Local Wire

Jorma Kaukonen

For good or ill (usually the latter, alas), some associations haunt performers for their entire careers. Del Shannon became synonymous with his biggest hit, "Runaway," and was typecast as an "oldies act." Stevie Nicks will forever conjure visions of '80s big hair, white platforms, and gauzy shawls. The name Jorma Kaukonen — original guitarist of Jefferson Airplane and pre- "Built This City" Starship — evokes San Francisco's Summer of Love, "tear down the walls" '60s rebellion, and acid casualties. But there's much more to Kaukonen. Even while still a member of Kantner-Slick Inc., he adopted an unfashionable-at-the-time (1970) roots-oriented side project, Hot Tuna (originally Hot Shit, but the record company balked). Their repertoire consisted almost entirely of acoustic blues from the '20s and '30s. Gradually, Tuna amped up, but things went full circle; now, Jorma Kaukonen performs in a 99 percent acoustic context. Stars in My Crown (Red House), his latest, finds him further channeling country blues (i.e., Reverend Gary Davis), ragtime, gospel, and Johnny Cash through his warmly meticulous picking and genially forlorn voice. Though played with panache, Star is homey and comforting as a back-porch concert with friends on a balmy summer evening.
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Mark Keresman