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18 Sep 2016

Bert Jansch “Moonshine“ 1973 British Folk masterpiece..!

Bert Jansch  “Moonshine“ 1973 British  Folk masterpiece..!
~ 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die ~ 
watch interview with Ben Jansch…….
‘Moonshine’ - recorded in 1973 - is a treasure. The second of an extensive catalogue of Bert 
Jansch reissues that will pass through the Earth stable, this remastered version comes 
housed in a deluxe die cut sleeve made especially for this picture disc edition. Picture disc. 
Deluxe die-cut sleeve. Includes high-quality download. Limited to 1000 copies. worldwide…… 

A friend of mine was visiting his sister in London when she introduced him to a neighbour who was known locally as a musician. My friend liked the guy and listened intently to him play then on departure innocently wished him well with his music career. It was only later he was informed that the man was Bert Jansch. If this goes to show how unassuming Jansch was then the rich tapestry of music he left behind suggest he had no reason to be so modest. 

It might be unfair and lazy to call ‘Moonshine’ his best album but it’s the one I own and play most frequently and so I have many reasons to recommend it. The record is perfect misty early ’70’s folk with big chunky guitar chords backed by scattershot drums, Danny Thompson’s ever woody double bass and an orchestra of flutes. The compositions are a mixture of traditional songs and Jansch originals although the highlight the frost bitten ‘The January Man’ is a Dave Goulder composition. This is perfect winter folk, you can almost feel the dew dropping off bare branches. It’s taken a few years but I now finally hear the much vaunted influence of Jansch on Johnny Marr. The opening ‘Yarrow’ (another tremendous effort) is full of the type of chop and jangle complicated structures Marr invented for the early Smiths. The album holds a mood throughout - a dusky understated feel. It’s not as freewheeling as Fairport Convention nor as obviously folky as Pentangle or heart wrenchingly pretty as Nick Drake, instead it sits between. 

A must-own record from a golden era of folk. …by Norman Records…… 

Limited picture disc vinyl LP pressing in deluxe die-cut sleeve including digital download. With an output as far reaching as Bert Jansch’s, its small wonder that the occasional gem would be overlooked. Moonshine - recorded in 1973 - is one such treasure. While the slightly more obvious (and indeed Pentangle-like) albums of ‘60s Bert are undisputedly wonderful, there is something about the gently brooding style of Moonshine that really resonates. Joined by an all-star cast - Ralph McTell, Mary Hopkin, Tony Visconti - Jansch’s eighth solo album is steeped in tradition, often giving way to a more baroque style of folk music. …… 

Even when performing with others, Bert Jansch has always continued his solo career. Moonshine was recorded in 1972 and released in 1973, and while it gained little attention at the time, it is greatly superior to later Pentangle efforts like Reflection. The arrangements are fuller than on his earlier solo work and more varied than Pentangle’s, creating a distinct folk-rock sound. There are violins, harps, harmonicas, and even electric guitar. Things get started with the traditional “Yarrow,” highlighted by a lovely flute, and brought to fullness by Jansch’s deep vocals and acoustic guitar. Tony Visconti’s bass work and Dave Mattacks’ percussion build a sturdy bottom end that perfectly underlines the other players. The original “Night Time Blues” receives a nice boost from Aly Bain’s fiddle, while “Oh My Father” is tinted with Gary Boyle’s stinging guitar. Ralph McTell adds bluesy harmonica to “Brought With the Rain,” and Jansch strips things down to voice and guitar for “Twa Corbies.” In fact, there are no bad cuts here. Jansch is in great voice throughout this project, and sings all except one cut alone. His duet with Mary Visconti on “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” is fascinating. Her alto voice, like Jacqui McShee’s, offers a perfect contrast to Jansch’s deeper pipes. The arrangement is also intriguing, allowing Visconti to enter each stanza half a step behind Jansch, overlapping with the same lyrics. Danny Thompson produced the album, lending a hand to its beautiful, dense sound. For Jansch, Pentangle, and folk-rock fans, Moonshine will be a real find….by allmusic… 

The second of an extensive catalogue of Bert Jansch reissues that will pass through the Earth stable. With an output as far reaching as Bert Jansch’s, it’s small wonder that the occasional gem would be overlooked. ‘Moonshine’ - recorded in 1973 - is one such treasure. While the slightly more obvious (and indeed Pentangle-like) albums of 60s Bert are undisputedly wonderful, there is something about the gently brooding style of ‘Moonshine’ that really resonates. Joined by an all-star cast (Ralph McTell! Mary Hopkin! Tony Visconti!) Jansch’s eighth solo album is steeped in tradition, often giving way to a more baroque style of folk music…. 

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. ….by popmatters…. 

