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Bert Jansch: Bert Jansch

The guitar legend’s landmark album gets a 50th birthday polish.

Ahead of a welcome campaign to reissue this towering folk guitar figure’s entire Transatlantic catalogue, it’s only proper that the celebrations should begin with a 50th anniversary edition of his remarkable debut.

It’s a record that embodied the new strain of British folk that emanated from the cellars of Soho in the mid 60s. Traditional in form, it’s embroidered with the fingerpicked complexity of the blues and the phrasings of jazz guitar. This is what made Jansch both an archivist and innovator, reaching back into the past while creating original songs that spoke to the era’s sense of beatnik bohemia.

Made on a reel-to-reel machine in the Camden flat of engineer/producer Bill Leader, Jansch’s first album was recorded after a two-year ramble around Europe and North Africa, where he accumulated a variety of folk idioms. What still astonishes is the dashing complexity of his guitar playing. You can’t help but marvel at the delicate beauty of Oh How Your Love Is Strong, the gentle lilt of his voice offset against a descriptive flurry of acoustic notes. Or indeed the gorgeous, rolling Running From Home, which sounds like a companion piece to Jackson C. Frank’s Blues Run The Game (which he later covered, on ’75’s Santa Barbara Honeymoon).

By his own admission, Jansch was limited as a vocalist, though certainly a better singer than his great friend, Davy Graham. He’s at his most eloquent on Needle Of Death, a paean to drug casualty friend Buck Polly that swiftly became one of his great signature songs. (Neil Young later borrowed the whole guitar part for Ambulance Blues.) Jansch’s version of Graham’s Angie, one of two covers here, was equally seismic, capturing the imagination of everyone from Jimmy Page to Paul Simon to Johnny Marr. It’s a lasting testament to his talent that this record feels as vital today as it did in 1965.