It was truly a sad day when Bert Jansch succumbed to cancer in 2011. He, along with fellow Pentangle guitarist John Renbourn and Richard Thompson of Fairport Convention essentially defined British acoustic guitar playing. A mixture of Scottish folk songs, American country blues, and jazz made up their sound, which was hugely influential on both sides of the Atlantic. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin took Jansch’s “Blackwater Side” for the band’s debut album — not crediting Jansch, as would be the case with other “homages” that Page slapped his name on (Willie Dixon, anyone?).
Bert Jansch’s career was a hit or miss affair. Prone to heavy drinking, his playing was erratic at times, but on this release, Heartbreak from 1982, the listener finds Jansch in fine form, accompanied by fellow Brit guitar legend Albert Lee on electric guitar and mandolin. Opening with yet another rendition of “Blackwater Side” and continuing with the lovely “Sit Down Beside Me” (one of his most moving love songs) and including his version of Tim Hardin’s “If I Was a Carpenter,” Bert delivers these ten songs with his trademark nimble guitar skills and emotional, warm voice. His take on “Heartbreak Hotel” will make you almost forget that other guy, with Lee’s sharp country fills answering Jansch’s haunting vocal. Jennifer Warnes gives harmony on the traditional “Wild Mountain Thyme,” and the whole album is a masterpiece of stellar guitar playing involving vocals and a top flight supporting cast, including Randy Tico on fretless bass.
This reissue comes with a solo live set from Jansch at McCabe’s Guitar Shop from 1981, and in it Bert proves he didn’t need anyone else, running through fourteen numbers ranging from his unique rendering of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and the magical “Poor Mouth,” among others. Yes, it was a sad time when Bert Jansch passed, but his music — his fluid, deceptively simple guitar playing and effortless, engaging voice — will continue to delight and amaze anyone with ears and a heart. Broken or not.