Hot Tuna: Live at New Orleans House, Berkeley, CA 09/69

A second helping of Hot Tuna’s acoustic blues beginnings

Hot Tuna began as an acoustic off-shoot of the Jefferson Airplane, with bassist Jack Casady and guitarist Jorma Kaukonen joined by harmonica player Will Scarlet. Their 1970 self-titled debut, recorded live the previous year, consisted mostly of traditional folk, blues and ragtime tunes. This 68-minute collection is drawn from the same series of shows as was the debut, but features an entirely different set of performances. The half-dozen titles repeated from Hot Tuna are offered here in distinct versions; a few of these recordings appeared as bonus tracks on Airplane and Hot Tuna releases over the years, but several are offered here for the first time.

Kaukonen’s acoustic picking is mesmerizing throughout and his singing is at ease in this setting. Casady’s electric bass provides both time-keeping and melodic counterweight to Kaukonen’s solo flights. Both players step back to give Scarlet a few opportunities to play some thoughtful leads on harmonica, filling out a fluid and surprisingly complete musical aggregation. Hot Tuna would quickly evolve with the addition of a drummer and violinist, leaving these early performances at the New Orleans House as the central record of their initial vision. This is a terrific introduction to the band’s beginnings for anyone who hasn’t sampled back to their start, and a satisfying second-helping for those who love the debut. Collectors’ Choice’s digipack includes two full-panel color pictures and three pages of excellent liner notes by Richie Unterbergber. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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