Issued in 1969, California Bloodlines is regarded by many to be singer/songwriter John Stewart's finest work. That's debatable, but it is a hell of an album. Stewart, who had finally left behind the Kingston Trio to pursue a solo career, solidified it here. Well known as the guy who wrote "Daydream Believer" for the Monkees, Stewart proved to be a credible, sometimes even enigmatic performer in his own right. Nick Venet produced California Bloodlines. He took Stewart to Nash Vegas and enlisted a host of studio cats who existed largely outside of Chet Atkins' countrypolitan mafia: drummer Kenneth A. Buttrey, bassist Norbert Putnam, harmonicat Charlie McCoy, Lloyd Green on pedal steel, and others, including the most sought-after upright pianist in country music history: Hargus "Pig" Robbins. Incidentally, many of these same musicians played on Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline session. Musically, California Bloodlines is a study in contradictions. Texturally thin like Stewart's voice, the songs are romantic visions of people and places that come out of a present which is already in the past and a past inhabited by ghosts. But this is also where Stewart excels lyrically. His portraits of spirits are made nearly flesh in his songs, which are ambitious lyrically if not musically, such as the title track, "The Pirates of Stone County Road," "Razor-Back Woman," "Some Lonesome Picker," "July You're a Woman," and "You Can't Look Back," with Green's pedal steel dancing throughout the melody and filling in each line. But perhaps the most beautiful track on the album is the elegiac "Missouri Birds," with its lilt and slow-stepped observations about space and time. And while generally regarded as a folk artist, Stewart's country roots are displayed here are as deep as Mickey Newbury's, even if he wasn't born in Texas. This is a glorious recording which kicks off an erratic yet never dull career with a bang.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek