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Literate guitar playing

The Land of Heroes
The Land of Heroes
By Jorma Kaukonen

Relix Records: 1995

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This review first appeared in the March 15, 1996 issue of the North County Times.

Jorma Kaukonen, the former Jefferson Airplane (and sometime Hot Tuna) guitarist, has always had a strong streak of the blues in his music. His latest solo effort, a mostly acoustic set, immerses itself in the blues, with two Rev. Gary Davis covers, a handful of originals, and a beautiful rendition of "Re-enlistment Blues" – originally recorded by Merle Travis for the film "From Here to Eternity."

Kaukonen's guitar never received the attention it deserved in Airplane – particularly his acoustic playing. As Hot Tuna fans know, his picking is nothing short of literate.

How else to describe it – poetic in meter, thoughtful in its pauses? Kaukonen talks to the listener through his guitar; he plays not so much to entertain as to communicate.

The most evocative cut on the album is an instrumental ode to his ill father, "Do Not Go Gentle" (the title taken from a Dylan Thomas poem). The beauty of his playing on this song serves to remind us of the limitations words place on our ability to really talk to one another.

But the whole album is full of gems. On the title track, a salute to his Finnish forebearers who came to America a century ago, Kaukonen pays tribute to the immigrant spirit that crosses political lines.