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28 October 2017

Bert Jansch - 'Jack Orion' (Vanguard)

Renbourn has moved up to full collaborator here, getting a subtitle credit on this, though he doesn't play on every track; the music is a touch more polished too, as the opener 'The Waggoner's Lad' indicates. Here, Jansch's banjo playing pushes against Renbourn's sharp guitar and it's a traditional rendered in a flashy, aggressive style, but I like it; the recording on the banjo is way closer, or maybe it's just a nicer sounding instrument than the one on '900 Miles'. It's the same version from the previous album - here, re-included, a difference between this Vanguard issue of the record and the original UK release. The cover is not the most flattering photograph of Mr. Jansch but it clearly indicates a break from the Village-aspiring folk hipster look on the previous records; I'd say the presence of all traditional material here (well, all but one, but that one is a short instrumental by Ewan McColl, so it's effectively "traditional" in intent) also indicates this turn. It kinda reminds me how the Incredible String Band were total karma hippies on their second album but by Hangman's they were going for something, well, earthier. I've heard a few versions of 'Black Water Side' over the years but this one has a punchy guitar and confident delivery; maybe it's the male vocals as compared to Sandy Denny or Anne Briggs's takes, but it feels distinct and fresh, and I like it. The title track is the big sell, almost ten minutes long, telling the epic story of Jack Orion, a horny fiddler/lover who gets involved in some intrigue with another guy's wife, or something like that. There's a strange, scratchy line drawing of Mr. Orion on the back cover, and I guess it's another cautionary tale, like 'Needle of Death', though not preachy or pushy. Or maybe not; while it's a great track in its monotony, accented by Renbourn's second guitar which drives things forward and building in intensity as it goes along, I must confess that I find the story hard to follow by the end. It's not that I often listen to traditional British music hoping for a good yarn, and in particular I'd say these re-booted versions from the late 60s are even more enjoyable when letting go of the myth. Or maybe it's just my attention span, shot through with holes from a generation's worth on online gratification, YouTube culture, and general meda-overstimulus. Or maybe just from this self-imposed quest to listen to eight Bert Jansch records in sequence.

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