Bert Jansch - A Man I'd Rather Be (Part II)

by Bill Golembeski Rating:10 Release Date:2018-02-23
Bert Jansch - A Man I'd  Rather Be (Part II)
Bert Jansch - A Man I'd Rather Be (Part II)

My love for the music of Bert Jansch is well documented in the review of Part 1 of this reissue series, A Man I’d Rather Be.

So, let’s just say this second box, Part 2, that includes Nicola, Birthday Blues, Rosemary Lane, and Moonshine, allows more of the magic to simply play on. So, thanks to Earth Recordings for all the labor of love.

But you know, I remember the exact words of yet another ex-girlfriend, who after yet another cheap meal, pointed with unexpected consternation, as I examined newly purchased records and said, “I think you’re more interested in those things than me!”

I may have said, “Huh?” But I don’t really remember. I was too busy examining the records.

Well, I suppose she had a valid a point just like the last girlfriend who dumped me because of my love for vinyl, but her apparent anger completely ruined my Friday night triumph of finding a vinyl copy of Bert Jansch’s From the Outside on the Belgium Konexion label. I mean, they only pressed 500 worldwide. And I had one. I figured that almost made me some kind of celebrity in a record collector sort of way.

But at that moment, I really don’t think she was very interested in my famous record collector sort of way autograph.

That was all right. The ex-girlfriend is long gone, but the music of Bert Jansch is still a big part of my life. And, really, these four albums may be the perfect entry point for the initiate buyer.

To be blunt, the first album, Nicola, is an odd duck hit and miss affair. For some reason, Bert felt it necessary to record with an orchestra. I suppose, such were the 1967 times. And that orchestra is now like someone he dated long ago, and it’s a relationship that didn’t work out so well. But we still have the record, and there are a few really great memories. The first song “Go Your Own Way My Love” is classic stuff, as is “Box of Love.” But then there are the orchestrated songs. “Woe Is Love My Dear” and the instrumental “Nicola” work well with all the big sound. For Jethro Tull fans, it’s David Palmer who does the arrangements. But really, this is Bert with poppy production. “Life Depends on Love” is over blown Bert, but it is, for the true fan, a pleasant diversion from his usual bare bones kitchen recording.

Now, Birthday Blues has a cover shot of Bert cradling a puppy. That’s aces in my book. It also has the song “I Am Lonely” which scratches the deep itch for the Romantic introspective poet rash that was so prevalent in the early 70’s. It’s worth the price of admission. Fans of Nick Drake need to hear this song. This is an absolutely lovely tune (and of course, a personal favorite of mine).

The first song, “Come Sing Me a Happy Song to Prove We Can Get Along the Lumpy, Bumpy, Long Dusty Road,” almost beats Fairport Convention’s “Sir B. McKenzie’s Daughter’s” (and about thirty other words) for the longest song title in English folk history. It’s great music. As is “The Bright New Year,” a song that creates a sound both Al Stewart and Ian Anderson would emulate. “Poison” is a rare environmental song that echoes Bert’s Pentangle sound, which fused jazz, blues, and folk. In a weird way, the record is a bit of a wonderful mess. This is a nice album that finds blues in the depths of English “Greensleeves” history. And a sax honks here and there every once in a while.

But please listen to Rosemary Lane. This one creates its own time and is the masterpiece that blends the American blues with English folk tradition. Yeah, as (the great) Richard Thompson sang, “Roll Over Vaughn Williams,” and that’s pretty much the idea. The album is the perfect combination of the English blues boom, British folk song, and the then current singer-songwriter ethos. And this one is the best follow-up to the classic Jack Orion. It’s even better because it seamlessly blends traditional tunes and his own songs. “Tell Me What Is True Love?” simply floats on the ghostly magic of Bert Jansch’s guitar and voice. The song’s beauty rivals the best of John Martyn. And then the Trad. Arr. “Rosemary Lane” has all windswept pathos of seduction and deceit of any great folk song, and at just over four minutes, is a good substitute (if windswept pathos is so desired) for the time and effort required to brave the pages of any Thomas Hardy novel. In fact, the entire album oozes with the introspection, sadness, and tragic beauty of the English folk tradition. “Reynardine” and “Sylvie” are lovely songs. Bert Jansch, with guitar in hand, steps back in time, and conjures, in the words of William Faulkner, “a soul, a spirit capable of compassion, and sacrifice and endurance.”

Colin Harper, the author of Dazzling Stranger, wrote of these records: “Bert’s writing…displays a marked preoccupation with ‘the soul’, and with the nature of true love. On… Birthday Blues, it had been clumsily expressed; on…Moonshine, it would be almost too clever by half. Rosemary Lane was where less became more and everything was in balance.”

By the way, I must thank Colin Harper for the musical term canon, which means two vocalists sing with one trailing the other. I didn’t know the term, but he used it to describe the duet on “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” So, I will use it when discussing the song in two paragraphs time. It makes me sound more intelligent than I really am. I probably quoted William Faulkner in two paragraphs past for the very same reason.

The final album, Moonshine, is a star-studded affair. Bert Jansch said of the record, “I don’t think anyone it exists.” Well, all I remember is during that conversation with that ex-girlfriend who, after the cheap meal, accused me of being too interested in the rare From the Inside album, then seemed completely disinterested as I attempted to liven the evening’s discourse by talking passionately about my hopes of someday finding this other rare Bert Jansch record called Moonshine.

Well, obviously, that relationship crashed soon after that cheap meal night. But the record is still very much part of my life. And it’s a beautiful record with guests like Ralph McTell on harmonica, Shetland fiddler Aly Bain, Gary Boyle on electric lead guitar (!), and Danny Richmond (of Charles Mingus fame) on drums. There’s even a second stab at Ewan MacColl’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” which was given an instrumental arrangement on Jack Orion. This time, the song is arranged as a canon, as Mary Hopkin, the then wife of arranger Tony Visconti, echoes Bert’s lead vocal line. Once again, there is a wonderful combination of Jansch originals and traditional songs like “Rambleaway” and “Twa Corbies.” Personally, I think this is another great experimental album.  

So, thanks to Earth Recordings for taking the time to make this stuff available in such a nice package. As said, this collection may be the place for the initiate to enter the world of Bert Jansch. For the rest of us, well, this is just a necessary addition to our collection, an addition that for some weird reason, makes the windswept pathos of the world seem a little less harsh. There is ample magic in these grooves, even when that magic is over burdened by big orchestras, song titles that are far too long, saxes that honk, and the occasional electric guitar.

Yeah, like that ex-girlfriend once said, “It’s just a record.” Well, sure. But these are albums that touch ghosts, magic, people on the road, people in bars, and people who, with the music of Bert Jansch, come to embrace the beautiful sadness of their own lives.

Overall Rating (1)

5 out of 5 stars
  • Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    Lovely Stuff Bill. I'm a latecomer to Jansch, but really enjoying a dip into these releases. Not sure why it took me so long. On day a couple of months ago I was listening to John Fahey, and thought, for whatever reason, I should listen to those Jansch re-releases. Glad I did.