North London's Earth Recordings has in a very short time, become one of the premier reissue labels for its quality packages. A Man I'd Rather Be, Pt. 1 is actually their third Bert Jansch archival project, the first two being Living in the Shadows, Pts. 2 & 3 that cataloged the guitarist's often forgotten '90s and 2000s sides for richly deserved reappraisal. This four-disc set circles back to the mid-'60s recordings that established Jansch's reputation as a guitarist and songwriter. His influence resonates in everyone from Jimmy Page and Johnny Marr to Steve Gunn and Cian Nugent.
These recordings were done between 1965-1966. The first two, 1965's Bert Jansch and It Don't Bother Me, were literally recorded in Bill Leader's bedroom studio. Longtime fans will be intimately familiar with these, as well as 1966's Jack Orion and Bert & John (Renbourn), the latter the only full-length duet recording between the two brilliant guitarists of Pentangle. Bert Jansch's opener "Strolling Down the Dusty Road" reveals just how accomplished a folk-bluesman the guitarist -- a student of Davy Graham's -- already was at 22. That impression is borne out in the spooky extrapolation of Big Bill Broonzy's style in a minor-key adaptation of Jimmy Giuffre's "Smokey River," the haunted folk storytelling in "Needle of Death," the Charles Mingus nod in "Alice's Wonderland," or set-closer "Angie," a tune Jansch learned from Graham. (Paul Simon covered it on Simon & Garfunkel's Sounds of Silence, but there's no comparison in quality.) It Don't Bother Me offers the mutant Celtic blues of "Oh My Babe," the wry humor and startling fingerpicking of the set's title track, and the rare political track "Anti Apartheid," and it's all a-dazzle with accomplished technique and abundant emotion. Jack Orion is arguably Jansch's most famous recording as it bears his version "Black Water Side" (learned from Anne Briggs and swiped by Jimmy Page for Led Zeppelin I as "Black Water Slide"). But the driving guitar and banjo interplay on set-opener "The Waggoner's Lad," a languid solo guitar read of Ewan MacColl's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," and the title track are easily its equals. The final disc, Bert & John offers early evidence of the magical interplay the pair would later display in Pentangle. There is the open modal folk study in "East Wind," an innovative folk-jazz read of Mingus' "Good-Bye Pork Pie Hat," the co-written revisioning of Elizabethan folk in "Orlando," and the brilliant cover of Briggs' classic "The Time Has Come." Alongside the recordings in individual sleeves inside a handsome slipcase, there is a new liner essay by Leader as well as the original liners by Jansch and Keith De Groot. There are also previously unissued session photos by Brian Shuel. While longtime fans may want to replace their original LPs with these quality pressings, this set is well worth the investment for anyone interested in guitar players, blues, and British folk. ~ Thom Jurek