Listening to this studio recording of Jorma Kaukonen's , it's well to remember that he was a devout student of country blues when, back in the 1960s, he enlisted in the ranks of psychedelic radical icon group, Jefferson Airplane (whose name was parodied from blues artist, "Blind Lemon Jefferson).
Stars In My Crown extends the guitarist/vocalist/songwriter's study and rediscovery of the genre. The CD reflects a genuine love for the music, its history and consequently it's as much an authentic piece of modern blues as its predecessor, Grammynominated Blue Country Heart (Columbia, 2002). Yet it is more diverse in its choice of material and arrangements, and as such, becomes as personal statement a musician can make.
Little wonder the cover graphics spotlight portraits of Kaukonen looking straight into the camera, are at ease and authoritative. It is of a piece with his previous solo work and that with Hot Tuna The Phosphorescent Rat(RCA, 1973), particularly when the strings appear on "Heart Temporary. The lush quality afforded by such orchestration reappears when the choir surfaces on "By The Rivers of Babylon, suggesting gilding the lily: the impeccable musicianship of mandolier Barry Mitterhoff, who appears through the CD, is much preferable.
Yet the background singers on the reggae tune ultimately echo Bob Marley's I-Threes, a further indication of Kaukonen's inclusive approach. In a further extension of that open attitude, he works with a variety of musicians on this Nashville-produced and mastered project. Saxophone from Jim Hoke appears on "Late Breaking News, Jelly Roll Johnson's harmonica adds a sprightly feel to Lightning Hopkins' "Come Back Baby while the warmth of pedal steel on "A Life Well Lived is well placed in the sequence of the album.
The sound of that instrument turns into an antidote to the ominous heavy-handed air of "When The Man Comes Around. You don't have to be a spiritualist to enjoy Stars In My Crown, but the religious themes abound and on this tune of Johnny Cash's, Kaukonen barely avoids proselytizing. More telling of his beliefs is the beatific glow of "Living in the Moment that accurately reflects Kaukonen's demeanor. And even more significant is the astute means by which he mixes up instruments and personnel, mirroring his extensive performing background in solo, duo, trio and quartet lineups for some forty-plus years.
Like its author's career in sum, Stars In My Crown, is cut from whole cloth (no doubt why its title is taken from a song by Rev. Gary Davis, Jorma Kaukonen's most profound influence and inspiration). Kaukonen has no illusions or pretensions about his role, which is why his musical values and attendant empathy with collaborators render work that is such an unmitigated pleasure.
Personnel: Jorma Kaukonen: lead vocals, acoustic guitars; Barry Mitterhoff: mandolin, bouzouki, tenor banjo; Byron House: upright bass, bass support vocal; Chris Brown: drums; Jim Hoke: clarinet, soprano saxophone; Jelly Roll Johnson: harmonica; Greg Leisz: electric guitars, pedal steel guitar; Reese Wynans: upright piano; Sally Van Meter; resonator guitar; Tim Stafford: acoustic guitar; Ed Gerhard: Weissenborn; Fred Eltringham: cowbell, shaker, guiro; Phil Madeira: organ; Jason Burleson: 5-string banjo; Rob Ickes: resonator guitar; Shawn Lane; mandolin; Fred Kaplan: pedal steel guitar; Andrea Zonn: violin; Conni Elisor: violin; David Angell: violin; Mary Kathryn Van Osdale: violin; Pamela Sixtin: violin; Chris Farrell: viola; James Grosjean: viola; Kristin Wilkinson: viola; Monica Angell: viola; John Catchings: cello; Kirsten Cassel: cello; Ann McCrary: support vocals; Gale West: support vocals; Calvin Settles: support vocals; Odessa Settles: support vocals; Shirley Settles: support vocals; Todd Suttles: support vocals; Henry House: support vocals; Lilly Miterhoff: children's choir; Maya Mitterhoff: children's choir; Tessa Mitterhoff: children's choir; Truman House: children's choir.