Album of the Day: Bert Jansch, “From the Outside”

A talented songwriter can add nuance into even the simplest tune. So while Bert Jansch’s classic 1985 album From the Outside may not have an array of bells and whistles, its songs are full of great, small moments.

The album’s 15 tracks tackle a range of themes, running from relationships to political fare, like “Shout.” Jansch performs most of them using only his trademark guitar style, with its unusual chord voicing and added notes, and his voice (album-opener “Sweet Rose” swaps in a banjo, bridging the gap between his native Scotland and the Americana he invokes).

His Glaswegian accent gives his music a shade of distinction. On “Time is an Old Friend,” his skipping cadence adds emphasis to his elegant and poignant lyrics: “Living and recounting love long ago/ Is a quiet and lonely, tickets only/ One-man drowning show,” he sings.

But Jansch’s words and voice aren’t his only strength. The title track is an instrumental with a melody similar to “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face,” which appeared on Jansch’s famous 1966 album Jack Orion. Using guitar alone, Jansch plugs along as if slowly winding his way down a country path. His style is as definitive as it is original: both Eric Clapton and Neil Young have cited him as an influence.

Jansch passed away in 2011 from lung cancer, leaving behind an impressive array of work. From the Outside offers a stark reminder of his prolific talent.

Amanda Wicks

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