Live at the Bottom Line
represents a significant turning point in the history of guitarist, composer and vocalist Jorma Kaukonen
. Occurring roughly a year after the release of his solo album, Blue Country Heart
(Columbia Records, 2002), the concerts marked the advent of a new career phase for the co-founder of Hot Tuna
, including regular touring with the latter (in both electric and acoustic formats) plus roadwork as a solo act.
Featuring sixteen tracks on two CDs (as in digital format), the listing includes seven songs from the album released the previous year, including "Blue Railroad Train'' and "Waiting For A Train." In addition, there are selections from the Hot Tuna repertoire such as "Uncle Sam Blues" as well as culls from Kaukonen's very first solo record, Quah
(RCA/Grunt, 1974), including "I Am The Light of This World." Still, the set would not have been complete without a nod to the source of Kaukonen's love for this country-blues style, Reverend Gary Davis
. "Death Don't Have No Mercy" (notably also covered by his West Coast peers, the Grateful Dead
There is an informal air to all these performances, not to mention a continuity which speaks not only of Kaukonen's loyalty to his muse, but also the man's courage in pursuing a style markedly different from that which gave him a name in Jefferson Airplane. That said, the audience acclamation for "Good Shepherd" hearkens to the tune's prominent placement on the iconic San Francisco band's album Volunteers
(RCA/Grunt, 1969). And he affords it one of the more intricate extemporaneous readings here.
The tender instrumental "Do Not Go Gentle" is one of three Kaukonen originals on Live at the Bottom Line
. It resides so comfortably next to the aforementioned traditionals and songs of 'Blue Yodeler' Jimmie Rodgers that a palpable intimacy radiates from the stage during those numbers, an atmosphere which continues when Kaukonen is joined (mostly) by multi-instrumentalist Barry Mitterhoff
who nurtured the Tuna telepathy with bassist Jack Casady circa 2013and steel guitarist Cindy Cashdollar
The trio effortlessly swings and sways its way through "I'm Free From the Chain Gang Now" and displays admirable precision at a similar tempo on "Blues Stay Away From Me," where the elongated lines of steel conjure a distinct Hawaiian ambiance. The easy-going repartee between the three musicians also carries over into "I'll Let You Know Before I Leave."
A sprightly "Red River Blues," dobro fingerings and all, provides a tasteful change of pace, especially as it is followed by Kaukonen's "Living In The Moment." This wordless ode to enlightenment supplies a segue to the second half of the ninety-plus minutes total playing time, where a half-dozen largely familiar choices fittingly conclude with "Hesitation Blues."
Surpassing even the warmth in the rendition which opened the initial Hot Tuna album in 1969, the glow in Kaukonen's singing voice here parallels the fluent technique unfolding from his fingers on the fretboard. It is an abiding connection which clearly inspired musician and author Gregg Bendian (co-producer here with Cheryl Pawelski) to compose good-natured, well-researched prose. His writing, juxtaposed with the scrupulous credits in the graphic design for this slim-line package, appears in an eye-pleasing graphic layout as the finishing touch to an essential piece of work.
There is more than a little live material of Kaukonen's already available in various contexts, but Live at the Bottom Line
is as close to definitive as any of them and much more so than most.
CD 1: Blue Railroad Train; Waiting For A Train; Re-enlistment Blues; Death Don’t
Have No Mercy; Do Not Go Gentle; I’m Free From The Chain Gang Now; Blues Stay
Away From Me; I’ll Let You Know Before I Leave; Red River Blues; Living in the
Moment. CD 2: Good Shepherd; Uncle Sam Blues; Prohibition Blues; I Am The Light
of This World; Just Because; Hesitation Blues
Jorma Kaukonen: guitar; Barry Mitterhoff: octave mandolin, tenor guitar, tenor banjo;
Cindy Cashdollar: steel guitar.
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