Bert Jansch :: Heartbreak (Reissue)

As a solo artist and as one fifth of Pentangle, Bert Jansch’s six-string stylings captivated guitarists as disparate as Jimmy Page, Neil Young and Johnny Marr. His sound is instantly recognizable, as distinctive as a fingerprint: the circular picking patterns, melodies and rhythms incorporating everything from medieval madrigals to Mingus, that assertive snap of steel against fretboard. No matter where Jansch’s long, winding career took him that sound was always central. Even when he found himself in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, surrounded by a collection of hot shot session players, he made what is unmistakably a Bert Jansch record. A great one, even.

There were probably hipper things to be in 1981 than a UK folk musician, but Bert was actually in the midst of a creative (if not commercial) renaissance, having made the all-instrumental, all-masterful Avocet in 1978, not to mention the solid Thirteen Down in 1980. Heartbreak sees the guitarist dipping into his back-catalogue for an inspired remake of “Blackwater Side” (the one Page borrowed wholesale for Zeppelin’s “Black Mountain Side“), with the backing band injecting a little California sunshine into this ancient tale of betrayal. Jansch’s trad-folk leanings are explored elsewhere on the album (especially successful on “Wild Mountain Thyme,” a lovely duet with Jennifer Warnes), but Bert was never just about those old songs — “Up To The Stars” even takes a trip into outer space. The originals are especially strong, including the gentle psychedelia of “Sit Down Beside Me” and the laid-back “Give Me The Time.” Aside from an enthusiastic but ultimately ill-advised cover of “Heartbreak Hotel,” Heartbreak is just about perfect. Even more so than the rest of Jansch’s sometimes hard-to-track-down catalogue, the album has proved excessively rare over the years — but Omnivore Recordings’ deluxe reissue (which includes an excellent bonus live disc) solves that problem. words/ t wilcox

MP3: Bert Jansch :: Blackwater Side

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