What does it sound like?:
Bert Jansch is an icon amongst guitarists, not only for his influence on people like Jimmy Page and Neil Young, but also for his astounding ability to take relatively few notes and make them sound amazing and unique. He’s not a shredder, battering the listener with technique, but rather an artist, making every note count and knowing that the space left between them is probably more important.
This collection gathers representative tracks from Bert’s entire career starting in the early 60s when he seems to have emerged almost fully formed – clearly he’d been listening to American blues finger style players – but quickly shook loose from those standard tropes and took off with a strange amalgam of blues and folk which sounds fantastic today but which must have had a similar effect as that generated by Jimi Hendrix a few years later – WTF is this, they must have wondered. Let’s remember at the time instruments were frowned on in folk clubs, and original compositions were unthinkable. Sitting on top of the guitar is Bert’s voice, definitely of the folk tradition and with not a trace of mid Atlantic phoniness about it. It’s a Marmite voice, perfectly in tune but with an intonation which can lead the casual listener to announce that it is not (Richard Thompson suffers from the same problem).
CD 1 takes us up to 1974 and is mostly guitar based with some instrumentation in support but it’s pretty much guitar / vocal, and wonderful for it, notably on songs such as the harrowing “Needle of Death”. Present too is the famous “Angie”, Bert’s version of the Davy Graham tune to which he added a verse from the old blues “Work Song”. Paul Simon recorded his version on the “Sounds of Silence” album and made a point of crediting Davy, however it’s Bert’s version you’re hearing, “Work Song” interpolation and all. Also present are the deeply modal sounding “Black Water Side” which the aforementioned Jimmy reinterpreted (AKA nicked) though when it was suggested to Bert that he pursue legal action he laughed and said we all steal from each other. Dude.
CD 2 covers the albums up to the end of his career, which generally include more arrangement as various record companies and producers have a go at making him into a mainstream act. They are great and the guitar is always there but to me the stripped down, raw stuff is my favourite Bert. Mind you, disk 2 contains the stunning “Chambertin” from the “LA Turnaround” album featuring American session players which had my hair standing on end. Stunning.
What does it all *mean*?
Bert had his demons and in his dark days often was without a guitar, having sold his for booze money. Once he was past that period he could have had an endorsement from any maker, but always played Yamaha because they had stuck with him through the bad times and he felt a great sense of loyalty. Yamaha are good instruments but not top drawer. It doesn’t matter because it’s all in the fingers. And fingers like these will never be seen again.
Goes well with…
For me it’s a late evening fire, something peaty and a gaze into the far distance.
Might suit people who like…
If you don’t have any Bert this is a great career collection, assembled by admirer Bernard Butler and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it. I won’t be buying it as I have a great double CD comp of the earlier stuff but it prompts me to fill in some of the later albums which contain some wonderful stuff.