Monday, 16 November 2015

Jefferson Airplane/Starship: Solo/Live/Compilation/Hot Tuna/Starship Albums Part Two 1979-2014












 "Gold"
(Grunt/RCA Victor, January 1979)
Ride The Tiger/Caroline/Play On Love/Miracles/Fast Buck Freddie//With Your Love/St Charles/Count On Me/Love Too Good/Runaway
Bonus Single: Light The Sky On Fire/Hyperdrive
"Hold a dollar bill up to the mirror and I'll show you something funny, it's only a fast buck but it's so hard to make that kind of money!"
If you really want to know the difference between the Airplane and Jefferson Starship then take a look at their first compilations. 'The Worst Of Jefferson Airplane' is jokey, self-effacing and fun. 'Gold' is all rather pompous, with a generic cover of the sun's rays printed boldly on the front and a title that's more something the likes of The Readers Digest would offer as a retrospective. For all that, though, 'Gold' is a nice little compilation released at the right time between albums four and five where it can score a line between the Marty Balin and Mickey Thomas years. Two or three selections are taken from each of the four Jefferson Starship LPs released so far and for the most part they're spot on, roughly dividing time equally between the members of the band. 'Dragonfly' is experienced via 'Ride The Tiger' and 'Caroline' both among the best of one of the band's best bunches; 'Red Octopus' is represented via million-selling single 'Miracles', lesser selling single 'Play On Love' and Grace's 'Fast Buck Freddie'; 'Spitfire' is represented by perhaps Marty's loveliest ballad 'With Your Love' and the genius of 'St Charles' and 'Earth' even sounds like a great LP thanks to the presence of the only three tunes worth hearing: 'Count On Me' 'Love Too Good' and 'Runaway'. It would have been nice to see more of a flavour of the overall band (David Freiberg's 'Come To Life', Paul's politically savvy 'I Want To See Another World' and even Johnny Barbata's 'Big City' would have offered a real flavour of this band's eclectic mix). But all in all this compilation is as good as any best-of made up of four albums can be. What is bad is the album's free tie-in single 'Light The Sky On Fire', a Chaquico rocker featuring Marty's last vocal with the band. What was intended to be a 'monster' hit (and was even promoted in the 'Star Wars Holiday Special' on TV) is sadly an ugly and unremarkable song that doesn't deserve a place here. Presumably the reason it's here at all is that the band printed up so many copies of the single that would then have to be pulped and at least it offers an 'exclusive' to fans who didn't buy the single I suppose. Heard in this context rather than at the end of the equally rotten 'Earth', however, this single has no chance in such esteemed company.


Jorma Kaukonen "Jorma"
(RCA Victor, October 1979)
Straight Ahead/Roads & Roads &/Valley Of Tears/Song For The High Mountain//Wolves and Lambs/Too Long Out-Too Long In/Requiem For An Angel/Vampire Woman/Da-Ga Da-Ga
"The future paves the way - still I could not follow"
Jorma's second solo album is a little different to his first. Where 'Quah' had been a chance to show off just how many different directions Jorma could take his trademark sound in, 'Jorma' is more of a Hot Tuna album with the bass and drums removed (this is in fact the first time Jorma has released a record without Jack Casady at his side). And nothing else: even for Jorma this is a minimalist record with only one or two or very occasionally three guitars to colour the sound. At times that's a shame - the biggest difference between this and Hot Tuna is that 'Jorma' is at heart a very colourful LP, much more so than the more monochromatic blues covers of old and with a psychedelic self-portrait sleeve in yellow to match. Not everything on this album works and the few reviews there are of this album tend to suggest it's a rather dull and dismal experience without the variety of Hot Tuna, but actually I would say the opposite. Some of Kaukonen's deepest and most heartfelt songs are here: 'Roads & Roads &' is one of Jorma's most popular post-Airplane songs about his continued quest for deeper meaning, but lesser known songs from this album aren't far behind. 'Song For The High Mountain' is a particularly lovely song with 'Valley Of Tears' not far behind, while 'Da Ga Da Ga' (a closing poem set to feedback and electronic noise) is a much belated return to the playful, daring Airplane before things got so serious in the seventies. Also, Jorma's back to writing again instead of 'merely' being a blues interpreter and contributes seven of the nine songs here, most of them good ones. Kaukonen clearly had a lot on his mind. Hot Tuna had broken up suddenly (very suddenly - a series of 1978 gigs were cancelled at the last minute though Jorma fulfilled all the dates as a solo act) and this time around this album was clearly intended as the launching pad for a new era for Jorma rather than an extra-curricular affair. Jorma duly changed his image as well as his sound with the shortest haircut he'd sported since 'Takes Off' back in 1966, while the playful packaging recalls the first Hot Tuna album nearly a decade earlier rather than the later, heavier sound. The result is a record that all too often gets overlooked after a decade of better-selling, more accessible works, but 'Jorma' is if not quite Kaukonen's best work then certainly up there somewhere with easily his most consistent recording since the Airplane crashed.
