Various People On The Highway: A Bert Jansch Encomium

Serious students of the guitar fall down and worship at the feet of this time-honoured Scottish "folkie" for good reason: his impact on the acoustic guitar forever changed how it was played. A former founder of Pentangle (with John Renbourn and Danny Thompson), he helped pioneer the late '60s British folk renaissance, blending medieval "folk-baroque" influences with equal parts blues and Scots-Irish traditional music. His uncanny ability to make new songs sound traditional and traditional songs sound new, together with his dextrous finger-picking style, resulted in a distinguished collection of work that is both legendary and uniquely soulful. Gleefully obsessed fans include Neil Young (who equated his innovation on acoustic guitar to Hendrix's on electric) and Jimmy Page (who lifted Jansch's "Black Water Side" and redefined it in Zep-ish proportions). Both Rory Gallagher and Hendrix praised his technical brilliance from the beginning. As a result, this handsomely packaged Encomium - "a formal or high-flown expression of praise" - is highly overdue and thoroughly intoxicating. A veritable who's who of British folk (and otherwise) put powerful spins on Jansch's unique catalogue: protege Donovan, Roy Harper, Ralph McTell and Al Stewart take turns interpreting the works of their largely inimitable master while younger turks, including Kelly Joe Phelps, Bernard Butler and Chris Smither, round out the perspective. All in all, few artists are as deserving of such universal praise and respect, and those lined up to participate stand as further testament to the absolute mastery of this criminally under-appreciated giant of our times. (Market Square)