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Bert Jansch veers off into a commercial cul-de-sac
on 22 December 2005
Bert Jansch's 1967 album "Nicola" represents an attempt to create a more commercial sound on some, but not all of the tracks. The problem is that with Jansch you are talking one of the great acoustic guitar players in the history of the world, so when he stops playing the guitar and just sings with an orchestra accompaniment it is just plain wrong. Yes, Eric Clapton has turned into a pretty decent singer, but the same cannot be said for Jansch, although I must confess that "Go Your Way My Love" is one of the first tracks where I have enjoyed Jansch's singing. He was never Donovan, but at least on this one he is heading in that direction. But then there are flutes and strings playing in "Woe Is Love My Dear" and it is just too weird, especially since that was obviously the track they intended to be the hit single in violation of all of our expectations for his music.
Even though there are some of the most atypical tracks in the Jansch oeuvre on this album, such as the outright pop song "Live Depends on Love," there are some songs that play to Jansch's strengths. The title track is a guitar and flute duet, with a nice Renaissance touch. "Come Back Baby" is Jansch playing and singing the blues, as is "Weeping Willow Blues." But then "A Little Sweet Sunshine" has an electric guitar on it (as the jaws of listeners drop on cue) and proves that this album might be the most diverse mix of musical stylings he ever recorded. The lesson here is what it has always been when listening to Jansch. Just give me the man playing his guitar like he does on "Box of Love."
Of the dozen cuts on Jansch's third solo album he wrote nine of them, which means on most of these tracks you get to hear him play the guitar and mix together the blues with traditional British Isle folk music. "Nicola" would not be high on the list of Bert Jansch albums to recommend to people, and since it was combined with his 1969 album "Birthday Blues" on one CD I have to say that is the way to go with this one even with the two bonus tracks on this version, because it is really too odd to pick up by itself. I would rate it at 3-and-a-half stars and round down simply to indicate its position relative to the rest of his early work, although that first track is one of his best.