Monday, 29 January 2018

"A Man I'd Rather Be (Part 1)" by BERT JANSCH (January 2018 Earth 4CD Book Set with 2015 Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Stepping Stones..."

I'm probably going to disappoint a few BJ fans with this review (I'm let down myself) - but I'm absolutely dumbfounded by the lacklustre presentation of this Book Set from 'Earth' and the fact that it contains nothing I couldn't get elsewhere - and frankly cheaper. It does have great points - namely the amazing Audio - but again that's available elsewhere too and in better presentation also. But let's get into the nitty gritty of this 4-Disc reissue first...

UK released Friday, 26 January 2018 (2 February 2018 in the USA) - "A Man I'd Rather Be (Part 1)" by BERT JANSCH on Earth EARTHCD023 (Barcode 809236102324) is a Limited Edition 4CD 'Book Set' that contains his first four albums on Transatlantic Records from 1965 and 1966 (two in each year). Volume 2 is released 26 February 2018 and contains the following four. There are also 4LP VINYL variants of these releases. It plays out as follows...

Disc 1 - "Bert Jansch" - 39:32 minutes
1. Strolling Down The Highway [Side 1]
2. Smokey River
3. Oh How Your Love Is Strong
4. I Have No Time
5. Finches
6. Rambling's Going To Be The Death Of Me
7. Veronica
8. Needle Of Death
9. Do You Hear Me Now? [Side 2]
10. Alice's Wonderland
11. Running From Home
12. Courting Blues
13. Casbah
14. Dreams Of Love
15. Angie
Tracks 1 to 15 are his debut album "Bert Jansch" - released April 1965 in the UK on Transatlantic Records TRA 125 in Stereo (No US Issue). Produced by BILL LEADER - all songs written by Jansch except "Angie" which is a Davy Graham cover. Jansch plays Acoustic Guitar only.

Disc 2 - "It Don't Bother Me" - 44:07 minutes
1. Oh My Babe [Side 1]
2. Ring-A-Ding Bird
3. Tinker's Blues
4. Anti Apartheid
5. The Wheel
6. A Man I'd Rather Be
7. My Lover
8. It Don't Bother Me [Side 2]
9. Harvest Your Thoughts Of Love
10. Lucky Thirteen
11. As The Days Grow Longer Now
12. So Long (Been On The Road So Long)
13. Want My Daddy Now
14. 900 Miles
Tracks 1 to 14 are his 2nd album "It Doesn't Bother Me" - released December 1965 in the UK on Transatlantic Records TRA 132 in Stereo (No US Issue). Produced by NATHAN JOSEPH - all songs written by Jansch except "Lucky Thirteen" by John Renbourn, "So Long (Been On The Road So Long)" by Alex Campbell and "900 Miles" - a Traditional. John Renbourn plays guitar on "My Lover" and "Lucky Thirteen".

Disc 3 - "Jack Orion" - 32:38 minutes
1.  The Waggoner's Lad [Side 1]
2. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
3. Jack Orion
4. The Gardener [Side 2]
5. Nottamun Town
6. Henry Martin
7. Black Water Side
8. Pretty Polly
Tracks 1 to 8 are his 3rd album "Jack Orion" - released September 1966 in the UK on Transatlantic Records TRA 143 in Stereo (No US Issue). Produced by BILL LEADER - all tracks are Traditional Songs arranged by Bert Jansch except "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" which is a Ewan MacColl song. Jansch plays Acoustic Guitar on all songs as well as Banjo on "The Waggoner's Lad" with Guitar accompaniment from John Renbourn on four songs - "The Waggoner's Lad", "Jack Orion", "Henry Martin" and "Pretty Polly".

Disc 4 - "Bert And John" - 26:32 minutes
1. East Wind [Side 1]
2. Piano Tune
3. Goodbye Pork Hat
4. Soho
5. Tic-Tocative
6. Orlando
7. Red's Favourite [Side 2]
8. No Exit
9. Along The Way
10. The Time Has Come
11. Stepping Stones
12. After The Dance
Tracks 1 to 12 are his 4th album credited to BERT JANSCH and JOHN RENBOURN - released September 1966 in the UK on Transatlantic Records TRA 144 in Stereo (No US Issue). Produced by BILL LEADER - all songs are Jansch and Renbourn originals except "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" and "The Time Has Come" which are Charles Mingus and Anne Briggs covers respectively.

