the song out of whatever groove it's landed in and taking it somewhere new without a second's pause. Bill Leader has now stepped into the Pentangle Producer's shoes, after a career spent with Shel Talmy, and his natural love of folk as opposed to pop undoubtedly had an influence, although conversely there's also a touch of the jazz from the first album on this record, which was the factor largely missing from 'Basket Of Light'. Most jazz bands would kill to be as polished-yet-raw as Pentangle are here and few of their records are quite as exciting as 'Cruel Sister' to listen to - even if song-per-song this probably their weakest album (in other words, this record is an acrobat with a tatty launching pad and costume - but the aerial display is so great you just don't care!) On paper that should be a problem because the debut album tried a similar tactic and, while many fans do love it, I've always found it a slight bit of a mess (with promising songs ruined by jamming sessions that simply don't move out of their groove), but thankfully this time Pentangle have all sorts of ideas and are much more creative with their arrangements.
The fact that Pentangle are going for five extended songs really allows the band to show off their many great assets in turn, without worrying about the 'songs'. Everyone gets a starring role on this record, which features even more of a 'band' performance than on 'Basket Of Light', with guitar, double bass, drum and even a capella vocal solos scattered throughout this record, like gorgeous patches of block colour weaved cleverly into a much bigger tapestry. When the band try this later the results aren't always so good: one or other of them tends to end up in charge, usually one of the two guitarists. But if this album was a CV it would most definitely read 'works well alone or in a team' for everyone here, with all five Pentanglers at the top of their game. Ordinarily albums full of jamming tend to be difficult periods for a band's main vocalist, but Jacqui probably has more to do here than normal, her gorgeous alto dominating 'A Maid That's Deep In Love' and 'Cruel Sister', while Jacqui's note-perfect solo performance on 'When I Was In My Prime' is a great opportunity for fans to hear just how beautiful that voice is without any of the distractions. The guitars really shine on this record too, especially when old friends Bert and John are playing against each other, while Danny and Terry's rhythm section gets ever more outrageous when called upon for a solo.
The weakest link on this record, as we've discussed, is certainly the songs. There's nothing on this album with the same ear-catching wave of emotion as 'Once I Had A Sweetheart', nothing with the spooky majesty of 'Lyke Wake Dirge' and nothing with the same modern resonance as 'Hour Carpenter'. However there is a mood about this record that ties these five very separate songs together quite nicely. This time around it's of over-reaching yourself; trying hard to get something - and then finding out that you don't really need it and that you're in danger of losing out on what you always had. The album starts with a maid, deep in love by her own admission after many years alone, but the sad truth is she feels worse than she's ever felt. The only way she can ever get close to her beau 'Jimmy', though, is to dress up as a boy and stow away on his ship as one of the crew - which all falls apart the minute the crew get home and she returns to her house alone. 'When I Was In My Prime', Jacqui's jaw-dropping solo, has a maiden who longs to lose her virginity, only to later curse losing it so easily to a 'false man', 'weeping a bowl of crystal tears' on his shoulder. 'Lord Franklin' sounds like a peaceful, restful sort of a song with the title character asleep in his hammock, but it's derived from a folk tale initially about explorer Sir John Franklin who disappeared while exploring a sea passage between Canada and the Arctic in 1847 (the ships were later recovered with the skeletons of the crew onboard, all dead from starvation, hypothermia and scurvy). Alive in the first verse but dead by the third, the song contrasts the peaceful rest of the 'easy' life he 'should' have had (he was 61 when he died - ancient for a Victorian era explorer) with the icy bleak ending, as if that cosy morning in his hammock was particularly inviting because it was his last chance to change his mind and stay at home. 'Cruel Sister' itself is another Pentangle duel, this time between two sisters who both love a knight - you just know that a sad ending is coming up and so it proves, one of them dead and the other scared out of her wits; this pair too must surely have been regretting what they ever started. As for fiddle player 'Jack Orion', he starts the song having everything (women, money and talent) but loses everything across 27 whole verses (that must be another AAA record!) which ends in a duel with his footpage over his beloved and ends with all three dead.
