Bert Jansch

A Rare Conundrum

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After the production excesses of Bert Jansch’s second album, Santa Barbara Honeymoon, it was time to return home to England, even if he had no actual home there. He took up residence in Putney, at the home of his manager, Bruce May. He’d also met bassist Rod Clements in 1974, who was in between incarnations of Lindisfarne, and together they formed a new band that included violinist Mike Piggot and drummer Pick Withers. They developed the material for A Rare Conundrum (for all intents and practical purposes his final album for Charisma -- though Avocet, originally issued by Ex Libris in Scandinavia, would be licensed by them in 1982) at a small rehearsal space in May’s house but recorded the album at London’s Air Studios. Recorded in 1976 and issued in 1977, A Rare Conundrum is one of the most beautiful albums in Jansch’s catalog. It’s a simple recording, stripped to the bone basically, full of songs both nostalgic and forward-looking. There are covers of three traditional songs, rearranged by Jansch -- “The Curraugh of Kildair,” “Pretty Saro,” and “Instrumentally Irish.” There are excellent songs he’d written about both his current situation --“Looking for a Home” (which features Ralph McTell on piano), “Cat and Mouse” (with Dave Bainbridge on piano) -- as well as some that reflect his youth, such as “One to a Hundred,” a tune that comes from Jansch’s childhood memory about a schoolmate who fell into a flooded quarry and drowned. “Poor Mouth” was inspired by -- and takes its title from -- a story by Flann O’Brien. The feel of the album is seamless, one song flowing directly into another regardless of mood. What comes across most is the ease, elegance, and good-spirited nature of the players toward one another, creating an easy, breezy, but substantive recording. The production -- handled principally by Clements and Jansch -- is uncluttered and spacious. The 2009 Virgin reissue (licensed in the United States by the independent Drag City imprint) contains three bonus tracks to complement its glorious remastered sound. There's a version of Reverend Gary Davis’ blues rag “Candyman" done with a reggae rhythm, the brief but utterly lovely original “Three Dreamers,” and the mystical tome “Dragonfly” by John Bidwell. Add to this Mick Houghton’s excellent historical liner notes and it’s a package that’s a necessity for fans, and one well worth discovering by the curious.

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