'Straight Ahead' would under normal circumstances be the sort of hard and heavy streamlined Hot Tuna opening, based around a riff and lyrics about the need to keep going. However here the relentless riff hangs in the air with only a pinging acoustic for accompaniment sounding a little unfinished.
'Roads & Roads And' is the best known song on the album for a reason: Jorma's philosophical 'Third Week In The Chelsea' style lyrics find himself updating his previous self-kicking song to reflect on all the mistakes he's made in the years since. Looking for help 'to live my life more freely, instead of twisting like a rope that's fallen behind me' Jorma comes to a crossroads and can't work out where to turn next. Deciding that 'my life ain't nowhere when all I see is sadness', Jorma decides to back down from the path he'd headed on and look for somewhere better up in the mountains on a higher spiritual path. All that and an excellent melody too, although this song does tend to sound better from later live recordings featuring the power of Hot Tuna rather than this guitar-only version.
'Valley Of Tears' sounds like a standard although it's another Jorma original, the narrator waking up to find himself as miserable as when he went to sleep and vowing to move on in his life, a nice coda of sorts to the previous track.
The lovely folky 'Song For The High Mountains' again reflects on searching for a higher spiritual purchase. 'Got to be at least one thing that makes your life worthwhile' sighs Jorma, realising he has nothing to keep him rooted anymore, but this isn't a sad song - he feels sure that he will 'find it in the morning'.
'Wolves and Lambs' is another track that sounds like it ought to be coming with Hot Tuna power, a debate on the differences between the haves and have-nots of the world that features some excellent guitar pyrotechnics.
'Too Long Out, Too Long In' is the most Hot Tuna-esque track on the album, a funky blues that could have easily slotted onto any of Jorma's past dozen or so releases.
'Requiem For An Angel' is a pretty song offering comfort to someone whose going through a hard time and again tells the listener that though the present might seem bleak tomorrow is another chance for happiness. Jorma may be reflecting on the fall-out from Tuna's split here as he tells us that 'everybody's trying to make me change my mind' and 'my friends tell me I'm just wasting my time', but Jorma knows that the path he's on is the 'right' one and hopes that his loyal fans aren't too offended by his decision to go it alone.
'Jorma' then closes on two unusual cover songs. 'Vampire Woman' is credited to Sparks Plug Smith, but an obscure recording of this from the 1930s aside nobody seems to know anything about him or his song. Written in the usual blues stylings but with a few subtle differences (the chord changes in blues songs are usually predictable but these are all over the place!), the song is 'crooned' in the original but otherwise Jorma sings it very closely to the original suggesting he knew the record well rather than just discovered the song. A tale of ripples, the narrator has a hard time at work and takes it out on his woman and child - the 'vampire' bit comes from the worry that if the narrator starts taking from his missus she'll become a bloodsucker in other ways.
'Jorma' then closes on its strangest moment with 'Da Ga Da Ga', a Spencer Dryden-style noise collage that runs a mere 90 seconds including a brief spoken word poem: 'The most important thing for man in the world is de ga, the feeling of your hunger disappears when de ga sounds, the pain will vanish when I start to hear the sound of rock, if you want to have a friend and approach and utter de ga, an enemy in the native land jump forward and express de ga, the pound of rock will solve all problems.'  Written by Mauri Numminem, an eccentric Finnish artist best known for his work in jazz, Jorma speaks the song a line at the time, wonky translation and all, as if he's struggling to express the inexpressible. The words 'de ga' could have a basis in an area of Ethiopia, French revolutionary Louis De Ga, possesses the 'sound' of 'art' (recalling such painter names as Van Gogh and Dali and writer Descartes) or may simply be gibberish. As an aside, Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead once called his spin-off group 'The Diga Rhythm Band'. It's a deeply unusual piece for the usually more rootsy and straightforward Jorma (who'll soon get the most rootsy and straightforward he's ever been with his next release) and a memorable end to a memorable LP.

(Note: Grace Slick's 'Dreams' would normally be here but has already been covered in full at http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/08/news-views-and-music-issue-39-grace.html )


Jorma Kaukonen "Barbeque King"
(RCA, January 1981)
Runnin' With The Fast Crowd/Man For All Seasons/Starting Over Again/Milk Cow Blues Boogie/Roads & Roads &//Love Is Strange/To Hate Is To Stay Young/Rockabilly Shuffle/Snout Psalm/Barbeque King
"I ain't had no milk or butter since that cow's been gone...don't that sun look good going down?"