One song on this theme could have been coincidence, but all five is surely a 'message', dear listeners. Pentangle are making it quite clear that, despite longing for fame and recognition, they didn't actually like it much and wish they'd stayed the way they always were - a cult band who didn't often play their singles on stage or indeed release singles at all and could jam away to their heart's content in front of a couple of rows of hardened music lovers rather than putting up with the sighing and boredom of casual music lovers when they launch into yet another endless solo. Pentangle were leading quite a nice life, thankyou, before all of this disruption came along - and they're frightened that this disruption will never go and leave them the way before. If this album has a moral it's 'be careful what you wish for' - and there couldn't be a better motto for the state of Pentangle in 1970. Many fans scratch their head over this record, how challenging it is, how repetitive it is, how remarkably traditional it is. However in context 'Cruel Sister' makes perfect sense: it's the sound of a band who've bitten off more than they can chew and are kicking themselves for their carelessness of actually scoring a 'hit' single and album.
The sad fact is, though, Pentangle did too good a job. So many of their audience were scared away for good that the band will be forced to bounce back the following year with 'Reflection', an album that's effectively 'Basket Of Light Part Two', full of the many varied flavours of their repertoire. However to dismiss this record as simply the thorn between two roses would be to do it a disservice: Pentangle formed for precisely the reasons given over in this record: turning modern audiences onto traditional music and proving that, despite the changing of fashions and social liberties, we are all very much the same human beings our ancestors were. For all of its traditions and unrelenting acoustic sound, 'Cruel Sister' still sounds like a 'modern' album (if you count 'modern' as 1970 anyway, which heck is pretty modern for me and my musical tastes). We might not fight duels anymore or go to sea, but so many of these songs 'ring' true. 'A Maid That's Deep In Love' must have been deeply daring for 1853 (the first known version of it): after all, a girl dresses up in boy's clothing and does the job as good as any of the men! There's more pressure than ever on 'fair maidens' to lose their virginity before they're ready and the mixture of glee and regret shown on 'When I Was In My Prime' could be a pilot for a 'yoof' programme on BBC3. Had 'Lord Franklin' lived today he would be a space explorer, recognisably experiencing the 'cruel hardships' of the moon or Mars, still cut from the rest of the world. 'Cruel Sister' and 'Jack Orion' are soap operas for the Middle Ages, full of lines about who fancies whom, whose going out with who and with everybody's behaviour restricted by convention (we may have less strict conventions now, but if there were truly no taboos or shock value left in certain activities Eastenders would have run out of 'dum-dum-dum' cliffhangers several decades ago). 'Cruel Sister' is somehow like all other Pentangle albums, but more so, with the past coming back even more vividly to life without the new-songs-masquerading-as-traditional-ones to interrupt our focus.
A quick word about the album cover. While I feel I've got a vague understanding of what this album is all about, I have no idea what's going on as part of either the front sleeve or the back (while both pictures are so small when seen CD -size that they might as well be of anything!) The front cover is a drawing titled 'The Men's Bath' by engraver Albrecht Durer and features, funnily enough, men bathing. Knowing Pentangle they probably came to him through his writings rather than his drawings - one of the Jacks of all Trades that gave the Renaissance a good name, Durer left a whole sea of works discussing science, mathematics and philosophy (so he'd have been thrilled at the neatness and simplicity of the Pentangle five-star logo!), being one of the first artists to properly study anatomy. That in itself fits: Durer is a strong candidate for the 'first' 'modern' human being, who understood human beings in all their glory and faults and could draw them with both scientific and artistic principles in mind - no wonder the band reached out to him in their quest to make the ancient world seem all the closer to us. But why men bathing?! It's true that the first song is set at sea, but that involves a woman not a man and no in the song gets so much as a hair wet. The band may simply have plumped for it because it looked good - but if so why re-inforce the 'sea' motif on the back sleeve, with a drawing of a 'Sea Monster' (who looks more like a mermaid to me!) Are we returning to the theme of 'Lord Franklin' again, that what once seemed destructive to man (the signs saying 'Here be dragons!' on maps) will soon become conquered and adapted to the cosy home surroundings (with water on tap, as per the front cover, rather in raging oceans)? Is this a 'before' and 'after' image of man as cosy homelover and adventurer? Or have I just been listening to 'Jack Orion' on repeat more times than is good for me?!
