It kind of feels like Scottish singer-songwriter Bert Jansch has gotten lost in all the mid-60s folk artists and that’s kind of too bad. To the degree that he’s well-known, it’s within the community of his chosen instrument, the acoustic guitar. He was undeniably a master and he pushed the folk community in a more complex, baroque direction. On this, his first record, he plays right to the indie artist template, recording the entire album on a tape-recorder in a friend’s kitchen. It’s a very assured debut. Jansch would eventually leave this style behind, but not for quite some time. The songs here are all of the lilting, somewhat melancholy, somewhat sardonic folk type. Jansch’s voice is pleasant in a genre fashion. The songs aren’t the whole story though; the album features six guitar instrumentals to divide things up and I actually liked the way the vocal songs and the instrumentals mixed in with each other to create a kind of unique feel. The instrumentals are incredibly technically impressive and the sound of Jansch catching his breath and making small noises of effort during some of the harder passages is incredibly intimate. That should tell you there how the sound quality is; I listened to a remaster from 2015 and it’s really perfect. A couple of the instrumentals are among the best tracks on the album: Casbah is a droning, jazzy Middle Eastern tune and the album closer is Angi, a cover of a song by fellow folkie Davey Graham and it’s got a swagger and a groove mostly missing from the rest of the album. It’s really the perfect way to send the listener out on a good feeling. Jansch’s songwriting is witty and evocative at the same time. At its worst, it’s not that bad, just a fairly typical folk pastiche. At its best, it’s very impressive. Needle of Death is the closest he ever came to a really famous song; it’s a hushed, deeply sorrowful ode to a friend who has died of a heroin overdose. Jansch’s use of imagery in this song is striking in its details and its slideshow kind of progression, capturing the devastation of loss in a series of still moments. “One grain of pure white snow dissolved in blood spread quickly to your brain,” isn’t a line you would imagine someone could sing gracefully, but it’s the most emotionally powerful moment on the album. There’s really only one bad song on the album, the wheedling protest song Do You Hear Me Now?, which overplays its hand at every turn. But on the whole, this is a solid album all the way through, making this an overall pleasant experience, divided at times by moments of real genius. Both taken as a debut and as a folk album, it’s incredibly impressive, even if it falls a bit short of greatness by taking the easy way a few times. Though whoever said the easy way was bad? 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – singer-songwriter’s lo-fi debut is an acoustic folk classic, with impressive instrumentals and melancholy, sardonic songs; a pleasant listen from start to finish with greatness in the mix. 3 ½ stars.