"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Friday, December 15, 2006

In Your Ear

Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer


The Black Swan

P-Vine, 2,520 yen

Revered in Britain since his debut in the mid-'60s, Scottish folk guitar wizard Bert Jansch has undeservedly cruised just under the radar in North America, never achieving the wide popularity of a James Taylor or even a Don McLean. His latest album The Black Swan is unlikely to break into MTV's Big 10 or be featured on Total Requests Live any time soon, despite Neil Young comparing him favorably to Jimi Hendrix.

Jansch's appeal as a solo artist and as part of British folk supergroup Pentangle has never fit with mainstream pop tastes--he doesn't prance around in spandex, date starlets or regularly get arrested. What he does do is sing, write interesting songs and play the acoustic guitar very, very, very well.

Jansch's guitar on Swan is as warm and refreshing as a sudden shower of rain on a hot, sunny day. There are no head-melting solos, just solid, consistently interesting and off-beat instrumental work as Jansch backs up his own dry, deep vocals and those of guest Beth Orton on a selection of sparsely arranged tracks built around his guitar. The tracks run the gamut from meditative ballads such as "High Days" to folk blues such as "My Pocket's Empty" and the titular sci-fi story-song. There are even a pair of protest songs--"Texas Cowboy Blues" and "Bring Your Religion."

An excellent antidote to the commercial hurly-burly of the holiday season.


The Very Best of Jerry Garcia

Rhino/Warner, 3,150 yen

'Tis the season for greatest hits collections, and Rhino has assembled an excellent cross section of Jerry Garcia's recordings as a solo artist.

Best known for his lengthy guitar solos in concert with psychedelic jam icons the Grateful Dead, Garcia started his musical career as a folk banjo player, and his musical tastes pretty much covered the waterfront, something reflected in this collection that includes covers of songs by Irving Berlin, Bob Dylan, Alan Toussaint, the Beatles and Jimmy Cliff, as well as numerous joint efforts between Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter.

The first of the two discs is drawn from Garcia's solo studio rock albums recorded in the '70s and early '80s and not all of it has aged especially well. The second disc, made up of live recordings from 1973 to 1990, offers a better example of Garcia at the top of his game, stepping out for extended solos and crossing genres from bluegrass to folk-rock to reggae.

While it contains some absolute gems, the album could have been shorter and is better suited to fans and Garcia completists than neophytes.


Live at the Fillmore East

Reprise/Warner, 2,580 yen

While not technically a "best of" collection, this 1970 concert recording of Neil Young and Crazy Horse showcases the group at their best.

Young, in 1970, had not yet reached the peak of his fame and it was performances like this one that earned him a place in guitar hero Valhalla. He wails, crunches and twangs his way through an energetic set of his early material with extended pregrunge workouts on "Down By The River" and "Cowgirl In The Sand." Also included is an early version of "Wonderin'," a minor hit for Young when he finally recorded it in 1983. This album is must-have for fans and will come as a revelation for those who only know Young's Harvest-era folk material.
(Dec. 16, 2006)

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