Bert Jansch - Downunder: Live in Australia - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Bert Jansch - Downunder: Live in Australia

by Bill Golembeski Rating:10 Release Date:2017-02-24

Bert Jansch never really became very famous. Other people did. But that’s just the way it is in life. That’s just the way it is in the music business, a business in which Bert never really found much acclaim. Fatalism. Bert, talking about his music, once said, “It’s like being a bricklayer. If it’s the only thing you know how to do, you have to be in the building trade to do it.” Well, if Bert had been a bricklayer, his houses would have been isolated, stoic, somehow sad, strangely beautiful, and possibly haunted. His were the houses that would populate the landscape of a really great Thomas Hardy novel.

I remember my introduction to Bert Jansch in the long ago vinyl store days of Milwaukee’s Ludwig Van Ear and endless searches through used records. I bought a transatlantic “sampler” called Box of Love for $1.89 (the price tag is still on my copy!). Ian Anderson of Tull, I believe, had mentioned Bert in an interview. Initially, I was unimpressed, the songs were quiet, bluesy, very short, and seemingly quite uneventful and a far cry from my current favorite progressive rock epics. Oddly enough, I remember buying a copy of the French prog band Ange’s Emile Jacotey (with an unbelievably cool glossy import cover!) on that same day. So Bert had stiff competition. Then I heard the song, “I Am Lonely.”  Bert’s antique voice sang, “Though I be a young man my body does decay/Like a wooden craft on a sandy bay.” Those words and that voice, well, they brought me to a place I somehow always wanted to be, that sad haunted house built with isolated and strangely beautiful music.

This album, Downunder: Live in Australia, has been re-issued with a few others from Bert’s back catalog. It’s a well-recorded live concert from an Australian tour in 1998. This is just Bert, pure and simple, with a double bass player and a bit of percussion over-dubbed later on a few of the tracks. Of course, this is pretty late in the game, but thankfully, it's a game the blues still run. And, I suppose, at this stage in his career, any Bert Jansch album was more of a comfort and privilege than an adventure. Typically, though, this is no nostalgia trip. Sure, he does “Blues Run the Game,” “Strolling Down the Highway,” and, of course, “Angie.” There’s even a version of the Irish traditional standard “The Curragh of Kildare” (the gem from Rare Conundrum). Then he gave us six songs from his then current album, Toy Balloon plus two songs that would grace his next album, Crimson Moon.  Of those, Toy Balloon’s “How It All Came Down” benefits the most in this live performance as it avoids the saxophone solo of the studio version. For the true collector, there is a really nice song, “Little Max,” which, I believe, is unavailable elsewhere.    

My only complaint with the album is the lack of so many truly great songs that just didn’t figure in this concert. But then, this is not for the novice. So for many, look beyond this album and discover all the other records, especially those early albums (not forgetting Avocet) and fill the quiet spaces between the moments of the day with music of Bert Jansch. Yes, indeed, it is a very nice place in which to live.


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