This third album is a departure for Jansch in a couple of big ways. On this record, John Renbourn, who would later co-found Pentangle with Jansch, plays on just about every track; Jansch’s usual tack has been to be predominately solo on his records before this. But the bigger change is in the material; Jansch’s albums have typically included a traditional folk song here and there, but they’ve mostly been given over to his own material. On this record, Jansch covers eight traditional folk songs, but instead of making this album his most traditional, this pushes him to actually make his boldest album to date. The centerpiece of the album is the title track, a tale of sexual desire, deception and bloody vengeance that stretches to over nine-and-a-half minutes, well more than twice as long as any of Jansch’s tracks have been to this point. Near the end of the track, you hear him flub a lyric or two, but it’s a real tour deforce, especially given the complex interplay of Jansch and Renbourn on their guitars. The addition of Renbourn allows the arrangements here to become really deep and complicated and interesting. But it’s the thematic consistency here that really elevates this album above Jansch’s previous, more scattershot & varied albums. This album is given over almost entirely to songs of darkness, violence and isolation and this tonal focus makes the album a really dark and claustrophobic atmosphere all the way from the very opening to the very ending. On the opening track, The Waggoner’s Lad, Jansch and Renbourn lay down a circular, repeating riff that’s grim, plodding and minor key. The album ends with a track called Pretty Polly and if you think the album is going to end on a single note of grace and/or hope, you’re wrong. Let’s just say that Pretty Polly herself ends up stabbed to death by her fiancé and buried in a shallow grave. I’d say there’s not a bad track on this chilly, haunting album. But that makes sense. Some of the songs here had already survived hundreds of years before Jansch recorded them and nothing survives that long without having an elemental, primal power. Jack Orion, the album, may end up surviving about that long, I suppose, if that’s the marker. It’s certainly Jansch’s masterpiece and his first truly great album, an album visceral in the moment for the very reason that it reaches so far into the past. 4 stars.
tl;dr – grim, haunting album focuses on deep, complex readings of old folk songs & ends up being Jansch’s first true masterpiece. 4 stars.