Amazingly, despite all the ups and downs over the years, the slight resentment of the money-making machine on the one hand and the clumsily handled censorship on the other, it's only now as late as 1981 that one of the 'classic core' of the Airplane prepares to jump ship and leave the record label RCA behind some fifteen years after their first contract (Skip Spence's adventures with Moby Grape on Columbia being the overall exception). Jorma's last record on the label is his only release as part of a new band named 'Vital Parts', a power trio consisting of Denny DeGorio on bass and John Stench on drums. Their name is only included on the album sleeve in the form of a band on Jorma's hat, which led many fans into thinking that this record was a solo work titled 'Vital Parts' - the words 'Barbeque King' can only be read on a badge on Jorma's lapels. The result sounds quite unlike anything else Jorma made before and the closest thing to it since is the Jefferson Airplane reunion album: there are no blues covers, there's very little folk and most disappointingly of all very few wigged-out psychedelic solos - instead this is a pop album with a harder more commercial edge, which at the time lost as many listeners (if not more) than it gained. Jorma has even cut his famous log hair for the cover, which shot in black and white and dressed in a sharp snappy suit makes him look like a businessman rather than a hippie (it was in fact a graduation present from his mother - kudos to Jormas for still fitting in it some twenty years later!) However Jorma hasn't thrown everything away - his songs, many of them co-written with his band, are still strong and this isn't completely alien territory as a handful of Hot Tuna tracks towards the end sounded like this, just not a whole album's worth. The strident 'Starting Over Again' and the striking funky ';To Hate Is To Stay Young' are the best of the new songs, with the only 'new' blues song the title track, an  eccentric instrumental where Jorma's acoustic is treated to sound like a slide guitar. However all three are eclipsed by the old Sleepy John Estes song 'Milk Cow Blues' which is given a contemporary  heavy metal style thrashing closer in styles to the Kinks Kover than the Elvis original, the Mickey and Sylvia delightfully daft hit 'Love Is Strange' given a calypso make-over that's much more like Wings' reggae-fied version than the original (and thankfully losing the original's arch conversations 'Hey Mickey' 'What Sylvia?' 'How would you sing to your baby?!') and a welcome if slightly pointless near-enough note-for-note re-make of Hot Tuna classic 'Roads & Roads &'. It wouldn't be a Jorma album if it wasn't a bit hit and miss and the lack of variation or pauses for breath in the recordings can become a bit wearing over the course of a whole LP, but Jorma's attempt to re-invent himself as a hip young rock guitarist is better than you might expect and deserved to be the whole new phase in Jorma's career rather than what sadly turns out to be a mere one-off. In other words the Barbeque King might have slightly overcooked things, but there's no smoke without fire and this is still a largely tasty treat, if a little heavy on the production sauces.

Grace Slick "Welcome To The Wrecking Ball"
(RCA, January 1981)
Wrecking Ball/Mistreater/Shot In The Dark/Round & Round/Shooting Star//Just A Little Love/Sea Of Love/Lines/Right Kind/No More Heroes
"It's indicative of my personality that a wrecking ball would be one of my...symbols, but I watch that thing for half an hour and did all the corn-ball symbolism, 'the country's falling apart', the beauty of this three-tonne machine being so indifferent and having that much power, making room for another thing, the percussion of it, it's a simple machine, the operator's that I've since talked to like their job, there's things at carnivals where people throw stuff at stuff, there's something in that that where even those of us who don't want to admit it like destruction"
Despite being released hot on the heels of the glorious 'Dreams' and using much of the same cast and released in tandem with a fascinating interview record in which Grace is as deep and autobiographical as he'll ever get, the singer's third album 'Wrecking Ball' couldn't have been less like her revealing, dreamy record. Instead it's a noisy brash pop album, the closest any member of the Jeffersons ever came to releasing a heavy metal album thanks to her close friend Richie Zito's stinging guitar parts (which here are the whole point of the album, not just a bit of added colour). Less convincingly modern that what Jefferson Starship were doing in the same period, this record just rings of desperation and is sadly something of a premonition of the 'Starship' years when Grace's desire for hits overcame her usual excellent taste. In short, Grace has been turned into Blondie, which is just oh so wrong - Grace is the antithesis of everything 'blonde' and she'd normally eat Debbie Harry for breakfast, though you don't necessarily get that from this record's tired bluster.  Worse yet, Grace barely writes, with mere co-writes on just four of the album's songs with Scott writing the rest. It speaks volumes that the pair won't work together again past this when Grace rejoins Jefferson Starship. In fact, this album was released just three months before Grace can be heard guesting on 'Modern Times', an album she re-joined partway through - perhaps because she sensed that this record wasn't really up to standard. However there's no doubting the effort that Grace put into this album, with this record the perfect listen for groupies who just want to listen to how loud and fiercely she can sing  or the fact that, yes, she really was strapped to the front of a wrecking ball for the distinctive inside cover shot which really should have been on the front (she enjoyed it too, given her comments in the interview disc!) The cover credit is given on the sleeve to Grace and Skip Johnson by the way - he's one time boyfriend and the Jefferson lighting director with this record coming shortly after the pair have split up (was this wish fulfilment on his part, per chance?)
