Blue Country Heart
First Appeared at The Music Box, August 2002, Volume 9, #8
Written by John Metzger
Jorma Kaukonen, of course, is best known for his work with Jefferson Airplane. It was he who penned and performed the gentle Embryonic Journey, and it was he who transformed the traditional Good Shepherd into a counterculture hymn. But the weight of Jefferson Airplane was too great, and as the band began to implode, Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady launched their own project ó Hot Tuna. Together, the duo delved into the rich, fertile ground of electric and acoustic folk and blues, and itís here where Kaukonen has remained ó both with Hot Tuna and as a solo artist. His latest outing is Blue Country Heart, and itís his first studio release for a major label since Hot Tunaís 1990 Epic outing Pair a Dice Found. Fortunately, Blue Country Heart fares much better.
Granted, the style and substance of Blue Country Heart doesnít stray all that far from anything Kaukonenís delivered for the better part of three decades. His albums are full of original songs that hearken to an earlier time and are always rounded out with several well-chosen, old-time tunes that are lovingly re-crafted for the í60s generation. But Blue Country Heart is a little bit different in that it is comprised entirely of cover songs. And what great tunes they are: old country standards that roll back the years to another time and another place. Two tracks (Blue Railroad Train and Blues Stay Away from Me) come from the Delmore Brothers catalog, and three more (Waiting for a Train, Those Gamblerís Blues, You and My Old Guitar) were written by Jimmie Rodgers. There are thirteen songs in all, plucked from the dusty back roads and rickety railroad tracks of early America.
While itís true that many classic rockers have recorded albums recreating the music that first influenced them, these projects often come to fruition with mixed results. Not so for Kaukonenís Blue Country Heart. Then again, it helps to have Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and Byron House along for the ride.
Throughout Blue Country Heart, the quartet gives each song the love and devotion that it rightfully deserves, playfully interweaving their instruments to create a delicate tapestry of organic folk. In fact, while listening to the album, itís impossible not to be in absolute awe at the effortless ease with which each song is delivered as Kaukonen, Douglas, Bush, and House each demonstrate exactly why they are considered one of the best at their respective instruments. So, back to our question: What happens when Jorma Kaukonen settles into the studio with mandolin virtuoso Sam Bush, dobro wizard Jerry Douglas, and bass player Byron House? Magic. Sheer magic.
Blue Country Heart is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box