On a bus, far too large for the winding alpine streets of Switzerland, my music player of choice shuffled, and for the first time I heard Bert Jansch, his self titled release. A master of acoustic guitar, he created haunting melodic phrases eerily fitting for the blanketing blizzard outside. His rough vocals as he describes his loafing, rambling lifestyle complement the almost sparse instrumental pieces. There is no better acoustic folk than Jansch. He pioneered the medium, or at the very least heavily influenced it, and is credited with being one of the most revered and respected folk musicians of the 60s, continuing on to impact the likes of Nick Drake, Neil Young, Donovan, even Jimmy page and Pete Townshend. Jansch’s guitar techniques were admired and frequently lauded.
Yet somehow, his music is never heard. It is performed with elegance and warmth, a humble sense of confidence. There is no glamor, no show in his music – he very well could be playing for you in your living room. In fact, he recorded his self titled LP, live, in a close friend’s kitchen. Maybe the intimacy of the work as a whole deters listeners. Maybe the lack of variation is unappealing to modern ears. Yet this was before his work in Pentangle, before Donovan, before the cult of Bob Dylan. It is utterly stunning. An unforgettable piece of introspective blues-folk history. Bert seldom, perhaps never, got any better than this. This is the pinnacle of his career, highlighting what was to come in both the folk and rock scene. Beautiful, evocative, and wistful, Bert Jansch will be sorely missed.