CULT CLASSIC: BERT JANSCH-L.A. TURNAROUND.
Cult Classic: Bert Jansch-L.A. Turnaround.
On New Year’s Day, 1973, Glasgow-born Bert Jansch announced his intention to leave folk-jazz band Pentangle, and concentrate on his burgeoning solo career. This resulted in the headline: “Pentangle Split” featuring on the first edition of Melody Maker released in 1973. For some of Pentangle’s fans, this came as a surprise, while others thought that the writing had been on the wall for a while. Especially now that Bert Jansch was a successful solo artist who had already released seven albums since 1965.
By then, folk singer Bert Jansch was signed to the Transatlantic label, and had released his eponymous debut album to critical acclaim on the ‘16th’ of April 1965. Eight months later, he released the followup It Don’t Bother Me to plaudits and praise. It looked as if the twenty-two year singer was about to enjoy a successful solo career.
With things looking good for Bert Jansch, he returned to the studio in early summer 1966, and was once again, joined by his friend John Renbourn as he recorded Jack Orion. When this third album of traditional folk was released in September 1966, the reviews were mixed. While some critics were won over by the album, and continued to fly the flag for the folk singer, others felt it was a weaker album than its predecessors. Despite that, Bert Jansch’s star was still in the ascendancy.
As 1967, dawned little did Bert Jansch realise that this would one of the most important year of his career. He entered the studio to record his fourth album Nicola in April 1967, which was Bert Jansch’s first folk rock album. When it was released in July 1967, many reviews were positive, but some weren’t sure about the new direction Bert Jansch’s music was heading. Bert Jansch had realised that his music had to evolve to stay relevant, and increase his fan-base. However, this wasn’t the only change made during 1967.
In 1967, Bert Jansch was one of the cofounders of Pentangle, which joined included his friend John Renbourn, Danny Thompson, Danny Cox and Jacqui McShee. They would combine disparate musical genres including blues, folk, folk rock and jazz over the next few years.
Having joined Pentangle, Bert Jansch’s solo career was put on hold as the new band began honing their sound and playing live. Then in 1968, Pentangle released their critically acclaimed debut album The Pentangle on the ’17th’ May 1968. It was followed by another album of folk rock Sweet Child, which was released on the ‘1st’ of November 1968 to plaudits and praise. After this, Bert Jansch’s thoughts turned to completing his sixth solo album.
Bert Jansch had started recording his sixth album in October 1968, and completed the album in November, just after Pentangle released Sweet Child. Two months later, Birthday Blues, which was produced by Shel Talmy, was released in January 1969 and was hailed as one of Bert Jansch’s finest albums. However, it would two years before Bert Jansch returned with the followup to Birthday Blues.
Buoyed by the response to Birthday Blues, Bert Jansch joined the rest of Pentangle and recorded the album Basket Of Light with producer Shel Talmy. When it was released on the ‘28th’ October 1969, it was to critical acclaim as the album reached number forty-three in Britain. Nowadays, Basket Of Light which finds Pentangle fusing folk jazz and fusion is now regarded as a minor classic, and one the Pentangle’s finest hours.
Meanwhile, Bert Jansch was working on his seventh album Rosemary Lane, between June 1970 and January 1971. Despite working on the album on and off for the best part of seventh months, Rosemary Lane, which was produced by Bill Leader received mixed reviews. This was a blow for Bert Jansch who had invested so much of his time into recording Rosemary Lane.
Two months later, and Bert Jansch was back in the studio, and spent three weeks during March 1971, recording Reflection, which was a genre-melting album. Reflection found Pentangle combining Celtic music, country, folk, folk rock, gospel and even funk on what was an ambitious and eclectic album, but one that didn’t find favour with all the critics. Some were unsure of Reflection, and their reviews were far from positive. It was a case of deja vu for Bert Jansch after the response to Rosemary Lane.
Despite the reviews of Rosemary Lane, Pentangle eventually returned to the studio and began work on their sixth album Solomon’s Seal. By then, Pentangle’s contract with Transatlantic had expired amidst arguments and wrangling over royalties. This resulted in Pentangle signing to Warner-Reprise, who had distributed their albums in America. Pentangle released Rosemary Lane on Reprise in September 1972, but the reviews were poor and so were the sales. Things weren’t looking good for Pentangle.
They got even worse when Bert Jansch announced his intention to leave Pentangle on On New Year’s Day, 1973. Melody Maker ran the story Pentangle to split in the first edition of 1973. It was the end of an era, that had ended with a disappointing swan-song that sold badly.
By then, the members of Pentangle had all spent the advances that they had received from Reprise, and owed the company significant sums of money. It would take the band until the early eighties before the advance was paid off. That was still to come, and in 1973, Bert Jansch was looking for a new record label.
He was no longer signed to Transatlantic, and had signed to Pentangle’s old label Reprise. Bert Jansch’s debut for his new label was Moonshine, which was released on Reprise in February 1973. It was produced by Danny Thompson, and saw Bert Jansch combine baroque folk and folk rock which found favour with the critics. However, after just one album, Bert Jansch left Reprise and signed for Charisma Records.
