Bert Jansch - From the Outside - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Bert Jansch - From the Outside

by Kevin Orton Rating:8 Release Date:2016-06-10

Bert Jansch’s 15th album came out in 1985 on an obscure Belgian label with a limited press of 500. Cobbled together from various studio sessions, in some cases with rather indifferent engineers, its Jansch’s rawest since his 1965 debut. Which isn’t a bad thing. Just Bert and guitar, who needs anything else? So why quibble about the lack of production? 

“Sweet Rose” greets you with what Jansch does best, abetted by an unexpected guest, the banjo. Hardly the height of fashion in 1985 unless you were in the Pogues or Waterboys. It’s a beautiful beginning to a sparse, intimate, yet occasionally bleak album. One that seems born not out of the best of times.

I first came across ‘Blackbird in the Morning’ off the Dazzling Stranger compilation. It’s since become one of my favorite Jansch songs. So it serves as a sight for sore eyes, in pub full of strangers. The rough production especially suits,  ‘Read All About It,’ who's cynical newspaper hawker has only known hard times. If there is a beauty to bitterness, Jansch has found it. A tale worthy of the pen of Richard Thompson.

Elsewhere, the silver linings of  ‘Change the Song’ and ‘Shout’ might lose their impact, had they been recorded with more sleek production.  Along with 'Sweet Rose and 'Blackbird', ‘Silver Raindrops’ stands the test of time. ‘Why Me (Still in Love)’ with its infectious riff and Bert’s gruff, impassioned vocals, harks back to his mid-60’s heyday. 

‘Get Out My Life’ however, is Jansch at his most harrowing. “She’s got bottles of booze hidden everywhere,” Jansch growls before pointing a shaking, accusatory finger, “You are the devil with the scarlet eyes, you are the sinner telling vicious lies; where are our children? Lost in the mist and the haze.” After telling her to get out of his life, he snarls, “Gonna drink til I get home, gonna drink and drive you fuckers away.” Without a doubt, its this album's most hair raising moment. Among all his releases, I've never heard Jansch so ill tempered and fraught with paranoia. Here he truly gives you a glimpse of his dark side.

Another highlight is ‘High Emotion’. Which mournfully lives up to its title. Naked and unadorned, its not the kind of song that grabs you by the throat, so much as taps you on the shoulder on a rainy day. That said, the cutting , ‘I Sure Wanna Know’ has you by the first note and doesn't let go. It could serve as Bert's 'Working Class Hero'. Unlike ‘Shout’, a protest song that skewers, sarcastically demanding, “Who you gonna kill now, I sure wanna now’.

The two instrumentals, including the title track, go to show Jansch hasn't lost his chops or edge. Chops that have influenced a host of players ranging from Jimmy Page to Neil Young to Richard Thompson on to the likes of Johnny Marr and Robyn Hitchcock. 

Production wise, this is no LA Turnaround. One can hear how haphazared and thrown together it is. But it has so much to commend it, its criminal to pass it by without inviting it to sit down for a pint or two. And if you do, you'll be sorry to see it go and order another round. Clearly, this wasn't recorded during the high point of Jansch's career. But there is such a courage and tenacity here, its inspiring. As for the spare production, it saves From the Outside from being dated in an era where so many records were painfully so. Its lack of production is its strength. Lending it a timelessness  One of the many attractions that makes From the Outside essential for any Jansch fan.  

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