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When I Leave Berlin

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Album Review

Recorded in 1973 and reissued in 2007 with a slew of bonus tracks, When I Leave Berlin finds cult folk guitarist Wizz Jones in rude creative health — easygoing performances and dryly gentle wit place him in a spot where his contemporaries would have been someone like Leo Kottke rather than Dan Fogelberg. Certainly his many admirers in his home country agreed, and guests include Lazy Farmer, who back him up on four songs, and Bert Jansch, who duets with Jones on the concluding track of the original album, the hilariously cutting "Freudian Slip." Said song is one of three originals featured, while the remainder cover standards and covers by fellow travelers such as Robin Williamson, whose "First Girl I Loved" is a perfect choice in its study of paths not taken, for Jones' wry though not downbeat singing style as much as for his excellent instrumental performances. Woody Guthrie's "Pastures of Plenty" is a standout, Lazy Farmer's understated backing, highlighted by John Bidwell's lovely flute work, turns Guthrie's Depression classic into an intriguing fusion of American West imagery and a bucolic rural England. Meantime, the Jones-written title track tackles a more recent event, a temporary opening of the Berlin Wall in 1972 for a literal two days that Jones witnessed; its upbeat pace, backed again by Lazy Farmer, belies the conflicting sentiments of joy and separation. Track for track Jones' talent is evident, his voice light but never strained or forced, his fingerpicking a precise, sparkling delight. The 2007 reissue is stellar, excellent sound complemented further by detailed liner notes and reminiscences from Jones, as well as six bonus cuts from the time period, all covers. Besides an alternate version of Alan Hull's "Winter Song," also featured on the album itself, selections include songs by Big Bill Broonzy and Lightnin' Hopkins. [A six-track bonus edition was released in 2007.]


Born: 25 April 1939 in Croydon, Surrey, England

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s

The English folk scene with its many leaves and branches is traceable to a few gnarly yet enduring taproots. Along with the Watersons and Davy Graham, guitarist Wizz Jones is one of them. While virtually unknown in America in this sorry age, Jones was paramount in influencing virtually every acoustic guitarist and folk scenester who came after him in the U.K. Jones began to play guitar seriously in the mid- to late '50s after being inspired by the literature of the Beat Generation, and American...
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