[14 January 2013]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Bert Jansch is one of the definitive folk guitarists of the 20th century, making a name for himself both as a solo artist and, with John Renbourn, as a part of Pentangle. But Heartbreak, his 1982 solo album, is a curiously overlooked record now reissued by Omnivore Recordings. Hearing it now, it feels more in line with bands playing now—Fleet Foxes, say—than much that was happening in 1981. Jansch’s blues-touched folk is in fine form on tracks like opener “Blackwater Side” and his fantastic, melancholy take on Tim Hardin’s “If I Were a Carpenter”. There are other players here, of course, but the album is best when it’s just Jansch, his curled, sweet voice, and his guitar. The barroom-blues take on “Heartbreak Hotel” and the album-closing jam “And Not a Word Was Said” find Jansch’s playing overshadowed by mostly anonymous blues riffing, while his version of “Wild Mountain Thyme”, back by understated drums and sweet backing vocals, makes Jansch’s talents shine rather than obscuring them. The real gem of this reissue, though, is the full live set from a 1981 show at McCabe’s Guitar Shop. Jansch is a bit looser here, and adds a great versions of Jackson C. Frank’s “Blues Run the Game” and Ewan McColl’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” to a great set of originals. It may have been out of place in 1982, but this reissue of Heartbreak proves that, whether he fit or not, Jansch was still making great music in the ‘80s.