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Hot Tuna: Live At Sweetwater / Live At Sweetwater Two / Live In Japan

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Hot Tuna: Live At Sweetwater / Live At Sweetwater Two / Live In Japan
Hot Tuna's Live at Sweetwater/Live at Sweetwater 2/Live in Japan (Mercury Studios, 2004) reaffirms the fluidity of personnel that's marked the veteran ensemble throughout its over fifty-year career. Comprised of titles originally issued on the Relix Records label in the mid-to-late Nineties, then re-released in modified form in 2004, this Mercury Studios compendium may represent the definitive versions of those titles (though the lack of notes providing historical perspective, as appeared on previous editions, leaves that a moot point).

Differing track listings and even disparities in running times mark the previous versions and those details are difficult, if not impossible, to discern even upon close perusal of a package housed in lightweight cardboard, slimline casing. Such close examination does uncover some curious spellings of song titles and certain participating individuals (including one of the principals), but on the plus side, nearly a dozen tracks are noted as previously-unreleased.

The music on these three CDs hearkens directly to the acoustic Hot Tuna sound as originally formulated by erstwhile Jefferson Airplane co-founders, guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady, documented (more than once) on the eponymous album release of 1969. The crucial difference here is that these long-time friends and creative partners are joined at various points by other musicians of greater and lesser note.

Grateful Dead guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir guests during a cover of Bob Dylan's "Masters of War" on the 1992 Sweetwater recording, as does that maven of seductive vocals, Maria Muldaur. Their presence, like that of Happy Traum on vocals and guitar for Woody Guthrie's "Ain't Got No Home," adds to, rather than detracts from, the casual intimacy of these proceedings.

On a slightly more substantial front, other accompanists add to that atmosphere throughout all three performances. Most prominently, these include multi- instrumentalist/vocalist/songwriter Michael Falzarano, who also participated in the (new?) remastering of these recordings and has collaborated with Kaukonen as a solo artist, as well as joining the latter-day lineup of The New Riders of The Purple Sage.

As he displays a tendency to sound anonymous when he assumes the spotlight, for something like "My AK-47," he is much superior in a supporting role, as is keyboardist Pete Sears, who similarly reprised his role in this context. In addition to being a member of Jefferson Starship in the Seventies, his piano and organ parts are appropriately complementary, as on, for example, "True Religion."

Accordingly, their dual contributions add to the cachet of the two consecutive nights from the Mill Valley CA venue. The absence of overlaps on the thirty-two cuts of these companion pieces is indicative of the expanded range of selections, not only from Hot Tuna's well-established repertoire, but also from the more novel choices: "Uncle Sam Blues," for instance, was part of the latter-day Airplane's shows as well as Kaukonen/Casady's, while "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning" is a staple of the latter duo's concerts.

Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" is something else altogether, but it's of a piece with its surroundings, as is the Clash's (!) "Bank Robber." Kaukonen's original "Third Week in the Chelsea" is a cull from JA's Bark (Grunt/RCA, 1971) and this rare version of "Embryonic Journey," from the same band's Surrealistic PIllow (RCA, 1967), only enliven the proceedings, as do cuts such as Reverend Gary Davis' "Death Don't Have No Mercy" that directly derive from the country-blues genre that has been the focus of Hot Tuna since its inception.

In maintaining the tradition of such an icon, a veritable role model for Kaukonen and Casady, the duo posit themselves as musicologists of the highest order. The fact is that their improvisational skills, especially as they exhibit them during Robert Johnson's "99 Year Blues" on the Japanese gig—where the lack of electricity compelled an unplugged performance—render these timeless pieces invigorating to both the musicians and their audience(s).

Therein lies the fundamental attraction of this collection. Ironic as it may be it's coming out coincidentally with Hot Tuna's final electric performances, it is hardly a contradiction, if for no other reason than the arrangements here posit a middle ground between the acoustic and electric configuration of the group (yet hardly suggests the evolution to the so-called "metal years" represented by America's Choice (RCA, 1975)).

On the contrary, this release only strengthens an abiding connection to the group's long-term history. Such as it is, some action shots of Hot Tuna on stage adorning the slipcase cover or the CD sleeves would be preferable to the amateurish 'psychedelic' (and notably uncredited) graphics that also appear on an enclosed poster.

But that's an observation more about cosmetics than substance, a dichotomy this enduring duo's been rendering moot throughout its career, on their own and, as on these roughly thirty-year old recordings, in the company of other like-minded musicians as well.

Track Listing

CD 1: January 27, 1992: Whinin’ Boy Blues; Great Change; Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out; I Know You Rider; Embryonic Journey; Trouble In Mind; Bank Robber; I See The Light; I’ll Be There For You; True Religion; I Belong To The Band; Maggie’s Farm; That’s All Right Mama; Been So Long; Genesis; Ice Age; Praise The Lord And Pass The Snake. CD 2: January 28, 1992: Hesitation Blues; Dime For Beer; Trial By Fire; Death Don’t Have No Mercy; 99 Year Blues; San Francisco Bay Blues; Too Many Years; Blue Moon Of Kentucky; Ain’t Got No Home; Good Morning Little Schoolgirl; Walkin’ Blues; Third Week In The Chelsea; My AK-47; Parchman Farm; Folsom Prison Blues. CD 3: Walkin’ Blues; Parchman Farm; True Religion; Been So Long; Uncle Sam Blues; Vampire Woman; Follow The Drinking Gourd; Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning; Let Us Get Together; Third Week In The Chelsea; 99 Year Blues; Ice Age; San Francisco Bay Blues; Folsom Prison Blues; Mann’s Fate.

Personnel

Hot Tuna
band / ensemble / orchestra
Jorma Kaukonen
guitar and vocals
Pete Sears
keyboards
Bob Weir
vocals
Happy Traum
vocals
Bobaloo
bass, acoustic
Keith Crossan
saxophone
Additional Instrumentation

Jorma Kaukonen: guitar, dobro, pedal steel; Michael Falzarano, vocals, mandolin, harmonica.

Album information

Title: Live At Sweetwater / Live At Sweetwater Two / Live In Japan | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Mercury Studios


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