'Wrecking Ball' itself is the first of four co-writes between Grace and Richie. It's not one of her better ideas, an attempt to put into a song all that drama, violence and disconnection she sees in the city life around her and best summed up by the wrecking ball out to cause chaos and destruction. A nice idea for a song, but this one works better on paper than as music, with some truly painful piercing shrieks from Grace and an even more ear-slapping 80s production with a nonchalant guitar part that demonstrates just how talented Craig Chaquico was at not sounding like this all the time on similar material. Grace, what have you done?
Richie's solo 'Mistreater' isn't a lot better, a spruced up retro 50s song about a figure with 'a face like an angel, who knows how to use it' who seems really nice but is really really naughty. The musical equivalent of E L James ('Fifty Shades Of Grace'?) full of leather and whips and control, only a fun chorus really shines through, leaving Grace suddenly sinking to her knees as she sings 'Mistreater bring you down down down!'
'Shot In The Dark' mixes the same angry crunch of the last two songs with some eccentric Grace production details (she whispers the opening lines in the far left and right hand side of the speakers). One of the better songs on the album, if only because this one has a proper tune and a singalong chorus, this still can't match the similar songs being written with more subtlety by her old band.
'Round and Round' is a guitar poser song which will surely end up appearing in the 'Guitar Hero' game one of these days. At least Grace gets some vaguely decent and suitable lyrics this time around, though, as she sings about being 'in a fight I just can't win' and struggled to work out what to do for the best. The chorus is just the tune from Richie's earlier 'El Diablo' song recycled, but this track is far less interesting all round, up front and basic without the depth or drama of that track.
'Shooting Star' is at least a bit quieter than the rest of the material here. For years I'd assumed, like Grace in her record interview, that Richie wrote the track about Jim Morrison and his sudden needless death in 1970 ('Daylight come to our hand, silence on the edge of my hand...I am a rider on the storm, I'll be a crier till the words are gone'). In actual fact the younger Richie hadn't got a clue who The Doors were and wrote the song about a slight nervous breakdown he felt in a hotel room one day when he longed to jump out the window. That rather says it all, although at least this song 'sounds' as if there's something going on this time around and this is easily the best song on the album Grace didn't write the lyrics for.
'Just A Little Love', however is dreadful - more Kiss-style guitar crunching for no apparentlv reason. The first of a two-parter, this song is about how love is strong enough to survive a little time apart and features a catchy chorus ('Betcha didn't know!') that features Grace's best singing on the record, even if the song itself is horrendously empty.
'Sea Of Love', on the otherhand, is about suffocation and the problems when one half of a couple is too needy. You doubt Grace has ever been guilty of that, although she and Richie are guilty of plagiarism for the first of two times on this record with this song's chorus sounding like the spitting image of The Bee Gees' 1979 best-selling single 'Tragedy' (you know, the song about never-ending happiness that Steps once covered with cheesy grins plastered all over their faces). If you're going to nick something, then the least you can do is nick something good!
Grace is back to co-writing with 'Lines' the most Jefferson Starshippy song on the record - and not just for the drug euphemisms. A sexy, sultry song over a reggae-fied beat, Grace is born for a song like this, but other than listing a whole load of definitions of lines ('First in, last in, pushing in, shoving, cutting up some lines!') there's nothing for her to get her teeth into in this song. ]
Grace also co-wrote 'The Right Thing', another album highlight even though this song sounds like Abba. A tale of a wayward boyfriend with a 'twisted mind' who even his mother calls 'the right kind of shit!', Grace declares her love anywhere because a misfit who breaks all the rules is her perfect kind of man anyway. It's a shame that the song demands she shout her passion rather than actually sing it though, on a stop-start song that reads quite well but sounds terrible.
The album closes with the prog rock epic 'No More Heroes', which sounds quite unlike anything else on the record although it isn't necessarily any better. Grace wrote the song about the cold war and her feeling that soldiers no longer had any reason to be brave when wars can be fought with the push of a button. However the song extends to deal with the fact that the innovators and rule-breakers in all art forms, especially music, seem to have given up and gone home ('We just end up where we begin, no one to follow is such a sin!') Alas a promising idea simply ends up as a long list of past historical figures who are now dead, which is what you write when you're twelve and new to this sort of thing, not 42 and with a classic past behind you. Also the music is clearly ripped off Chder's big hit 'Bang Bang (My baby Shot Me Down'); usually in these cases we give the AAA stars the benefit of the doubt (it's hard to write something completely new to everything else ever made) but this song couldn't be more obvious about it all. 'Even the Airplane-style sound effects, marching crowds and speeding up and slowing tapes doesn't quite come off on this one.
