Bert Jansch - Just a Simple Soul - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Bert Jansch - Just a Simple Soul

by Rob Taylor Rating:8 Release Date:2018-10-26
Bert Jansch - Just a Simple Soul
Bert Jansch - Just a Simple Soul

Asking me to review a Bert Jansch anthology comes with obvious pitfalls. For one, I have a nasty allergy for traditional folk music, so unsurprisingly, given that disposition, I’ve not listened closely to Jansch’s music. I perceive him to be a trenchant lover of that form. Therein lies my flawed misconception. Perhaps I should have known that my love for the authentic folk, blues, and gospel of America would bring me closer in kin to this music than I ever realised. Not a revelation as such then, more a refocusing of my attitudes.

This anthology, Just a Simple Soul is an excellent primer. I’d heard a bit of Jansch before, and subliminally it edged its way back to me from time to time. Although it never really stuck, and I assumed it was my disdain for pure folk. At the heart of me is a truly impatient soul, and I never properly investigated my prejudice.

What I discovered was that Jansch is a man for all seasons. Like Warren Zevon, Like Bob Dylan and many others, he’s a songwriter’s songwriter. An insider man. A setter of musical agendas, a leader in the pack. Hearing his formidable oeuvre of writing from the 1960s onwards, condensed as it here, enabled me to appreciate what a multiplicity of guitar styles he mastered over the course of his life. A beautifully cultivated range of moods and experiences beamed through a musical soul whose enterprise extended to virtually all musical forms. It’s now hard for me to think of other artists whose toolbox was as well equipped as Jansch’s, especially from such early forays into roots music fusion.   

The magnificent ‘Blacksmith’ with its warmly caressed keys, seems to me to be the embodiment of the Muscle Shoals sound. The song ‘A Man I’d Rather Be’  ironically sounds like Jansch would rather be Mona Bona Jakon era Cat Stevens, but really you know the influence was very much that of Jansch because the timeline tells you so. The technical assuredness of ‘Just a Simple Soul’ perhaps the song for me that shamed my earlier view of Jansch, so wonderful is his fingerpicking technique. Not only is it superlative playing, the light, and shade he brings to the dynamics create real tension, and his sanguine vocals belie the ordinariness of the subject matter.

I hear JJ Cale in “When the Circus Comes to Town’, in the blues chill, the languor. In the casual narration. Similarly ‘Crimson Moon’ with its lovely melodies and a blues/soul exterior that Van Morrison, I thought, had made his own. ‘Poison’ to me sounds like Voodoo Chile, and this time I wonder whether Jansch was exercising his mind to the blues/rock energies of the 1960s.

There are other tracks here that force my reassessment, but conversely tracks like ‘Sweet Rose’ are anathema to me. Too little pork on my folk, or something like that. I’m not one for pretty folk music. That is my issue, however, and what I’ve learned is that Bert Jansch was far more than my limited perception.

The Idiot’s Guide to Bert Jansch, for people like me that didn’t appreciate the man’s redoubtable gifts.

Overall Rating (1)

5 out of 5 stars
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