Hot Tuna – Live at New Orleans House, Berkeley, CA 9.69

Album Review | Retroworld | Review by Damian Liptrot | Stars: 3/5

Bear with me for a moment as hopefully this will become both clear and relevant.  I recently spent an enjoyable time watching the new Blade Runner sequel, a follow up to a film that my wife and I have enjoyed many times over the last 35 years.  Although the film itself was well worth watching, what was also enjoyable was discussing how the new offering fitted with the older, much loved version.  So, we come to the current CD.  I am making the assumption that most people reading this will be aware of the background of Hot Tuna and their links to the more widely known Jefferson Airplane.  For those who aren’t: formed by Jack Casady (bass) and Jorma Kaukonen during a period during which the Airplane was grounded due to Grace Slick’s throat related indisposition, in many ways Hot Tuna was Americana well before there was Americana, offering an acoustic based take on well curated Blues and Country classics from the likes of Lightning Hopkins and the Rev Gary Davis (who gets three writing credits on the album).  The shifting line up of Hot Tuna was as much a staple of 70’s music press as those of the likes of Fairport Convention over here, with only the founding duo remaining ever presents.  The band’s first album, issued in 1970 was recorded up close and personal in the New Orleans House, a club in Berkeley, California and amongst other things is notable for the inclusion of the sound of a breaking bottle during one of the songs.  This release comprises songs and versions that were recorded by Casady and Kaukonen, along with harmonica Will Scarlett from the same sessions but did not make the final selection at the time, including the aforementioned Davis titles, two Kaukonen originals and two trad arrs attributed to the core duo, “Uncle Sam’s Blues” and “Know You Rider”.  Nothing about the songs or these particular recordings of those included on the original release suggest that they were in any way inferior, though the sleeve notes do not offer any other clues as to why they were not chosen.  On a historical note, the recordings date from round about the same time as the recording and release of Jefferson Airplane’s classic Volunteers – an album that has been shared and enjoyed by my wife and I for round about the same span as Blade Runner (I told you I would make it relevant).  And there my friends is the joy of this album – it was ever going to be their chosen release, it features musicians responsible for many hours of musical enjoyment chez nous and also numerous other places.  So phone a friend who shares your musical tastes, put on this album and enjoy the music along with the conversation about the influences and nods to the blues, the touches of country and where the pure California flourishes sparkle and shine.  It won’t break any new ground in your listening life, the enjoyment is in its relationship to your past.  A great ingredient for an evening well spent in good company – including that of the musicians.  What a long strange trip we’ve had.