Overall, then, 'Wrecking Ball' is a rare Jefferson record without any real redeeming features (except perhaps how short it is, at only slightly longer than half the length of 'Dreams'!) Grace does sing well when she's allowed to, but she's really only a guest star on her album with writer and lead guitarist Richie Zito centre stage and while he has his moments he shares almost nothing with Grace - there's no real chemistry across this album (even Grace and Mickey in the years where were trading blows on-stage were more believable as a 'singing couple'). Which is all a shame because actually Grace's original ideas (as heard on the far more enjoyable interview disc) were that she wanted to get across the heavyness and monotony of life on a big city, with the population poised for some big change to put them out of their misery, even if it's a change for the worse. If that had come over better in the lyrics instead of being so heavy-handed in the music then this might yet have been a winner; instead 'Wrecking Ball' is a project that seems inevitably more about destruction and will all but end Grace's blossoming solo career. No more heroes indeed - how did we get to here from 'Dreams' so quickly?

Marty Balin "Balin"
(EMI, May 1981)
Hearts/You Left Your Mark On Me/Lydia!/Atlanta Lady//Spotlight/I Do Believe In You/Elvis and Marilyn/Tell Me More/Music Is The Light
"Music is the light coming through the night, they will find the feeling slips away"
After two years spent working hard on the musical 'Rock Justice' (which sadly doesn't feature Marty's singing), Balin returned to his signature 'balladeer' Starship sound for this record, his first truly solo LP - the best selling solo LP released by any of the Jefferson family, with not one but two top thirty hit singles in 'Hearts' and 'Atlanta Lady' (the Jeffersons hadn't managed that since 'Surrealistic Pillow' in 1967). To a public starved of what had been considered the definitive Jefferson 'sound' when the Starship went new wave, this record was greeted with relief and taken by some as the long-lost sequel to 'Red Octopus'. Sales, though, don't always mean worth and in many ways it's sad to hear a singer of Marty's range and ability and a writer of his talent reduced to the point where this is basically a 'Starship' pop album, with just one song actually written by Marty (the depressingly average 'Lydia'). A lot of this album sounds predictably the same, which will come as a surprise to anyone whose skipped to here from the peak years of the Airplane but will sadly be the case for most of the rest of the book. Despite the credit on the cover this isn't really a 'solo' work either - Marty's friend and frequent collaborator Jesse Barish deserves at least co-credit for his excellent work across the album, with three of the album's best songs (including the two singles).
However, even if 'Balin' doesn't surprise very often at least it's a superior kind of pop album. Unlike the future 'Starship' records sometimes Marty isn't selling his soul to the top 40 radio devils so much as honing in on just the one talent he has, as an interpreter of other people's love-lorn romantic ballads. There's no doubting that Marty can sing this material very well and you can see why a catchy and universal song like 'Hearts' sold so well, with a heartfelt story of betrayal and melancholy beneath all that surface shine. In many ways this is Marty getting the last laugh on his old bandmates who told him he wrote too many ballads like these which weren't 'progressive' enough - actually by comparison the period Jefferson albums have evolved a little too far into modern raucous noise for some fans and in contrast 'Balin' is a welcoming soothing balm. Even so, a little something extra on this album wouldn't have gone amiss - the odd song to shake the tempos up and go somewhere different other than love and nostalgia and as all good Jefferson fans know one of Marty's best qualities is his range of voices - relegating him to just the one seems like such a shame given the commercial and critical appeal of the best of this album. The price that Marty paid may also have ultimately been a bit to high - this record partly did so well because Marty switched labels to EMI and was given a big marketing push, but record companies never bother with this technique once an artist is up and selling and Marty's next album just gets lost in the rush.
Billboard #8 hit 'Hearts' is one of friend Barish's greatest ever songs, with a whole 'other' story in the lyrics to this song that don't get told. We never find out whether the song takes place in Marty's narrators head or on his ex-lover's answer-phone but he still talks to her all the same, asking how she is before revealing that, well, he isn't that alright actually. By 1981 enough Jefferson fans had split up or were onto their second marriages to appreciate this song.
'You Left Your Mark On Me' is more of the same in slightly happier mode, with Johnny De Carro on guitar doing a good impression of Craig Chaquico. Shame there isn't more for Marty to do though, making him something of an extra on his own album.
'Lydia' is a noisy thrash pop song that mainly consists of Marty singing out 'Lydia-a-ha-ah!' in as many different voices as he can as he mulls over a slightly suspect lyric about being with a girl much younger than him. The writer of 'Today' and 'Comin' Back To Me' came up with this?!
