The Black Swan
||"When the Sun Comes Up"
||"The Black Swan"
Bert Jansch is a master of interiors. Guilt. Longing. Despair.
Ache. Shame. Time. And most of all, Regret. These are more than
just mere themes for Jansch -- they're tools. And it's
because of these tools that his solo music, along with his work
with Pentangle, has aged far better than most of his contemporaries'
"folk" sounds. Jansch's weighty guitar playing and round,
gauzy vocal style always seems rooted in some honest personal
sea change or moral crisis. Next to Jackson C. Frank (who unfortunately
only made one album's worth of tunes), no other folkie mined the
personal and made it universal quite like Jansch. Of course, it
speaks volumes that the title of his most famous song, "Needle
of Death," could almost be an Elliott Smith number. In fact,
he was so far ahead of the curve, it's no wonder that four decades
plus since his first work, Jansch's still managed to put out one
of the best records of the year on one of the most lauded indie
labels around, Drag City.
The Black Swan is trademark Bert Jansch. It's dark as f**k
-- brooding, rootsy, smart. And even though it features a who's
who of the contemporary "freak folk" scene (Devendra,
Otto Hauser, Kevin Barker, Noah Georgeson), Beth Orton (who sings
lead on a couple tunes) and Jansch's own son Adam playing keyboard
on a few cuts, nobody steals the show from the man himself. All
these years later, he's still writing more compelling tunes than
any logic deems he ought to be. "High Days" may be one
of his all time best numbers even, just Jansch, his acoustic,
and a wistful, breathtaking melody. And while reminiscing about
an old musician friend who's passed away, he remains as erudite
and elegant as ever -- "Bring back those high days when we
used to hang around / you'd play your guitar, but you never ever
finished the song / Didn't matter then / And I guess it doesn't
matter now." And it's mostly hits with few misses from there
on out. In fact, outside of "Texas Cowboy Blues" --
where he loses himself in Bob Dylan's beard -- Black Swan,
like most all of Jansch's work, is utterly jawdroppingly profound
in its timelessness. A true legend. [HG]