Album Review

Join hands and remember Bert Jansch

Bert Jansch

Bert Jansch

Transatlantic

Release Date: April 15th, 1965

Words by: Roland Ellis
May 4th, 1965

8.5

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Donovan. That’s the name that tends to come up when discussing British folk music circa mid-1960s with just about anyone. Rarely do people talk about Bert Jansch. That wasn’t always the case though; when Jansch’s self-titled album was released in 1965, it sold over 150,000 copies — numbers not to be scoffed at. But with the passing of time, Jansch and his music have slipped into relative obscurity, and it seems only Donovan’s name now remains in the conversation.

One gets the feeling, though, that Donovan hasn’t really hung around by his own virtue, but rather because he is linked to the great monolith of folk music, Bob Dylan. Like Robert Ford and Jessie James, Donovan and Dylan will forever be bound, not because they are equals, but because every great man needs a lesser counterpart for history books to compare him to. Jansch, unlike Donovan, was not a Dylan imitator. When the British press tried to make the comparison, Jansch responded, “The only three people I’ve ever copied were Big Bill Broonzy, Davy Graham and Archie Fisher.”

Jansch’s “Needle of Death” was quite simply ahead of its time in terms of getting to the heart of drug abuse in song.

Jansch was right to separate himself from Dylan-mania and lay claim to some folk territory of his own. His self-titled LP is the work of a man in his own space, one completely detached from the folk sound that encumbered so many artists with a need to follow suit. Jansch plucks away at delicate guitar patterns while singing in a soft, wispy voice, the timbre and delivery of which foreshadows the later work of artists like Nick Drake. Drake is, in fact, the best comparison for Jansch. Among other shared attributes, both men brought with them an unflinching honesty in conveying the ‘black dog’ nature of their respective relationships with the world around them.

Join hands and remember Bert Jansch ​Jansch’s “Needle of Death” was quite simply ahead of its time in terms of getting to the heart of drug abuse in song.

Jansch’s “Needle of Death” was quite simply ahead of its time in terms of getting to the heart of drug abuse in song. It wasn’t until the Velvet Underground that the dark side of heroin would again be represented in such stark, grave terms.

It’s not just honesty that sets Jansch apart from many of his contemporary folksters, however; many of his songs are also beautiful in terms of melody and production approach. Occasionally, he slips over into territory that is maybe a little too earnest — see his call to arms for “freedom fighters” in “Do You Hear Me Now”, for example. For the most part, however, Jansch deals in subtle terms that don’t so much insist upon your consideration and approval, as they do gently convince the listener that here we have an artist of great and lasting value.

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