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A British folk legend keeps it fresh, 40 years on

Bert Jansch was tuning his guitar between songs and considering the reverent silence when he suddenly remembered where he was Wednesday night and cracked a joke about it.

"This is a nice museum you've got here," the folk icon said of the Museum of Fine Arts. "I feel right at home."

Except that he shouldn't. It's true that Jansch is a living piece of history -- a key figure of the 1960s British folk revival, a man who helped to popularize Davey Graham's "Angi," cofounded the original Pentangle lineup, and befriended and swapped songs with folk chanteuse/recluse Anne Briggs.

And it's also true that his stories are peppered with historical figures: Jansch dedicated "Let Me Sing" to the late Chilean folk singer Victor Jara and reminisced about getting drunk at a Parisian cafe with Pentangle cohort John Renbourn, an afternoon that produced the song "Fresh as a Sweet Sunday Morning."

But Jansch is far from being a relic. Unlike Donovan, a fellow Scottish-born folkie from the '60s, whose stories at the Somerville Theatre in 2005 felt stuck in a groovy time warp, Jansch has continued to grow as an artist; he wrote vibrant new songs for his latest album, "The Black Swan."

His material does, however, sound as contemplative and probing as it did four decades ago. If you suddenly stopped his version of "Blackwaterside" on Wednesday and compared it to the 1966 original recording, you'd find that not much has changed, including Jansch's voice.

Likewise, his connection with his acoustic guitar still runs deep, communicating a virtuosic understanding of how it works and a complex sense of rhythm. No song traveled down the straight and narrow, but instead zig-zagged through countermelodies that played against the beat until Jansch cinched them up.

P.G. Six, the one-man band of Pat Gubler, opened with a set that sounded astonishingly reminiscent of Jansch's unvarnished '60s catalog, albeit sung like a young James Taylor. His somber tales of war deserters and a Townes Van Zandt cover proved too much for the guy next to me, who discreetly pulled out a flask and tilted it back when no one was looking. Seriously. Ah, folk music: It'll drive you to drink.

James Reed can be reached at


Bert Jansch

With P.G. Six

At: Museum of Fine Arts, Wednesday night