Bert Jansch

Heartbreak

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Bert Jansch was a wonderfully maverick musician, as much a gypsy as he was anything, but he was also remarkably consistent to his own vision as a guitarist and songwriter throughout his career, which began when he borrowed a guitar and played a riveting set into a reel-to-reel recorder in his kitchen in the early '60s, which resulted in his first album, simply called Bert Jansch, released on the tiny Transatlantic label in 1965. Mixing jazz, American blues, and British folk into an intense and brilliant acoustic guitar style, he wrote sparse and ruggedly romantic songs while artfully reimagining traditional fare to fit his template, and with his smoky, hard-traveled vocals, he was as consistent a studio artist as we've had in the past 40 years, and every one of his 23 studio albums, even if some of them seem like curious missteps, was unmistakably Bert Jansch. He wasn't built for the commercial mainstream, though, and by the late '70s he was drinking heavily, and while he was too much a talent to not bring something special to everything he played, he seemed to be creatively spent and just barely afloat. In the spring of 1981, two young fans, brothers Rick Chelew and John Chelew, borrowed money from their mother to bring Jansch to California and record an album at Silverlake Studio, hiring in musicians (including Albert Lee and Jennifer Warnes) to support, and lining up gigs for Jansch in the area between sessions to get him some extra money. The album that resulted, Heartbreak, was released in 1982 (on Logo Records in the U.K. and on Joe Boyd's Hannibal Records in the U.S.) and was somewhat of a mixed bag, with Jansch doing yet another version of his signature "Blackwater Side" (this time with Albert Lee on mandolin), delivering fine takes of the traditional "Wild Mountain Thyme" and Tim Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter," and stumbling through a misguided attempt at "Heartbreak Hotel." It wasn't a bad album, but it was clearly Jansch treading water and trying not to creatively drown, and it quickly went out of print.

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