Whatever the cover is all about, at least we sort of know where the music was coming from. You really wouldn't want 'Cruel Sister' to be your first Pentangle LP or you might have ended up running for a life at sea yourself, but if you can 'get' into the band through one of their more accessible records first then this fourth LP is a welcome attempt to expand the band's sound and push the traditional, folk aspect of it up to (and arguably a little past) it's limits. Pentangle come up with an album that is actually even more consistent throughout than 'Basket Of Light', without a single lesser track to be found. The trouble is, though, that by keeping to just one aspect of their sound and cutting down on the original material there is simply less to this album than the others, even though ironically enough it's actually more complex and harder to follow most of the time. 'Cruel Sister' is like one of those history teachers who've stopped trying to pull your interest in by being 'trendy' and letting you understand your 'sources' by lots of TV programmes. This is a 'real' historical work, the equivalent of sifting through millions of boxes in a record's office for one nugget of information that will make your essay sour or wasting hours on a cold wet muddy field in the hope of the one historical artefact that will suddenly transform your archaeological dig from the most miserable experience of your life to the most thrilling in one fell swoop (and yes I was a history student once upon a time - does it show?!) If you can stick with your five teachers on this record long enough to really get to grips with 'another world that's also the same' as Pentangle implore on this LP the hard way, connect with the characters and their decisions which could easily have been yours had you been born in a different time and study your source material and connect all the dots then, my friend, 'Cruel Sister' is as worthy as any LP in your collection, full of pathos imagination and resonance even by Pentangle standards. However there's no getting away from it: reaching that point is blooming hard work - sometimes it's just easier to watch a DVD (or listen to 'Basket Of Light').
'A Maid That's Deep In Love' is an evocative opening, with Danny's busy bass and John's chunky rhythmic guitar doing their utmost best to distract a focussed Jacqui away from her quest. That's an apt backing for a song where McShee's narrator is so obsessed with her one true love that she stows away to sea rather than be away from him for any length of time, where her boyfriend falls in love with her all over again ('I wish you were a maid' he sighs after 'meeting' her on board the first time - heh heh has he got a shock coming...) The first known version of this charming folk tale was titled 'Short Jacket and White Trousers'. Pentangle no doubt had Maddy Prior's 1968 version in mind when they recorded their version, who learnt it from folk historian A L Lloyd (whose 1966 rendering is the earliest I can find). I'm surprised actually that this folk song wasn't more popular or covered more because it has everything: a suspenseful story, a clever ending (with the maiden pining for her lover, cursing the treasure she walks away with because it means she has to leave her 'treasure' back on board the ship) and a very proactive role for the female protagonist (perfectly acted as ever by Jacqui). The only trouble is that, like a lot of folk songs, there's an awful lot of very similar sounding verses without much in the way of variety. Usually with Pentangle this isn't a problem - they'll weave around the original with lots of solo-ing and add in a few stop-start sections to keep up the excitement levels. But this rendition is the same throughout, with even the Renbourn guitar solo sounding just like the rest of the song, just without Jacqui's vocals. In fact the guitar sound is the 'biggest' change of the whole song, Renbourn playing an electric guitar for the first time - how typical of Pentangle that it appears on their otherwise most acoustic album (with very little bass and drums!) John plays both acoustic and electric here, with Bert's playing on the dulcimer this time around, giving the song an exotic and other-worldly feel. The band are on good form, though, and this is one of their more successful attempts to weave a distinctive 'new' sound from five very different styles all going at once.
Jacqui's solo performance 'When I Was In My Prime' is both the highlight of the album - and the song I skip the most. More usually titled 'When I Was Young And In My Prime', this is another fairly obscure choice of folk song. Jacqui's vocal is exquisite, sounding all the more remarkable for being able to conjure up atmosphere and character without any backing whatsoever. The song is a good choice for her talents too, harking back to the Pentangle debut 'Let No Man Steal Your Thyme', with a maiden looking back sadly over the fact that she was so keen to lose her 'innocence'. She knows the man she 'chose' is unsuitable and longs to be 'in the young man's arms that won the heart of mine', but her 'real' soulmate is too prim and proper to offer her what she wants. Jacqui's sad tale veers from defiance to sorrow in the blink of an eye, even turning sarcastic for a while as her lover offers her three flowers as a token of his affections, all of which she rejects for a variety of reasons (the 'pink' simply 'fades', the 'violet' is too 'blue' and the 'rose that blooms' is 'not for me' - the narratress simply tears it out of the ground to plant a 'willow tree' instead. As per 'Thyme' the herbs and flowers are clearly metaphors for her feelings: this is a love that's impermanent, will bring her sorrow and might end up in unwanted pregnancy). The result is a lovely first-class recording - but I'll be the first to admit it doesn't bear repeated listening. The lack of a beat, the repetitiveness of yet another unvarying arrangement, the absence of the usual Pentangle ability to divert your ear to several directions all at once - all of this makes the song rather heavy going for all but the staunchest folk music fan, with Pentangle as starkly traditional as they ever were. Interestingly, all five band members get a credit for the arrangement of the song, even though only Jacqui appears on it.
