Ain’t In No Hurry
3.5 out of 5 stars
“Embryonic Journey,” one of the timeless tracks from Jorma Kaukonen’s first band, the Jefferson Airplane, seemed like an anomaly when the acoustic finger picked track appeared on 1967’s very plugged in psychedelic classic Surrealistic Pillow album. But Kaukonen had been playing rootsy folk blues for years before that. He returned to the style for the early Hot Tuna albums with longtime friend/bassist Jack Casady and through the decades the down home, rustic country blues, bluegrass and folk has become a substantial part of his career.
Even though he still plugs in and boogies with Hot Tuna, Kaukonen’s solo albums have increasingly dug ever deeper into his folksy past, with this, his newest, another fine example of how profoundly invested Kaukonen is in this music. Self-penned liner notes describe his history of loving these sounds and how he uses their lyrical imagery to tell his own story. For this first release in six years, Kaukonen mixes well known (“Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”) and more obscure (A.P. Carter’s “Sweet Fern”) fare with a handful of freshly penned tunes, most of which sound like lost gems from 100 years ago. The seeming dichotomy of resurrecting and turning an old Hot Tuna track (“Bar Room Crystal Ball”) into sweet country, then adding new music to Woody Guthrie’s words on “Suffer Little Children To Come Unto Me” is erased when you hear how naturally they both emerge from the same artistic well.
Kaukonen’s distinctive nasal vocals have never been his strong point, but they work just fine with this dusky backwoods material. Still, it’s a treat to hear Teresa Williams sing backing and harmony on three tracks including “…Fern”; her sweet voice helps bring the mountain song an extra jolt of authenticity. A stripped down version of the melancholy Depression era nugget “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” perfectly balances the song’s darker edge with his sprightly playing and longtime accompanist Barry Mitterhoff’s bittersweet mandolin.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Kaukonen’s originals including the title track, the lovely “In My Dreams” and the closing “Seasons in the Field,” (the latter is the disc’s only unaccompanied performance) concern getting older, fondly looking back at a life he is justifiably proud of with the wisdom of his 75 years. For those who have followed the guitarist through his impressive career, there may not be many surprises here. Regardless, Jorma Kaukonen is clearly having a blast working with this material which makes this a wonderful addition to an already deep and impressive catalog.