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Bert Jansch - Toy Balloon CD (album) cover


Bert Jansch


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4.17 | 3 ratings

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4 stars Folk, Blues and Beyond.

Those familiar with the works of Davy Graham will immediately recognize that the title of my review was lifted from Graham's incredibly influential album of the same name. It was Graham's albums like this and 3/4 AD, along with the genre defining classic Folk Roots: New Routes, that had an incredible impact on the sixties English folk boom and subsequent folk rock groups like Jansch's Pentangle, which combined elements of folk, blues and very hip jazz into the Pentangle sound. (Regardless of how much the late Bert Jansch may have denied it in later years. Jansch and Graham were not particularly fond of each other, so Jansch's declaration should best be taken with a grain of salt. Especially owing to the fact that Jansch sited Graham as his major influence back in his early folk club days.)

That's also the reason why Toy Balloon works so well on so many levels and why Jansch actually sounds enthusiastic when he recorded this material. Dismissed by many Jansch aficionados as merely When The Circus Comes To Town Part Two, this album is anything but a sequel.

Where "Circus" (as Jansch called it) was mired in a middle ground of easy listening folk rock exercises, Toy Balloon shows Bert back in his folk/blues/jazz groove with a welcome cover of ill-fated contemporary Jackson C. Frank's eerie minor key ballad (My Name Is) Carnival as the album's lead off track, followed directly with Jansch's arrangement of the English traditional folksong She Moved Through The Fair. Both feature just Jansch and his acoustic Yamaha. Jansch's patented string snapping playing style and mesmerizing finger picking on this album is admirable, as is Jansch's abandon and confidence when singing. Something that was sorely lacking from the previously mentioned "Circus" album from 1995.

Jansch switches gears from folk to blues with his self penned nugget titled All I've Got, which features some great harp blowing from guest guitarist Johnny Hodge, who also adds some great slide guitar to this infectious track.

Waiting And Wondering and Hey Doc are Jansch's nods to his other prime influences as he channels the blues from his freely acknowledged boyhood heroes, Lightnin' Hopkins and Brownie McGee, respectively (along with a looser nod to Jansch's other early hero, Big Bill Broonzy, on the afore noted All I've Got.) Again, Jansch absolutely shines while delivering typical acoustic blues originals.

Jansch then switches gears back to solo acoustic with the slight instrumental titled Bert's Dance, before Jansch sings elegantly on the album's title track, another ballad before Bert get's jazzy and hands over some inspired R&B (with smoking sax) on two tracks that almost feel out of place on this album's nod back to Jansch's roots and inspirations. How It All Came Down actually sounds like Jansch channeling Steely Dan with this funky R&B and Jazz workout. Just substitute Donald Fagan's voice for that of Jansch's. Out of place or not, this is Jansch at his most inspired in years, with Jansch ending this wonderful outing with a heart rending autobiographical solo ballad titled Just A Simple Soul.

There's nothing ground breaking or particularly progressive about Toy Balloon except that it's a return to both form and quality by the late Scottish folk and blues guitar legend. 3.5 stars.

SteveG | 4/5 |


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