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BERT JANSCH "Toy Balloon" Cooking Vinyl COOKCD138

Bert's last album on Cooking Vinyl "When the Circus Comes to Town" was a classic and was always going to take some following. I wouldn't say "Toy Balloon" surpasses it but it does come close. This album is well crafted and offers a greater range of styles than previous work, with perhaps a stronger jazz influence in a few tracks. Balancing these pieces though, is classic pure Jansch, with the title track for one providing the soft imagery which he writes and sings so beautifully - accompanied as ever with his unique guitar work, as perfect and as clear as spring water.

There are only two songs not written by Bert, one of them opening the album. "Carnival", a powerful piece written by the influential sixties songwriter Jackson C. Frank has its haunting and intriguing lyrics performed perfectly in a way that the writer must only have the utmost respect for. This is followed by the traditional "She Moved Through the Fair" and a fine arrangement it gets, the old words complimented with intricate finger picking guitar work.

Highlights for me from this album are "Toy Balloon" and "Paper Houses", both excellent songs, gently intimate and finely presented. "Bett's Dance" is an instrumental piece which will delight anyone who loves the man's work - it couldn't have been written by anyone else! It is personal taste but I found the tougher, bluesy tracks ("All I got", "How it All Came Down", "Hey Doc") or the jazz influenced "Sweet Talking Lady" somehow weaker, maybe not as natural as the rest of the album. Perhaps this is because I don't usually find that additional backing can add much to the delicate mournful vocals and immaculate guitar playing of Jansch.

The album closes with "Just A Simple Soul", a lovely song reflecting on the vulgarity of commercialised Christmas. Throughout the album, Bert brings into his lyrics as he has done so many time, the gentle image of British birds. The house-martin, the skylark and the robin all get a mention and the pictures in the mind that they create all contribute to the reasons why for so long Bert Jansch has been considered one of the finest writers and musicians that this land has produced.

Overall another excellent piece of work by this most respected of artistes who shows that after thirty years he still produces work that inspires, moves and will continue to influence.

Neil Brown

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This album was reviewed in Issue 28 of The Living Tradition magazine.