In the late 60s and especially through all the 70s, when my family and many of our folk friends and fingerpicking enthusiasts in our crowd were listening to Bert Jansch and Pentangle records, I could find few people outside that group who seemed aware of their existence. But in England and in U.S. cities, Pentangle was a big favorite, and indeed "Light Flight" from Basket of Light was a Top Five record in England and the theme song for a popular show there called "Take Three Girls." In a world ruled now by Fifty Cent and Beyonce, that certainly seems like another planet, not just another time.
But decades later, I am not surprised exactly but certainly happy to hear how many significant musicians and people at large were ardent fans and greatly influenced by the incredible guitartistry of Bert Jansch and also John Renbourn, solo, and together in the group Pentangle, which also featured the superb bassist Danny Thompson and memorable vocalist Jacqui McShee. (One often sees Thompson thriving these days in the musical company of Darrell Scott.) Neil Young and Jimmy Page have both called Bert the acoustic equivalent of Jimi Hendrix, and each cited him as a favorite and major influence on their music.
Bert has made over twenty solo albums; among my favorites are Rosemary Lane, Lucky Thirteen, and Jack Orion, these are truly legendary releases (the UK releases bear different names). Besides Basket of Light, Pentangle's most memorable recordings must include Cruel Sister and Sweet Child.
In his latest record, Black Swan, one sees and hears a most captivating resurfacing of this priceless and influential artist, surrounded by the next generation of ardent artist supporters, themselves icons like Beth Orton, Devendra Banhart, and Banhart's bandmate and producer (and the producer and mixer of this great record as well) Noah Georgeson. The ghostly vocal duet between Beth Orton and Devendra Banhart on the traditional song "Katie Cruel" with Bert on guitar is a high moment.
The disc is wholly collaborational, and Bert has written music for Beth to sing (which she handles beautifully) and the artist shares the spotlght completely by featuring many youthful voices on the sessions that include his son Adam on keyboards, Helena Espvall on cello, Kevin Barker and Paul Wassif on some sharp guitar and banjo tracks, David Roback and Richard Good on slide, Otto Hauser on drums and percussion, and Maggie Boyle on flute.
May this beautiful record enchant many new fans of Bert Jansch and delight the older ones. It's a true tour de force for one of the great acoustic guitar stylists and songwriters of our time. • Frank Goodman