That it has taken this long for Bert Jansch to get the contemporary recognition and respect he so richly deserved will forever remain one of life’s great mysteries. Fortunately living just long enough to experience the beginnings of his rediscovery by the so-called “freak folk” scene of the last decade, Jansch experienced a bit of a late career renaissance along with the likes of former British folky Vashti Bunyan, another once thought lost to time but granted an unlikely career resurgence after years away. Unlike Bunyan, however, Jansch continued making records well after British folk rock’s heyday had come and gone, releasing a handful of albums each decade from the ‘60s through to his death in 2011. And while not everything managed to reach the heights of his most prolific and influential period, he remained a vital voice for those who knew where to look.
With a somewhat plain, flat vocal style offset by an immensely influential approach to the guitar, Jansch was one of the leading lights of the late-‘60s English folk rock boom. A member of the equally influential Pentangle and fret board dueling partner of John Renbourn, Jansch delivered a handful of essential solo albums while still a member of the former, finding himself much in demand. By the time he released 1973’s Moonshine, reissued here by Earth Recordings, he was a veritable institution of British folk rock.
Furthering his easygoing style of folk, on Moonshine Jansch delivers yet another masterful performance, running through a handful of sparsely arranged folksongs and originals that showcase his inimitable vocals and guitar work. So sparse are some of these recordings you can hear the squeak of Jansch’s fingers navigating the strings and his measured breathing, lending an intimate quality not heard since his mid-‘60s recordings. Opening track “Yarrow”, a traditional given a delicate reading, largely sets the tone for what is to come. Augmented by recorder and droning bass, Jansch guitar and voice serve as the song’s centerpiece, evoking centuries gone.
In keeping with his other recordings of this period, Moonshine refuses to adhere to any prevailing contemporary trends, instead favoring the sounds of his country’s rich musical tradition. “Brought With The Rain”, a traditional here arranged by Jansch, uses little more than guitar, vocals and harmonica to fill up the whole of the track. It’s in this spartan approach that Jansch best succeeds, creating a full, organic sound larger than the sum of its respective parts.
On the “January Man”, Jansch at times sounds like a more chipper Nick Drake. Here his deft guitar work is on full display, mirroring his vocals and accompanying harp with ease. In this approach, the guitar serves as a sort of melodic counterpoint to Jansch’s vocals, far more intricate and complex than his plainspoken vocals would have the listen believe. It’s in this deceptive intricacy that Jansch’s recordings succeed. Where cursory listens would feel like that of standard British folk, further exploration reveals a complexity of instrumental interplay that largely goes unnoticed due to the ease with which Jansch and his musical cohorts (Tony Visconti, Ralph McTell, and Danny Thompson to name a few) approach the music.
Largely an all-acoustic affair, closing track “Oh My Father” features a furious electric solo and driving beat that carries the album off into the stratosphere. It’s a somewhat incongruous move that largely leaves behind the folk of the preceding tracks, but still manages to show off Jansch’s eclecticism. A hidden gem within Jansch’s voluminous catalog, Moonshine offers an ideal distillation of all that which made him such a highly influential performer.
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