"Heartbreak" Is Right! How Did This Happen???? (Pressing plant correction)
It begins with a couple of Southern California kids back in 1967—brothers— taken with Bert Jansch's music, having been obliquely alerted to it through one's love of Donovan's music. Two songs piqued his curiosity: "Bert's Blues" and "House of Jansch".
The younger brother traded with the owner of a small record store specializing in English folk imports, a green corduroy jacket for Bert Jansch's first Transatlantic album and thus began for both boys an enduring relationship with Jansch and his music.
One of the brothers, John Chelew, went on to produce among other albums, John Hiatt's superb Bring the Family, but I'm getting ahead of myself! In the newly written liner notes Chelew says he still regularly listens his Jansch LPs and so do I, along with the rest of my Transatlantic stash: Renbourn, Pentangle and Gerry Rafferty's Can I Have My Money Back?, one of my all time faves.
That's what led me to ask for a review copy of this reissue as soon as it was announced and to drop everything I was doing to play it (you'll have to read the rest of the story in the liner notes).
Opening the Omnivore reissue gave hope for a well-produced reissue. It was a gatefold "tip-on" (paper on cardboard) jacket and the LP was a 180g clear pressing from Rainbo. The inner gatefold features a wonderful shot of Jansch, a more formalized professionally photographed presentation than usually found on Jansch albums.
I popped it on the turntable, listening for the first play while reading the veteran English folk musician Ralph McTell's newly written notes published on the inner sleeve that was in addition to RTI's paper/rice paper inner sleeve. Like I said, this package, complete with digital MP3 download is deluxe and done with care.
Even the dual mastering credits, Reuben Cohen and Gavin Lurrsen at Lurrsen Mastering and Larry Nix at L. Nix Mastering in Memphis wasn't terribly disappointing. When you see this it usually indicates an LP cut from a digital file by the second mastering engineer and an "L. Nix" was scribed on the lead out groove area. If the source was a 96k/24 bit file, it should sound good. As good as had it been cut from the tape? Probably not but still....
Turns out McTell, a dear friend of Jansch, had met the inexperienced brothers in a Santa Monica bar, where they asked for McTell's encouragement as they dreamed of producing a Bert Jansch album. McTell told them: "Just do it!" And so they did, using money borrowed from their mother.
While McTell recalls 1981 as a dark time for Jansch, who was deeply into alcohol, (though McTell points out, it wasn't a "battle with alcohol" because Bert wasn't fighting it) you won't hear a problem with his singing or especially his guitar playing.
The brothers—the younger one still in high school—chose to record the album in a small un-air conditioned studio in the L.A. suburb of Silver Lake during five hot June days. While they were inexperienced producers, they managed to get guitarist Albert Lee to join them, along with Matt Betton on drums who'd worked with T-Bone Burnett and was then playing with Jimmy Buffett. On the few sessions he couldn't attend they got Jack Kelly. Randy Tico played bass. Rick Chelew had seen him playing at McCabe's in Santa Monica.
The Chelews also booked some live dates for Jansch that they recorded, including one at McCabe's that's part of the deluxe 2 CD set.
The musicians were paid $50 a song, except for Jennifer Warnes, who was paid scale for her participation in a really wonderful version of the oft-covered Scottish folk tune "Wild Mountain Thyme," perhaps best known from the version by The Byrds.
The other covers are of Tim Hardin's "If I was a Carpenter" and the unlikely "Heartbreak Hotel." The rest are Jansch original sung in that dark, rich, melancholic voice familiar to Pentangle fans as the thick counterpoint to Jacqui McShee's flute-like voice.
So I'm listening along while reading McTell's notes and I start noticing something odd: everything's stacked up in the center between the speakers. Did they record this in MONO? In 1981? That made no sense. So just to be sure, I switched from the Ortofon Anna on the Continuum Cobra arm driving the Ypsilon phono preamp, to the Lyra Atlas on the Kuzma 4 Point driving the Zesto phono preamp currently under evaluation and same thing! Then just to be triple sure, I listened on headphones. MONO!
Then I remembered there was an MP3 digital download card included so I downloaded the files. And? STEREO! A really nice mix. WTF?
So I called the publicist, Cary Baker, who I've known since about the time this album was first recorded and told him what I'd heard. As I'm talking to him the power goes out again!
I speak to him later and he tells me the folks at Omnivore listened and they say it's stereo. I say I can't double check because I have no power but when I do I will.
The power's back and I'm 100% certain the LP is mono. I'm still waiting to hear back from both credited mastering engineers but clearly one of them or both of them fucked up royally and unfortunately, not enough attention was paid to the test pressing before it was approved for the 1500 initial run.
What a damn shame, especially since it's a fine, simple recording—not surprising considering that one of the Chelews went on to produce the spectacularly natural-sounding Hiatt album.
If you're a Jansch fan it's easy to recommend the 2 CD set, though I've not heard the live at McCabe's disc. Easy to recommend because the music on the record is everything a Bert Jansch fan craves: sparkling acoustic guitar playing that sounds both from the distant English past and the near-jazz future and singing that creates a somehow welcome cold, cloudy, windy gloom, and satisfying serenity.
DAMN shame about the LP mastering screw-up though. (Were the record in stereo it would rate an "8" for sound)