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Published: 2002/06/15
by Dan Alford

Jorma Kaukonen and Blue Country @ the Bottom Line, NYC- 6/13

At my very core I’m a Dead Head- proud and true- but in the shower I’m usually singing Soulive, and at work I tirelessly run over riffs from SKB. But the music that haunts my dreams, that music is produced by Jorma Kaukonen. When I first stumbled onto the music of Hot Tuna at the ripe ol’ age of 13, I thought I had a secret that no one knew, and to a large degree, I still feel that way. Tuna is unquestionably the most overlooked band in the psychedelic/folk/rock/jam worlds. Overlooked, that is, by everyone but the most important people- the real music fans. I’ve said it over and over again in these electronic pages, but it bears saying again: Hot Tuna’s music, Jorma’s music, is music for the true listener.

The early show at the Bottom Line was the first show of an extended tour supporting Jorma’s new CD Blue Country Heart. Playing as a trio, JK and Blue Country also includes Barry Mitterhof on mandolin and Sally Van Meter (and Cindy Cashdollar at some shows) on dobro. Over the next couple of months the group will be playing just about everywhere, including headlining dates, festival slots, sets supporting the PLQ and sets on the Jam Grass tour. If they are playing in your area, do yourself a favor and check out the show.

The hour and a half set was fairly (and surprisingly) balanced between material from the new disc and klassic Kaukonen. The new material is actually very old material- covers of 30s country and folk tunes. As on the disc, Jorma’s usually slurry vocals were crisp and clean. Songs like Big River Blues and Prohibition Blues really shined with the honed lyrical treatment. On the former Barry echoed the early line "Let it rain, let it pour, let it rain a whole lot more," with a cascade of notes, while latter number featured one of many end jamlets that had everyone looking and listening, and playing as a unit. Admittedly these songs do not stray far from the path Jorma’s traveled for many years, but they are fun nonetheless, and all three band members were visibly having a blast with them.

From the more familiar songbook came a real treat: three instrumentals. The Do Not Go Gentle early in the set ignored its own advice, delicately forming a sound sculpture from ice crystals. This is where Jorma’s music is at its best, where every note is distinct and important, but still part of the collective movement. Sally played five simple notes near the beginning that just about killed me. Living in the Home was in a similar vein, both in terms of composition and performance, but Jorma’s big hit (as he called it), Embryonic Journey, was lively and bright.

I cannot think of a better way to spend a drowsy, gray day than kicking back in a quiet venue with a few cold beers and a blue country heart.

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