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Published: 2002/08/24
by Michael Lello

Blue Country Heart – Jorma Kaukonen

Columbia Records 86394

On the back cover of Jorma Kaukonen's Blue Country Heart the
singer/guitarist writes that he has, for years, had a dream: "To go to
Nashville and record great, old country songs with some of America's finest
bluegrass musicians".

Mission accomplished.

On Blue Country Heart, the songs are unequivocally great. They're beautifully written and played with heart and precision. The second prong of Kaukonen's dream is fulfilled, too; these songs are old. The songs, as he eloquently writes in the liner notes, "are the very roots of American music, back when country borrowed extensively from its across-the-railroad-tracks accomplice, the blues". And thirdly, Kaukonen says he wanted to recruit some the finest bluegrassers in the United States. Well, who can argue with the selection of Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, bassist Byron House and Bela Fleck (who appears on two tracks)?

Sonically, the album is a feast for the ears even on a relatively
inexpensive CD player. Recorded in Direct Stream Digital, the disc is crisp
and meticulous, but maintains as much warmth as a dusty record. Some of the
credit for that should go to producers Roger Moutenot (who also mixed the
album) and Yves Beavuais.

Eight of the 13 tracks include the word "blues" in the title, so it's tough
to remember which song is which in conversation. But "Big Railroad Blues"
kicks things off in distinctive fashion. You can hear Douglas's fingers
slide on his dobro as Bush and Kaukonen lock in to offer some spunky
accents. Of course, as it is on the entire album, the musicianship is about
as good as it gets in the new acoustic realm, but amazingly, Kaukonen's
voice is the shining star throughout.

"Just Because" features a Fleck-led acoustic banjo intro before the rest of
the outfit joins the hoe down. The lyrics, a playful jab at a
soon-to-be-scorned lover – "Well, I'm telling you baby, I'm through with
you, because, just because" – fit the lighthearted arrangement. Kaukonen's
inimitable voice seems to fit anything he sings.

Fleck reappears on "Bread Line Blues" and initiates a synergy with Douglas that frames Jorma's voice beautifully. Again, Kaukonen is the star, and that's saying a lot considering he's accompanied by some of the best pickers on the planet. Fleck and Douglas, though, know their roles and play them perfectly: soloing here, trilling there, but never becoming bigger than the song.

Kaukonen and his fine supporting cast exude charm, soul and an indisputable
love for their music for 45 minutes and 58 seconds on the timeless Blue
Country Heart. This album is beyond newgrass, bluegrass, folk, new
acoustic or any label you care to slap on it. It is its own entity, and a
highlight of the already legendary career of Jorma Kaukonen, a genuine
student, lover and performer of American music.

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