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Bert Jansch - The Black Swan

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Artist: Bert Jansch

Album: The Black Swan

Label: Drag City

Review date: Oct. 9, 2006

One of the signal performers of the 1960s folk revival, guitarist Bert Jansch rates amongst the musicians who have most stretched the boundaries of the genre whilst maintaining rapport with consensus culture. Whether sharing a flat with The Incredible String Band, performing with Anne Briggs, or feeding jazz and psychedelia into traditional music with his 1970s group Pentangle, Jansch has always been a community thinker. Indeed, though there are great stretches of internally vibrating loner blues through his solo recordings, Jansch’s best often comes when he tangles with other players: check the commingling blues/jazz of his Bert and John collaboration with John Renbourn, or the underrated pleasures of his L.A. Turnaround or A Rare Conundrum albums…

Or The Black Swan, Jansch’s first album in four years, where he has shacked up with musicians who loosely plot the global folk renaissance – from Beth Orton and Opal/Mazzy Star main-man David Roback to Currituck Co’s Kevin Barker, Espers’ Helen Espvall and Otto Hauser, and budding male model Devendra Banhart. The latter’s contrived warbling almost ruins an otherwise gorgeous rendition of traditional tune “Katie Cruel,” and there are a few other misfires through The Black Swan – “Texas Cowboy Blues”’s anti-Bush sentiment is charming, but not the under-developed lyrical content.

If The Black Swan doesn’t have the cross-generic impact of Jansch’s 1970s music, in its place is a hard-won serenity and quiet pleasure in the joys of unassuming folk endeavor. The various traditional songs reassure long-time listeners that Jansch hasn’t lost his connection with originary sources: his performance of prison song “The Old Triangle,” learnt from the Behan brothers, is career-defining. And Jansch’s self-penned tunes are as affecting as ever, none more so than on the deep blue threnody “High Days,” or the opening title song, which is as heartbreaking as Jansch’s classic “Needle of Death.”

Sure, it’s sentimental to simply be thankful that the lovable old rogue is back, but this time round, it’s no false sentiment. Now, if only his old sparring partner Anne Briggs would make a similar return…

By Jon Dale

Other Reviews of Bert Jansch

L.A. Turnaround / Santa Barbara Honeymoon / A Rare Conundrum

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View all articles by Jon Dale

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