Only the second Hot Tuna studio set in 30 years, and the band's first in two decades, the outfit circa 2011 is a decidedly older, wiser, and more laid-back unit than the amped-up boogie-ers responsible for a series of successful albums in the '70s. That's a mixed blessing, though, because the Tuna seem to have lost some of their fire during their long layoff from the studio. Where once Jack Casady's thunderous bass played tag with Jorma Kaukonen's blustery, psychedelic blues guitar lines, the duo -- now fleshed out with mandolin player Barry Mitterhoff and drummer Skoota Warner -- is now content to be a pretty decent but far less distinctive folk, blues, and singer/songwriter act. Casady's forcefully idiosyncratic, almost lead basslines of old are barely audible here, and even though there are flashes where the old intensity is evident, particularly on Kaukonen's "Mourning Interrupted," this is a well-intentioned, totally professional album that lacks bite. A pair of Rev. Gary Davis covers are also reminiscent of days gone by, especially "Mama Let Me Lay It on You" with guest fiddle from producer Larry Campbell (filling in for the deceased Papa John Creach) that rolls through the "Keep on Truckin'" riff and melody. There are some quality songs, such as the melancholy musings of "Second Chances," but this is more like a Kaukonen solo album than a long-awaited return from a once powerful band that mixed acoustic and electric blues into a blistering, often explosive concoction. Recording in Levon Helm's Woodstock studio provides an open, rootsy sound and Campbell keeps the proceedings clean and classy, if somewhat antiseptic compared to the shambling attack Hot Tuna fans remember. Kaukonen's patented electric solos evident on the opening "Angel of Darkness" are dramatic and typically blistering, but there aren't enough of those moments. Making matters more frustrating is the choice of material, in particular the humorous yet repetitious by-the-numbers rocking of "If This Is Love." The closing instrumental, "Vicksburg Stomp," returns to the sharp pickin' approach of Hot Tuna's 1970 acoustic debut, perhaps a fitting reminder of the group's early times trying to make their name as something other than a Jefferson Airplane offshoot. There is plenty to enjoy about this unexpected return, and it's encouraging that the Casady/Kaukonen relationship -- both musical and personal -- has persevered for over 50 years. However, it's a disappointing addition to their catalog, particularly after such a long wait.
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AllMusic Review by Hal Horowitz