'Atlanta Lady', another Barish song, is much better, with the sort of cosy informal romance that Marty does so well. The lyrics refer to the narrator falling for an 'Atlanta Lady' to make up for the 'Georgian Woman' he's leaving behind.
'Spotlight' is the closest song here to what period Jefferson Starship were up to and Marty sounds surprisingly good here in context, shouting rather than singing and finally giving the record a bit of aggression and energy. It's a shame the song itself isn't better though, effectively a long list of complaints about a lover pre-occupied with herself.
It took four writers to come up with 'I Do Believe In You' which is at least three too many for the simplest, most generic song on the album. If you didn't know the song and were asked to make up one with the same title you'd come up with something very similar to this - though probably better.
'Elvis and Marilyn' is the oddity of the album, Marty singing about a couple who weren't strictly in love but were the leading couple of Marty's boyhood years in many ways. Marty sings this curio collaboration between Leon Russell and one-time Byrds lyricist Kim Fowley with real feeling, but its retro production and the fact that this narrator is clearly older than the handsome cover is trying to make Marty out to be is all a bit odd.
Singalong 'Tell Me More' is pretty good, one of those smoky songs a la 'Miracles' that Marty does so well. Even this song feels slightly unfinished however.
Barish's songs are easily the pick of the bunch and 'Music Is The Light' is no exception, a tale of a lonely depressed narrator turning on the radio for comfort and finding solace that others have suffered heartbreak before him. If this song had had as strong a chorus as the other two then this could easily have been a third top 40 hit from this album.
Even without a third single, however, 'Balin' is clearly a highly marketable LP. Even by the more middle-aged Jefferson standards of the era there are no hidden political messages, no sneaky subversions, no sudden changes of direction or anything to out off people who liked all that soft rock of the middle 1970s. Balin deserves his success more than most singers of the era, having a better voice than almost anybody and a house songwriter as talented as any Elton John/Bernie Taupin or Rod Stewart/Ronnie Wood teams. The problem comes not with this album as it stands but the fact that by delivering it Marty effectively walked away from all other aspects of his voice for far too many years, always trying to get back to the popularity of this record. I guess this was an album made to pay the bills rather than deliver the thrills, but as workmanlike records go you can do a lot worse - even if Marty himself can do so much better.

Mickey Thomas "Alive Alone"
(Elektra/Asylum, August 1981)
She's Got You Running/Alive Alone/Maybe Tomorrow/Following Every Finger/This Time They Told The Truth//Survivor/You're Good With Your Love/I Don't Wanna Talk About It/Too Much Drama/Badge
"You know the world's gone crazy out there but we're alright, we can stay in here forever and watch TV all night"
One of the conditions of Mickey becoming a Starshipper was that he had to honour his record contract with Elektra, who'd specified that they wanted two albums from him (the first being delivered before he joined the band). The pair of albums couldn't have been less like each other: whereas the forgotten, obscure 'As Long As You Love Me' from 1976 was a rather timid and lifeless affair, 'Alive Alone' is the work of a man who knows he's being groomed for stardom with the confidence levels way up high. Released in a busy year for Jefferson members, the record all but disappeared and Mickey didn't have the time to publicise it very much, but he clearly worked hard on this record which features some very unusual cover song choices (especially the finale 'Badge', an almost improvised Cream B-side written  by Eric Clapton with input from George Harrison and Ringo Starr). Mickey even drew the distinctive cover of a group of tin-hatted soldiers marching towards a wall of sandbags (there's more overlap between him and Paul Kantner than many suspect is all I'm saying...)The set also reunited Mickey with his old Elvin Bishop drummer Donny Baldwin shortly before Mickey promoted him to the Starship league when Aynsley Dunbar decides to bow out. CSN fans might also be interested to learn that other musicians on this album include Stephen Stills regulars George 'Choclate' Perry, Paul Harris and Joe Vitale. It's a likeable record, 'Alive Alone', with Mickey in good voice and with some good material (though oddly he doesn't write any of the songs himself): the title track is a sweet piano ballad that would have been a big hit for Starship, 'Survivor' sounds tailor-made for Mickey's powerful voice and 'This Time They Told The Truth' shows how political Mickey can be even away from the Jefferson family (which makes a mockery of all those later pure pop albums). Of course this isn't the deepest album around and the lack of writing credits is a shame and this album is no substitute for that year's parent LP 'Modern Times', However it's less 'needy' and desperate sounding than Grace's over-modern 'Welcome To The Wrecking Ball' so on those terms alone can be judged a partial success.

