For Hot Tuna fans and music scholars, Live at New Orleans House, Berkeley, CA 9/69 might, at first glance, seem simply like a much expanded version of the band's self-titled debut album for RCA. On the contrary, however, this CD, recorded in stellar audio by the label's mobile unit during the same week, is a completely different set, with some of the material making its way into the CD market for the very first time -- other tracks have been available separately as bonus material on various Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna reissues and compilations. That said, it's not just the extra music that makes this such a fascinating recording. While the six titles that appeared on the debut album are here, these are often radically different versions because Hot Tuna was, if nothing else, a unit that valued spontaneity and improvisation as much as its dedication to this traditional American music. Jorma Kaukonen explains that he and Jack Casady had been playing this music informally for a long time in between Jefferson Airplane gigs -- they were still members of the band at this time -- sometimes in smaller venues with Janis Joplin or the Airplane's Marty Balin on vocals. Along with harmonica player Will Scarlett, the duo took Kaukonen's truly amazing technical facility on the acoustic guitar -- he had studied (as had John Hammond) with Ian Buchanan at Antioch College in Ohio, the Rev. Gary Davis, and others -- and married it to Casady's funky electric basslines, coming up with a reverent though utterly contemporary interpretation of blues, rags, and folk songs. Standout tunes on the set include "Come Back Baby" (credited to Lightnin' Hopkins), Kaukonen's "Sea Child," and Blind Blake's "Never Happen No More," which was only released on First Pull Up, Then Pull Down, then In a Can, Classic Hot Tuna Acoustic, and Festivalink Presents Hot Tuna at Merlefest: 4/28/06. The performance flows spontaneously and organically from start to finish, clocking in at a full 68 minutes without a weak moment. The versions of some tracks from the debut, such as "Death Don't Have No Mercy" and "Know You Rider," are actually better here. There's also a fine historical liner essay by Richie Unterberger, containing quotes from Kaukonen.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek