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Review: 'JANSCH, BERT'
'Living In The Shadows (Box Set)'   

-  Label: 'Earth Recordings'
-  Genre: 'Folk' -  Release Date: '27th January 2017'

Our Rating:
The track Living In The Shadows was written by Bert Jansch in the mid-1990s as a metaphor for the UN's role in the Bosnian War.

Here, it has been chosen as the title of a 4 disc box set presumably to denote the fact that Jansch was one of those, often reclusive, figures more often lauded by fellow artists than revered by the general public.

During his lifetime (Jansch died in 2011), a series of record labels marketed this self-effacing Scottish musician as a folk artist it was cool to like.

Listing the names of those who have acknowledged him as an influence helped in this regard. These include established 'rock legends' like Jimmy Page and Neil Young as well as others from a later generation like Johnny Marr, Devendra Banhart and Beth Orton.

Cooking Vinyl's Mick Houghton was quoted in Colin Harper's definitive biography, Dazzling Stranger, as saying "The way the media works, if you've got a long career like Bert has, to some extent it's a career there to be reappraised every third record".

With this Box Set, Earth Recordings give us the chance to reappraise three studio albums in one sitting in the form of The Ornament Tree (1990), When The Circus Comes To Town (1995) and Toy Balloon (1998).

These three releases derive from the latter part of Jansch's career after he resurfaced from a lean decade during the 1980s in which he was distracted by a long-running battle with alcoholism.

The Ornament Tree is dominated by traditional Scottish and Irish songs with Maggie Boyle on flute, whistles and bodhran helping to create the Celtic mood.

The 12 tunes also include covers of Hamish Henderson's The Banks O'Sicily and Dave Goulder's The January Man. Three Dreamers is the only original song and even this is based on a traditional tune.

In contrast, When The Circus Comes To Town is made up of 14 original songs which have a more bluesy, late-night feel. Recorded at Jansch's home and at Boundary Row Studios, London, his peerless finger-picking is accompanied by Mark Ramsden (soprano sax on Summer Heat), Mike Piggott (violin) and Maggie Boyle, Janie Romer and Christine Collister on backing vocals.

His social conscience is evident on a track such as Step Back in which he reflects on the problems of homelessness and unemployment in "the real world we have today" while the simplicity of the instrumental The Lady Doctor From Ashington showcases his elegant acoustic guitar style.

Toy Balloon was Jansch's 20th album and includes a version of She Moved Through The Fair and eleven other original tunes, one of which was co-written with Jackson C. Frank.

The opening track is called Carnival but there's no evidence of a party mood behind this introspective set of songs. I'm a toy balloon on a windy day" he sings on the title track.

Those who have already discovered Jansch will probably own these records already in which case the main incentive to buy them again is the extra disc of demos, alternate versions and a pair of previously unreleased tracks. There are three untitled instrumentals, two of which find Jansch reunited with old Pentangle sparring partner John Renbourn.

The melancholy restraint of Jansch's recordings means that despite being a key player in the British Folk and Blues revival in the 1960s, he is destined to be appreciated as a modest and unpretentious artist who was more comfortable living in the shadows than in the spotlight.

He was, as one song title puts it, Just A Simple Soul albeit one with a prodigious talent well represented in this collection.

Bert Jansch's official website
  author: Martin Raybould

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JANSCH, BERT - Living In The Shadows (Box Set)