The first comprehensive 'Best Of' spanning Jansch’s 5-decade-long career, has now been released by BMG. Compiled by former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler and the Bert Jansch estate. The new collection is presented chronologically and begins by drawing from his prolific 1960s period, through to his final solo album in 2006. There's nothing from his Pentangle days, but Just A Simple Soul reminds us of Bert Jansch’s enduring influence across the musical world. As Bernard Butler eloquently
puts it; “Bert lived and breathed the sound of the guitar and its endless possibilities for communication, storytelling, conversation, emotional dialogue. ”
Angie's percussive attack coupled with the classical jazz overtones exhibits his abilities to create such dialogue and atmospherics. His skill at improvisation also allowed him to be led by emotion rather than just relying on technique. All this without ever venturing into the spoken word; although when he does the result is striking. He's unafraid of tackling the beautiful and the harrowing in equal measure. Needle of Death from 1965 is an ode to the passing of his friend Buck Polly. A live version of Let Me Sing deals with the murder of Chilean protest singer Victor Jara by the Pinochet regime. 'You can cut off my hands, but I'll still keep singing' is a chilling lyric and still just as painfully relevant today as free speech is still under threat from authoritarianism.
Joining folk supergroup Pentangle didn't prevent Jansch from releasing his solo work such as the reflective Rosemary Lane (1971). The old English folk tune Reynardine was one of several introduced to him by singer Anne Briggs, who was an influence on Jansch throughout his early career. The song about a maiden who gets tempted off by a werewolf is more than a cautionary tale about stranger danger; Jansch's timeless reworking gives a romantic quality to the ballad which is all the more heightened by his Sean-Nos style of singing - another influence from Briggs during this time. With Mary Hopkin's angelic descant over the top of Jansch's folk lilt, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face is unrecognisable from the well known Roberta Flack version. A later entry from Jansch's career, When the Circus Comes Town demonstrates his continued mastery over melody and lyrics while incorporating a bluesy twist on his folk output.
Always innovative, endlessly versatile and a master of the acoustic guitar, Just a Simple Soul is a substantial commemoration of Jansch's long career and remarkable abilities as a storyteller.
Groupie rating 5/5