3 out of 5 Stars!
Here’s a Chicago band that released a single album back in 1977. When they played the local scene, Chicago bands were on the verge of being signed to recording contracts left and right—Survivor, Tantrum, The Boyzz, Off Broadway, Gambler, Trillion, Hounds, etc.—but the one thing that set Pentwater apart from the rest of the pack was that they were a Prog-Rock band. About the only other similar acts in Chicago that fell into that genre (and were offered a recording deal) were both Shadowfax and Zazu (the former had some mild success and continued on for years, while the latter released a single album and it went nowhere). So when the Pentwater album appeared, I had eagerly listened to it several times, but unfortunately, I distinctly remember not being impressed. Now, after all these years, I finally managed to track down another copy and, sadly, my impressions truly haven’t changed.
Certainly the band had imagination with their songwriting and arrangements, including some Gentle Giant, Kansas, ELP, Yes, and King Crimson influences into their sound, and musically they weren’t too shabby and I give them credit for that. The inclusion of some flute, violin, and Mellotron proved an unexpected touch, so I applauded them for that. But the problems lie mostly in the vocal department. Some of the leads are absolutely wretched, almost maniacal sounding, and when the vocalist sings “straight,” without the wild silliness, both his tone and accuracy leave a lot to be desired. The background vocals are also not the most superb (they occasionally attempted to perform counterpart vocals in a style similar to Gentle Giant, but just didn’t have to talent to pull it off successfully). Therefore, the band is at its best on the few instrumental tracks that appear.
The production quality is also quite lame, even for the era, with some of the instruments dropping back into the mix seemingly at random on several tracks, lending an uneven and unpolished feel to the songs, as if they had been recorded on a tight budget, and in a basement or home studio.
Now, with all that being said, the band wasn’t absolutely horrible (again, the instrumentation is quite commendable at times), so Prog-Rock lovers who crave obscure releases within the genre might find Pentwater of some interest. Just don’t expect brilliance or perfection or anything earth-shattering.