For almost his entire adult life, it seems that Bert Jansch rarely, if ever, paused in his music making. His legacy is immense with some thirty solo albums to his name, plus numerous collaborations with the likes of John Renbourn, Pentangle and various others and the records considered by many to be his finest have rarely, if ever, been out of print. However, the focus on certain of his albums – such as his early recordings for Transatlantic – has meant that other, less well-known albums have often slipped beneath the radar of the public’s consciousness. So it’s to the credit of Earth Recordings that, in their programme of Bert Jansch reissues, they’ve chosen to start with some of the releases which have been overlooked. The label got off to a flying start earlier this year with its reissue of 1996’s “authorised bootleg”, Live At The 12 Bar and are now following that with Moonshine. 

Recorded in May 1972 with a stellar group of contributing musicians alongside a core quartet comprising bassist Danny Thompson (at the time, still a member of Pentangle), drummer Laurie Allen (Gong, Delivery), guitarist Gary Boyle (Brian Auger & the Trinity, Eclection) and multi-instrumentalist/producer Tony Visconti, the album was released on Reprise Records in February 1973, barely a month after Bert had formally announced his decision to leave Pentangle. 

Quite what happened after this would seem to be anybody’s guess; certainly all my usual online research sources have little else to say about it. I’ve no doubt that fans of the UK folk revival scene bought it but, by 1973, the attention of the ever-fickle wider public was gripped by the joys of glam-rock, with Sweet’s ‘Blockbuster’ topping the UK Singles Chart for the whole of February while Cliff Richard’s ‘Power To All Our Friends’ had just finished third in the Eurovision Song Contest. Away from the more commercial side of the music biz, Led Zeppelin had just completed what would turn out to be their longest ever UK tour ahead of Houses Of The Holy hitting the shops in March and, of course, the behemoth that was Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon was about to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world. Elsewhere in the UK, the Provisional IRA exploded bombs in London; unemployment was still sky-high – and don’t even start me on world events in 1973, from the unfolding Watergate scandal to the impending oil crisis. 

In this context of general gloom, despondency and debatable fashion choices (to quote the immortal words of Mott The Hoople’s Ian Hunter, “Did you see the suits and the platform boots?”), it’s really no surprise that Bert and his wife Heather retreated to their farm in Wales and Moonshine quietly disappeared into obscurity. Since then, the album appears to have seen only two major reissues, once in 1995 (Jansch Records) and again in 2001 (Castle Music), so its reappearance now on Earth Recordings (including a limited vinyl picture disc edition) is as welcome as it is overdue. 

moonshine cover1The album opens with what, for me, is one of its highlights, ‘Yarrow’, Bert’s downbeat, midtempo arrangement of ‘The Braes o’ Yarrow’ (Child 214), setting the mood and sounding like an outtake from a Pentangle session; indeed, the re-formed Pentangle went on to record their own take on it for 1985’s Open The Door. On first listen, it almost epitomises the contemporary Brit-folk sound of the early 1970s with Bert’s effortlessly complex fingerstyle guitar over a jazzy rhythm section and a delicate woodwind arrangement by Les Quatre Flûte à Bec Consort. 

The traditional ‘Brought With The Rain’ features a gently rolling guitar and double bass to create a proto-Americana vibe, over which Ralph McTell adds some tasty blues-inflected harmonica. Dave Goulder’s ‘The January Man’ has been covered by many other well-respected artists – for example, Martin Carthy, Christy Moore, Rachel Unthank & The Winterset and more recently Karine Polwart & Lau – but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone quite capture the bleakness of winter as well as Bert does on this version. His playing feels as muted as the leaden skies of the season while Skaila Kanga’s harp paints vivid sound pictures of swirling snow. 

The mood and the tempo lift for ‘Night Time Blues’, the first of two songs penned by Bert. It’s a laidback affair, with Bert’s vocal drawl redolent of warm Mississippi nights; his percussive playing meshing with (I think) Dave Mattacks’ drums to create a sound like the rattling of a distant freight train, topped off with some fine Bluegrass fiddle by Aly Bain. The second self-composed piece is the title track, ‘Moonshine’, where the emphasis is less on the rhythmic side and more on the melodic. Bert’s playing has an almost medieval quality about it, at times reminiscent of John Renbourn, enhanced by the modal arrangement provided by Les Quatre Flûte à Bec Consort and some well-placed chimes (Tony Visconti?). Aly’s fiddle and Marilyn Sanson’s cello weave around Danny’s discreetly sonorous bass to climb like ivy on an ancient stone wall; if this isn’t the perfect music for sallying forth on pointlessly romantic, chivalrous quests and slaying dragons and suchlike, then I don’t know what is! 

It’s hard to know what there is left to say about ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ that hasn’t already been said: written in 1957 by Ewan MacColl for Peggy Seeger, possibly one of the best ever love songs and certainly one of the most covered by folk (and other) artists. Bert himself recorded an instrumental version on Jack Orion (1966) but this version blows pretty much every other take on it that I’ve heard completely out of the water. Instrumentally it’s a lazy midtempo shuffle kept moving by the fizzing drums of Dannie Richmond (Charles Mingus) and Danny’s restless bass, with Richard Adeney’s flute low in the mix and a warm fiddle solo by Aly through the coda, but it’s the vocals that make you stop what you’re doing and just listen. Bert completely rewrote the melody as a two-part round for him and Mary Hopkin and it’s the interaction between the duo’s voices, their very different styles of singing, that really makes this version the absolute highlight of the album. 