Although there's no mastering credits anywhere (amazingly lax) - it's clear to me that these are the 2015 '50th Anniversary' Remasters done by BARRY GRINT in Alchemy for BMG and issued in digipaks with 12-page booklets (Earth have licensed that material). "Bert Jansch" was issued April 2015 on TRACD 125 (Barcode 5414939917516) – with the other three in September 2015 - "It Doesn't Bother Me" on TRACD 132 (Barcode 5414939921483) - "Jack Orion" on TRACD 143 (Barcode 5414939921513) and "Bert and John" on TRACD 144 (Barcode 5414939921544). These four reissues are still available on Amazon for approximately six quid each (same tracks no extras) and I mention this because here you don't get any artwork or notes really. The blurb on the sticker tells you that you get Keith de Groot's original back-cover liner notes for 1965's "Bert Jansch" as well as Jansch's own notes for the other three LPs which were also on the rear sleeve. Well - the first LP is here but the other three aren't. You don't even get the LPs front or rear artwork repro'd anywhere! I suppose my biggest gripe is that the book's minimalist approach ends up looking like a cop-out instead of a visual hurrah.

The supposed new notes from BILL LEADER (Producer of three of the albums) runs to about 4 short pages and he spends much of his time apologising for the poor sound on the 1st LP and doesn't discuss the recording of the following three at all. In fact most of the page-leaves are taken up listing the tracks. There are some new outtake photos for the first record and the "Bert and John" collaboration - but other than that - bugger all else – no memorabilia – no concert tickets – hell the blurb in the Amazon description runs to longer (the essay you do get doesn’t contain any comments from any famous musical admirers). The incredibly rare and desirable September 1966 5-Track EP called "Needle Of Death" had two exclusives - "Running From Home" and "Green Are Your Eyes (Courting Blue)" - but despite the ludicrously short playing times on Disc 3 and 4 - they're AWOL. There's no extras or unreleased either - the 1993 Transatlantic/Demon reissues had those - not here!

The AUDIO is however spectacular - with even the notorious lo-fi debut coming out smelling of clean roses (it was recorded with a Guitar, a Voice, a Microphone and in a less-than-studio like Camden Flat). Both "Jack Orion" and especially "Bert And John" are fabulous to hear - the duelling instrumental guitars of "Bert And John" pinging in both speakers with lovely warmth and clarity. You have to say that the music is beautifully rendered - much like what was done by Island Records for the Nick Drake catalogue in 2000. And speaking of influential "Stepping Stones" to the ninth-degree - you can 'so' hear why singer-songwriters like Tom Paxton and Paul Simon loved Jansch for taking Folk past the realms of merely strummed instruments and into something new (almost early Folk Rock) and why mega-guitarists like Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page obsessed on the man and his techniques ("Black Water Side" famously turned up on "Zeppelin 1"). Other gems include his "Lucky Thirteen" duet with John Renbourn - just sublime - and that version of Anne Briggs' "The Time Has Come" still has the power to move too (I’d go on record in saying that I love his voice – expressive and emotive in a way that English Folk needs). The last two Acoustic instrumentals on the "Bert And John" album - "Stepping Stones" and "After The Dance" have some hair-raising duetting – the notes slapping and strings squeaking like their dancing a dervish. In fact some 50+ years after the event – it’s still shocking as to how good these albums are and how they’ve stood up. Wow...

If you have the four 2015 '50th Anniversary' CD reissues with their tasty digipaks, 12-page booklets and gorgeous remasters from original tapes - then disappointingly this near 30-pound Earth Records Book Set from January 2018 is a waste of your time and money (it really isn't that pretty to look at either). I'm afraid I'm seriously thinking of cancelling my pre-order for Volume 2.

But if you don't own them - well then you may want to consider ordering this especially with the stupendous Audio on offer. I just wish "A Man I'd Rather Be (Part 1)" actually had been a must-buy celebration of Bert Jansch the man and his huge musical legacy instead of a visual ho-hum...

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