'Lord Franklin' is the other album highlight, a sleepy ballad that had been one of John Renbourn's favourites and originally titled 'Lady Franklin's Dream'. A sailor, drifting to sleep warm and cosy in his hammock suddenly has a dream or a vision of the doomed arctic explorer sailing 'through cruel hardships'. This version too is almost a Renbourn solo, joined by Bert's concertina and some extra vocals from Jacqui which given the context sound like ghostly angels or sirens rising up to tell tales of the deep. The song dates back to 1850, remarkably quickly after Lord Franklin and his crew disappeared sometimes around 1845 (incidentally how come Wikipedia give a specific date for his death - his skeleton wasn't found for a year and didn't keep a diary!) Most versions of the song go on to feature a few more verses about Lady Franklin fretting at home and wanting to know what has happened, paying for seven separate expeditions to go and bring her back news, but Pentangle's version almost skips her role in the song altogether, ending with the thought that 'the fate of Franklin no tongue may tell'. All that cold and human deprivation seems at odds with the haunting melody and low-key Pentangle performance, Renbourn barely singing above a whisper while Bert's accordion adds a nice sea shanty style feeling to the performance.
Title track 'Cruel Sister' derives from a folk song named 'The Twa Sisters' and - like the later 'Lady Of Carlisle' - is about a love triangle that doesn't end happily for anyone. The oldest song on the album - and one of the oldest AAA songs of all - it dates back to 1656 and is as low as number ten in the 'Childs' index of traditional English folk songs, hinting at it's great age. The song is given the most up-to-date arrangement on the album, though, mixing Renbourn's sitar and Cox's dulcitone (a sort of keyboard made out of tuning forks!) In typical Pentangle style the band barely break a sweat as an evil murder takes place, the band distantly chanting 'fa la la la la la le la' as one 'coal black' sister drowns the other who 'grew bright'. The poor knight caught up in the middle of all this is just a hapless onlooker - again note how strong the female characters are on this song, quite at odds with their normal portrayal in Medieval music. For some odd reason never quite explained passing salvagers find the dead sister's skeleton and instead of doing the sensible thing (reporting it to the authorities), they decide to make a 'harp' out of her 'breast bone' - inevitably when played it tells a tale of the cruel murder and the hint is that the evil sister dies of fear at the end of the song once the 'third string' is played. While not the greatest thing Pentangle ever did, and in truth a little drawn out at seven minutes (with barely a pause for breath between verses throughout), it's nice enough with Pentangle merely hinting at the true angst in the lyrics thanks to another stately performance and with Terry's lovely harmonies especially prominent.
The album's tour de force is 'Jack Orion', which takes up the whole of the second side of the album. The song choice is Bert's, who'd recorded a much shorter version of the song (effectively the middle section) as the title track of his third solo LP back in 1966 (and on which Renbourn appeared). Chances are the pair first heard it from A L Lloyd again, whose version in 1966 revived the song after something like a 'hundred year' gap! (Though popular in the 1960s and 70s, this was a rare song even at the time it was written, with few records of it being performed surviving - perhaps nobody could remember all the many words to it back in the day!) No one is quite sure how old the song is, but the fact that it's another fairly low numbered entry in the 'hild Ballads' collection (number 67) suggests that it's the second half of the 18th century at the latest. Bert takes the lead vocal here again (with a few verses handled by Jacqui), breaking off after a handful of verses to turn in a snarling acoustic guitar attack, joined by Renbroun's more polished electric lead. Jack Orion is a fiddler as well as a Prince (back in the days when the Royal Family actually used to do something...), most likely heir to a Scottish throne in the original. Falling in love with a princess from another kingdom he arranges a secret 'tryst' and tries to ensure his page boy Tom wakes him up in plenty of time. However the servant goes in his place and 'pretends' to be the prince, whom she has never seen. When the dark deed is uncovered everyone is in deep trouble to say the least - Jack Orion kills the servant, the princess kills herself and when the news is spread Orion then kills himself in mourning, a scary final verse slowing down to a crawl with the ominous words 'then all three lives were gone'.