By then, Bert Jansch had written Chambertin which was one of two songs he recorded with Danny Thompson in early 1973 The other was John Renbourn’s Lady Nothing, which later, became part of Bert Jansch’s nine album L.A. Turnaround.
Having signed to Charisma, Bert Jansch began writing the rest of L.A. Turnaround. Eventually, Bert Jansch had written eight new songs including Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning, One For Jo, Travelling Man, Open Up The Watergate (Let the Sunshine In, Stone Monkey, Of Love and Lullaby, Needle Of Death and There Comes A Time. Bert Jansch also penned the lyrics to The Blacksmith and Doc Smith wrote the music. These songs were joined by John Renbourn’s Lady Nothing and the traditional song Chuck Old Hen which was arranged by Bert Jansch, and became L.A. Turnaround , and was recorded at between April ad June 1974, at Sound City, Sepulveda, California.
Taking charge of production was former Monkee, Michael Nesmith, while some top musicians became Bert Jansch’s band. This included a rhythm section of drummer Danny Lane, bassist Klaus Voormann and guitarists Michael Nesmith; Jay Lacy who played on Of Love and Lullaby and Jesse Ed Davis who featured on Open Up For Watergate. They were joined by Red Rhodes on steel guitar, Michael Cohen who played electric piano on The Blacksmith, while Byron Berline played fiddle and mandolin on Cluck Old Hen. Meanwhile, Bert Jansch played guitar, piano and added vocals on L.A. Turnaround , which took two months to record, and was released in September 1974.
Critics on hearing Bert Jansch’s ninth album, realised that stylistically, L.A. Turnaround was very different to his previous albums. There were elements of country rock, and traditional English folk rock on L.A. Turnaround , which was hailed as a minor masterpiece from Bert Jansch.
As Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning opens L.A. Turnaround , straight away it’s reminiscent of Pentangle at the peak of their considerable powers. The same can be said of Of Love and Lullaby later in the album. However, elsewhere on L.A. Turnaround , Bert Jansch and his inimitable and idiosyncratic guitar style as he moved from acoustic to rhythm guitar. His guitar takes centre-stage on the Danny Thompson produced instrumental Chambertin, and on Lady Nothing a quintessentially English folk song rich in imagery, that brings to mind a late-evening walk in a garden in the home of Wadsworth and Blake.
Travellin’ Man is one of the country rock tracks, before the bluesy Open Up The Watergate (Let The Sunshine In) breezes joyously along. The cinematic sounding Stone Monkey features some of the best lyrics on L.A. Turnaround , as troubadour Bert Jansch returned to the country rock sound that suits him. Bert Jansch then returns to English folk rock on Of Love and Lullaby, and country rock on Needle of Death where a weeping pedal steel accompanies Bert Jansch, on this poignant and ruminative sounding song. It’s one of the highlights of L.A. Turnaround and showcases one of the great British singer-songwriters of his generation at the peak of his powers. The country rock continues on There Comes A Time as a weeping pedal steel accompanies Bert Jansch’s mid-Atlantic accent as he’s accompanied by one the finest and fullest arrangements on L.A. Turnaround .
Bert Jansch combines blues and traditional folk on Cluck Old Hen, which is quite unlike the rest of the album. However, it’s undeniably Bert Jansch and is reminiscent of his previous albums. Closing L.A. Turnaround The Blacksmith, which bursts into life and is a mixture of the old, the new and traditional folk. Again, it’s reminiscent of earlier albums, but still ensures the album ends on a high.
L.A. Turnaround with its mixture of blues, country rock and traditional English folk was Bert Jansch’s ninth album, and first for Charisma. Pentangle’s influence could also be heard on As Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning and Of Love and Lullaby. This made L.A. Turnaround an album that looked to Bert Jansch’s past, present and into the future.
Bert Jansch was hoping that L.A. Turnaround would appeal to his fans that had followed his solo career since 1965, the fans that embraced his folk rock sound and those that had followed Pentangle’s career. However, Bert Jansch’s decisions to head in the direction of country rock, showed that he was thinking about the future and hoping to broaden his commercial appeal on L.A. Turnaround .
That should’ve been the case as L.A. Turnaround was a carefully crafted album that was released to critical acclaim, and immediately hailed as one of Bert Jansch’s finest hours. That was no surprise as L.A. Turnaround was Bert Jansch’s finest hour, and by 1974, was the most accomplished and cohesive album of his career. By then, he had released nine solo albums, and depite L.A. Turnaround’s commercial failure this cult classic is a minor masterpiece and is Bert Jansch’s finest hour and a tantalising taste of a singer-songwriter at the peak of his considerable powers.
Cult Classic: Bert Jansch-L.A. Turnaround.
- Posted in: Blues ♦ Country ♦ Country Rock ♦ Folk ♦ Folk Rock
- Tagged: Bert Jansch, Birthday Blues, Charisma Records, Danny Thompson, Earth UK, It Don't Bother Me, Jack Orion, John Renbourn, Michael Nesmith, Moonshine, Nicola, Pentangle, Rosemary Lane