 Marty Balin "Lucky"
(EMI, February 1983)
Born To Be A Winner/What Do People Like?/Just Like That/Do It For Love/What Love Is//Heart Of Stone/Palm Of Your Hand/Will You Forever/All We Really Need/When Love Comes
"He liked to live fast, he liked to love slow, he liked to live just as he pleased"
Marty obviously felt quite grateful that against all the odds he'd become the only former member of Jefferson Airplane to land a decent solo deal away from the band in the 1980s and to score a bona fide hit on his signing with EMI to boot. For once the fates were smiling on Marty Balin during his rollercoaster career and things hadn't looked this good since 'Miracles' in 1975. Unfortunately, for all of Marty's joy and confidence and song titles like 'Born A Winner' and the title track, lightning didn't strike twice. 'Lucky' was pretty unlucky to flop so soon after such a big seller even though there isn't any obvious change in direction between albums and if anything this record is a little more consistent (it's just lacking a hit single as commercial as 'Hearts'). The lack of sales for this album killed off Marty's solo career before it had properly begun and the singer won't be back in this book until the Airplane reconvene for one last flight in 1989 - a truly awful waste of his many talents.
The one thing perhaps holding this album back is the lack of input from Marty's friend Jesse Barish, who only writes one song for this album in the pretty folky ballad 'Do It For Love'. That track still manages to be the best on the album, though, closely followed by the one and only Marty co-write on the album 'All We Really Need' (which once again sounds like superior Eurovision). Marty is in great voice throughout and can even tease out nuances from the most unlikeliest of songs (the hard funk 'What Love Is', which should sound like bad heavy metal before being treated with a truly great vocal full of longing and dread of 'that first rejection'). Unlike 'Balin' there are no real outright winners across that record - but unlike that LP there are no real howlers either; just ten rather good pop songs delivered by a great singer and while this record is far from the deepest or most essential in the Jefferson catalogue it is at least made with a lot more care and effort than the period Jefferson album 'Winds Of Change'. 
'Born To Be A Winner' has perhaps a few too many 'heys!' but this Frank Decaro and Steve Head collaboration is a good fit for Marty's bouncy enthusiasm as he tells us about how pleased he is to walk down the street and know that the fates are smiling on him.
DeCaro also writes the next song 'What Do People Like?' which is a delightful retro rocker about Marty's fictional father who was a great rock star and one he hopes to emulate some day (in real life his dad was a tailor).
'Just Like That' is one of the best songs on the album, a Steve Goldstein song that has  Marty half-in-shock at a turn in his fortunes and a realisation that things are working out for him at last. Everyone once ignored him and he assumed he'd be lonely forever but now he 'has a reason to look forward to tomorrow' and it's hard not to get swept up by his enthusiasm.
Jesse Barish's 'Do It For Love' is another highlight, an unusual song in that the song is largely empty - there's just a slow-moving organ part, a strummed acoustic and an orchestra swell that seems to be playing a different song most of the way through. Another tale of surprise at being in love, Marty sings lower and deeper than usual on this song, which is unusual but rather effective.
The noisy 'What Love Is' mixed Marty's usual 'Balin Ballad' style with a sort of heavy metal thrash bookend. Reflecting on the many ways that love can go (pure happiness to utter rejection), Marty does well with one of the cathier songs on the record.
Brian Marneall's 'Heart Of Stone' is a hard rocker with a singalong chorus that seems to be at odds with the rest of the album - not only is it oddly aggressive with a large part for the electric guitar, it features an anti-love song lyric about a girl whose cold and heartless.
Bob Alan and Rick Marotta's 'Palm Of Your Hand' has a nice melody that's not too far removed from 'Miracles', but a pretty ropey production (a very 80s synth part and a humming choir).
The upbeat 'Will Love You Forever' is a John Farey song that has Marty in something of a Santana style - there are congas and a sense that this song runs long after the track has faded, although oddly enough there's no guitar at all on this one. It's a shame the song is quite so empty, but at least it has a go at breaking the album template.
Marty's own 'All We Really Need' (co-written with Goldstein among others) is superior to most of the songs on this album. A tale about trusting in love and the brilliance of a romance when it works, it starts off slow and moody before soaring in an Abba-style chorus. Marty's voice hasn't sounded this good in ages.
Finally, David Evan and Gene Heart's 'When Love Comes' is another upbeat pop song, with an unusual acoustic guitar riff that sounds more like Hot Tuna but with Marty off doing what he normally does over the top. It's not the best thing on the album and an odd way to end, but it's not bad either.
Overall, then, 'Lucky' was unlucky not to do better. While fans don't know it as well as 'Balin' there's a lot going for this record if you liked the predecessor although it's a much more 'up' album throughout, the happiest we've heard Marty since Jefferson Airplane first took off. Like 'Balin' you won't get the depth or beauty that comes from the Starship years or the adventurousness and groundbreaking of the Airplane, but as solo pop album spin-offs go this is all rather good.