Musically this epic twists and turns, in contrast to much of the rest of the album where the songs tend to stay rigidly the same throughout, a clever variation on the original which most likely used the same tune throughout. Things get really moving about the six minute mark when the servant creeps into the princess' bedroom, thanks to a fiery guitar solo and a definite jazzy twang about the vocals, the band briefly returning to the sound of their first album as Danny's bass growls and Terry's drums wake up and clatter about. This musical 'invasion' of what till now has been a rather 'safe' and stately typically Pentangle traditional tune is very ear-catching. Even when the deed is done and we're back at court, signalled by some clever recorder playing from Bert and John whose gentlemanliness is clawed at by Danny's see-sawing double bass. A quick break out of the solo-ists at the eleven minutes is the highlight of the song, Bert's acoustic in a quiet hurry and off-set by John's laidback see-sawing, both urged to hurry by Danny's restless bass. All in all this section lasts some three minutes before the guitarists suddenly 'wake up' to the reality of what's been going on and get gradually louder and angrier. Renbourn's stinging solo around the 14:30 mark is one of his greatest, gradually leaping around the song's central riff and sounding as if he's slowly growing madder and madder as his rage takes over him. Somehow though, he finds his energy spent around the 16:00 mark and the song slowly sinks back to the same melody where we began. Jack Orion suddenly pulls himself together and decides to take revenge, pretending to his servant that he has no idea what has gone on and that he's greeting him as a friend - only to chop the boy's head off, suddenly and without warning. A last pearl from Bert's guitar then winds up the tale as, staggered by what he's become, Jack Orion slays himself, Jacqui's voice 'ghosting' Bert's as if being greeted by the ghost of his lover. Despite being one of the longest songs in the AAA canon, 'Jack Orion' ends hanging in mid-air, a last ghastly note unresolved as if pausing just at the point where Orion's life is being taken from him (and perhaps a reminder that three lives were cut short all because of one wicked deed). A staggering tour de force of playing, this is one of Pentangle's best performances of their career - although for all the hard work the shorter, bleaker more austere Jansch original is still arguably the keeper, the story all the better for its brevity and sudden shocks.
Overall, then, is a fascinating though not always accessible album. Running to just under 37 minutes and with only five songs (none of them original) it's arguably a song or two short of ever being a classic album and the lack of band interplay on two of the three songs is a worrying sign of things to come. However it's nice to hear Pentangle at their most traditional, reviving far more obscure traditional songs than their usual song selection and adding very little accompaniment by their usual standards, allowing the songs to rise and fall on their merits. Of course there's still some excellent singing from Jacqui, some fantastic guitar interplay and 'Jack Orion' provides more intense jamming than almost any other band, but somehow 'Cruel Sister' lacks the sheer verve and passion of at least two of its three predecessors. 'Cruel Sister' is undeniably a harder album to fall in love with than any of the other five original Pentangle LPs, but the very fact that it tries so hard to break out of the 'successful' commercial sound of 'Basket Of Light' also makes it an album that's easy to be impressed by. Our solution is clear: buy this record after you've bought the others so you can admire how different it sounds - but don't buy it first and expect to fall in love with Pentangle on first hearing. After all, however well the band dress it up, this is a very bleak album involving one rape, one murder, one unhappy marriage and an unfortunate excursion that ended in starvation. By comparison every other Pentangle album sounds like a collection of joy, a 'basket of light' if you will. But that's not to say 'Cruel Sister' is bad - just different, capturing the band in the first flush of an unhappy mood that will eventually break up the band in three years' time. You need to be patient with 'Cruel Sister', just as you do with real-life 'cruel sisters', because only in time and with distance can you appreciate how warm this record's heart really is despite the cold aloof sounds and how beautiful and varied it really is despite all appearances to the contrary. Like the cruel sister of the title track, it's often overlooked and ignored for brighter, prettier maidens, but there's much to delight and revel in if your patient enough to discover this record's good points for yourself.