Live is perhaps the best way to hear Bert Jansch, to be dazzled by the quality and assurance of his guitar work as well as his way with a song. After what seemed like a long time in the wilderness, he'd found his musical path again in 1996 with When the Circus Comes to Town and Live at the 12 Bar. Recorded two years later, this sounds so much more confident than either of those releases, the music of a man who'd not only recovered his form but was back at the top of his game – you only need to hear the picking behind the voice on "She Moved Through the Fair" to understand that.
For a virtually unknown (in the United States) Scottish guitar player, Bert Jansch has had his fair share of anthologies. 1998's Blackwater Side and 2003's Legend: The Classic Recordings focused singularly on his late-'60s heyday, while 2002's two-disc Dazzling Stranger – still the superior choice – followed his career through the turn of the millennium. Castle's Running from Home: An Introduction To attempts to balance all three by sticking with a single disc and cramming it with 21 tracks that run the gamut from 1965-2002.
Sanctuary's mammoth triple-disc Pentangle overview poses a bit of a dilemma. First of all, it's called Pentangling, which is already the name of a 1973 compilation, and secondly, while not deliberately misleading, it focuses more attention on the solo careers of John Renbourn and Bert Jansch than it does on the entity that supplies the collection's title. Despite these petty gripes, Pentangling is filled to the brim with some of the finest recordings the British folk movement had to offer, and hearing the group as a whole, followed by an entire disc – one apiece – of two of the genre's most gifted guitarists, is rewarding in more ways than one: both men, as well as the band, released material well into the 21st century, but Pentangling focuses only on their treasured late-'60s/early-'70s output. Listeners looking for a more comprehensive take on Pentangle would be better off with Castle's excellent Light Flight: The Anthology, and Renbourn and Jansch both have lovingly packaged retrospectives that fare better than the ones offered here, but as far as entry points go, Pentangling does more than skim the surface.
Living in the Shadows is an apt title for this four-disc box set from Earth Recordings. Its subject, guitarist Bert Jansch, is a certified legend, world-renowned for his groundbreaking early solo records, his membership in Pentangle, and his innovative playing style that stretched the boundaries of various Celtic and European folk musics to embrace improvisational jazz, rock, and Middle Eastern modalism and influenced generations of players.
British guitar legend Bert Jansch has done far more constructive work (and certainly less damage) regarding authentic roots music than his fellow countryman Eric Clapton has, but tragically Jansch's works go relatively unnoticed, except for a fraction of the guitar-appreciating populace. Hopefully, Castle Music's anthology Dazzling Stranger can help to change that fact. Forty-two songs spread over two CDs tell the folk guitarist's story in chronological order from his Transatlantic recordings in 1964 through his home recordings in 2000, with an emphasis on his late-'60s and early-'70s works.