Jorma Kaukonen

River of Time

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Two years after Stars in My Crown, his Red House debut, guitarist Jorma Kaukonen follows up that fine effort with what could be considered "Stars in My Crown, Pt. 2". This year's model finds the ex-Jefferson Airplane and occasional Hot Tuna guitarist plowing similar turf as on the previous release. He stays unplugged and covers forgotten gems from Delta bluesmen (Mississippi John Hurt, his old fave Rev. Gary Davis), country icons (Merle Haggard), and adds some likeminded originals. It was recorded in Levon Helm's Woodstock, NY home studio so naturally the ex-Band member contributes his laid-back drums to a handful of tracks. Kaukonen's somewhat nasal voice has deepened with age and makes a perfect counterpoint to these already warm, folksy-bluesy tunes. In this context the old blues standard "Trouble in Mind" nestles in perfectly, especially with Helm's drums nudging the beat. Mandolinist Barry Mitterhoff, also back from the last disc, takes the lead on many tunes, and it's the combination of his licks with Kaukonen's acoustic picking that makes this album feel as comfortable as an old sweater on a chilly morning. Multi-instrumentalist/producer Larry Campbell, who also produced and played on Helm's 2007 successful comeback Dirt Farmer, is the secret weapon here, adding fiddles and various stringed instruments to enhance the sound. The elegiac instrumental "A Walk with Friends," featuring Campbell's crying pedal steel, stands out as one of the loveliest moments in Kaukonen's storied career, right up there with Hot Tuna's "Water Song." A jaunty version of the Grateful Dead's "Operator" takes us back to the guitarist's San Francisco roots and also serves as a tender shout out to the departed Ron "Pigpen" McKernan. A few Kaukonen originals, such as the overlong closing "Simpler Than I Thought" aren't quite up to the high standards of the rest of the disc, but this is still a welcome addition to the guitarist's long discography and an indication that at almost 70, the gifted musician remains as vital as ever.

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