From the Outside is one for the Bert Jansch completists, his rare fifteenth album, originally released in 1985 in a limited edition of 500 copies on the Belgian label Konexion. This package pulls together the tracks from the original vinyl release and the 1993 CD re-issue, so comprising fifteen songs delivered solo without any of the over-production and superfluous accompaniment that typified many 1980s albums by folk artists, as they fought desperately to stem the populist tide of punk, new wave and the like. Ironically, that lack of production also prevents this collection from sounding dated, a quality sadly lacking in some of those 80s ‘folk’ albums.
As Colin Harper writes in his excellent Jansch biography, Dazzling Stranger, describing the original release of From The Outside, “Cobbled together from sessions in Denmark and London, with unsympathetic engineers and featuring only guitar and voice, it was Bert’s rawest and most cathartic work since Bert Jansch twenty years earlier”. Indeed, this is Jansch at his most stark and introspective, perhaps reflecting his state of mind at the time, coming as it did during an unhappy period of heavy drinking, and just a couple of years before his career changing hospitalisation and consequent abstinence from alcohol for the remainder of his life.
The album showcases Jansch’s undoubted guitar picking skills, of course, as well as some nifty banjo work for example on opener Sweet Rose, but it also serves as a fascinating snapshot of his prolific songwriting career, even if the subject matter, unsurprisingly given the context, tends to the maudlin and contemplative.
There’s a definite sixties vibe to the material, even if the angry young man has matured somewhat and Jansch’s vocal is less impenetrable than it can be found elsewhere. Shout, I Sure Wanna Know and Read All About It all have a ‘protest song’ feel. Blackbird In The Morning (described by Harper as “a serene love song redolent of James Taylor”) is almost upbeat in the company of the less optimistic material.
Why Me (Still Love Her Now That She’s Gone) and Get Out Of My Life are as dark and desolate as their titles sound, the latter especially so, as Jansch sneers in the chorus “Gonna drink sitting on my own, yeah drink and drive you fuckers away”. In contrast, instrumentals From The Outside and album closer From The Inside are gentle, timeless Jansch pieces.
Overall, From The Outside is probably unlikely to convert many, which is a shame, because it is definitely one for his fans.
From the Outside is released via Earth Recordings on 10 June.