I’m familiar with the ballad ‘Rambleaway’ (Roud 171) from the versions by Shirley and Dolly Collins (Anthems in Eden, 1969) and Waterson:Carthy (Common Tongue, 1996) and, while they are as the proverbial chalk and cheese, yet both eminently listenable each in their own way, Bert’s reworking brings its own qualities to the table. It’s very much in the early 1970s folk-rock milieu, not least because of Gary Boyle’s electric guitar, although Danny’s resolute bass and Laurie’s minimalist drums allow Aly’s fiddle plenty of space as Bert gives a relatively unadorned performance which suits the song to the ground. 

I’ve seen the much-covered ‘Twa Corbies’ (Child 26) referred to as “one of the grimmest of all our ballads” and although its subject matter is certainly gory – two ravens discussing the merits and demerits of tucking into the mortal remains of a freshly-slain knight – none of this deterred Steeleye Span, for whom it was evidently a long-running favourite and who recorded it at least three times (on their 1970 debut Hark! The Village Wait, The Journey (1995) and Time in 1996), while Maddy Prior also recorded it for her 1993 solo album Year. The apparent Steeleye monopoly didn’t deter Barry and Robin Dransfield from recording their own version on 1977’s Popular to Contrary Belief and now we can add Bert Jansch’s appropriately bleak solo reworking to that roll call of the great and the good. 

The album closes with ‘Oh My Father’, the third of Bert’s own compositions and a curiously anodyne folk-rock number which some bright spark with matching cloth ears in the A&R Department of Reprise Records decided was the obvious choice for a lead single. To be brutal, there’s nothing that really makes this song stand out from the crowd and perhaps we should be grateful that it tanked. The notion of Bert performing this to a disinterested crowd of arhythmic teenagers on Top Of The Pops, while Gary Boyle mimed his frankly self-indulgent lead guitar, doesn’t really bear thinking about. 

That last number excepted (and even it has a certain historical interest), Moonshine is an extraordinarily good album, brimming with choice material, leftfield arrangements, some exceptionally fine performances by all concerned and containing, in ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’, what might have been a huge commercial hit. Earth Recordings have done a fine job with the remastering and the result is a timely rerelease of an overlooked gem from Bert Jansch’s back catalogue, which has weathered the passing of the years better than a lot of 1970s albums. If you already own an older copy, this would be a good time to upgrade and get to know it all over again; if you’ve never heard it, then give it a spin – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. 

Review by: Helen Gregory …… 

Earth Recordings continue their reissue program of the legendary guitar player’s back catalogue. Louder Than War’s Craig Chaligne reviews the second instalment “Moonshine” originally released in 1973. 

Moonshine was released amid troubled times for Jansch. The album originally came out on Reprise records at a time when the label was undergoing one of this perpetual personnel reshuffles that record companies seem to undergo. The result was that the album went totally unnoticed and sunk without a trace. Jansch’s band The Pentangle imploded in the same year so 1973 didn’t turn out to be a fantastic year for the folk guitar hero. It’s a crying shame that the record didn’t achieve more recognition as it features quite an impressive cast. Produced by Bert’s Pentangle colleague Danny Thompson (who also plays bass on most of the tracks), it features Tony Visconti on arrangements and a guest appearance by legendary singer Mary Hopkin on one song. With a cast like that the album had everything to succeed, alas it didn’t turn out that way. 

Maybe a bit more arid in its content than its predecessor Rosemary Lane, Moonshine is still a strong record with a good selection of songs and fine instrumentation. Starting with “Yarrow” a traditional salvaged from The Pentangle days, it follows it with another one “Brought with the Rain” featuring Danny Thompson’s trademark glissandos and Ralph McTell on harmonica. An excellent version of Dave Goulder’s “January Man” is a highlight with its subtle guitar and harp interplay. “Night Time Blues” is probably the weakest of the three Jansch originals on the record but that is more than made up by the title track where Jansch’s voice and diction work perfectly with the music. The other original “Oh My Father” has a very different feel than the rest of the album, featuring a rockier instrumentation (with drums and electric guitars), it finishes the record on a upbeat note. Jansch has a very distinctive voice so it’s surprising too see how well his duet with Mary Hopkin on “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face” works. The solo acoustic number “Twa Corbies” shows that our host can still shine by himself with just his guitar as an accompaniment….. by Craig Chaligne …… 

Yarrow 5:13 
Brought With The Rain 3:02 
The January Man 3:33 
Night Time Blues 7:14 
Moonshine 5:01 
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face 3:03 
Rambleaway 4:37 
Twa Corbies 3:03 
Oh My Father 4:11 

johnkatsmc5, welcome music..





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