Grace Slick "Software"
(RCA, January 1984)
Call It Right Call It Wrong/Me and Me/All The Machines/Fox Face//Through The Window/It Just Won't Stop/Habits/Re-Arrange My Face/Bikini Atoll
"Let's trade sins if you don't mind, I'll use yours and you use mine"
Grace's last solo album was recorded three years after she re-joined Jefferson Starship and as with many AAA solo spin-offs down the years I can't help wondering if the better songs from the project might not have been better saved for the bigger album, thus giving the star a bigger chance to prove their worth away from the band. Basically 'Nuclear Furniture Part A', this album features nine more synth-heavy commercial collaborations with synth expert Pete Wolf that are similar in style if perhaps not quite up to the standard of 'Magician' and 'Showdown' from that album. The two lots together will mark the last time Grace ever gets credited for a song after nearly twenty years of some of the best songwriting around and it's a rather sad low-key way to go out, with Grace again jumping on a current bandwagon (think Gary Numan producing the two girls out of The Human League) that doesn't necessarily suit her voice. Good as the Pete Wolf production is on these recordings, you also can't help but wonder what life Jefferson Starship might have brought to these songs that so often sound cold and lifeless (with Grace playing up to her 'android' role on the 'Modern Times' promo videos!) and while the use of so many artificial instruments makes 'sense' in the context of the album points about man versus machinery it just sounds 'wrong' as a backdrop for Grace's oh so emotional voice.
However in one sense this overlooked album is a great find - Grace's sense of humour. Missing in action since Jefferson Starship became so po-faced and badly mis-understood by the band the last time she tried this sort of thing (1983's 'Out Of Control'), with so much emphasis on Grace's voice she can at last get her point across directly. Grace is a very funny lady and at times this is a very funny album, a sort of cheeky undermining of her ex Paul's take on a roboticised future that's neat and tidy. 'All The Machines' has a singalong chorus performed by a bunch of robots who hiss, clank and thump their way into musical history, 'Call It Right Call It Wrong' pre-empts all the attacks and bad reviews that this album was always going to get by explaining why it's all down to personal opinion and 'Re-arrange My Face' is in hindsight the most interesting piece of the lot, Grace effectively 'killing off' her past Grace Slick character and admitting that 'while I'm lucky to have this job' she doesn't want it that badly anymore. The clock to her retirement in six years' time starts ticking right now. However for all that this is not a 'down' album but a bright and cheery one, a record that twists the usual Paul Kantner style fears and paranoia about developments in the outside world and reckons that even if the world does get over-run by sterilised streamlined programmed robots it won't change the goody error-laden humans who control them. Overall, then, this witty and groundbreaking album isn't as great or as honest as 'Dreams' and lacks any one song that truly stands out from the pack, but is at least an improvement on 'Wrecking Ball' with Grace deserving praise for trying something different even if this 'Software' needs a bit of de-fragging and the loss of a few filler songs to be truly perfect. If nothing else, Grace has more of a right to sound like this than wannabe Debbie Harry in the similar-sounding Blondie ever did and deserved at least a slice of that same success. Grace's solo releases desperately need some more tender loving care and at the time of writing 'Software' is the rarest of them all, one of the few AAA records by a 'frontline' member yet to secure it's first CD release.
The record starts with the witty if slightly irritating and in places downright bonkers 'Call It Right, Call It Wrong'. Grace is attacking society again, revealing the very different ethics of different countries and how no human can really judge another because they've been 'brainwashed' into doing something equally weird. 'Twist their minds while they're still young, depends where you come from' is her spot-on dissection of societal pressure, performed to a synth riff that sounds like a commercial. While the setting is very strange and artificial Grace is very much her old self still, rejecting calls that sex is wrong by leering 'sex is right - take everyone to bed!'
'Me and Me' is very of its times, with a long synth-riff opening and an artificial bass. However the song when it gets going is the most 'traditional' on the album, Grace inviting her schizophrenic lover to join her schizophrenic self for a four-way relationship before vowing to 'be friends forever'. A drippy chorus gets in the way of a promising song.
'All The Machines' is my favourite song on the album if only for the sheer weirdness value. The narrator has gone for a medical check-up and they all say she's ok - even when she tries to tell her doctor all of her problems he doesn't care because the 'computer says yes'. A chorus of machines chime in during the chorus on a very funny parody of modern styles: 'If your answering machine didn't tell you you'd never know what anyone said - without your remote control you might have to get out of bed!'
'Fox Face' is a curio too, Grace getting all Belle and Sebastian by sympathising with a bullied child and revealing that the pressures on the young lad 'make him hard in a world that makes him mad' and turns him into a ruthless dictator. The slowed-down synth setting is a struggle to sit through to be honest, but both lyrics and vocal are first-class with Grace adding enough passion through her voice alone to warm the song up.
'Through The Window' is a much poppier and normalised song than most on the album and sounds like a period Abba outtake - thankfully this was one of the Swedes' better periods with their best and deepest album 'The Visitors'. Grace is trapped from her loved one, imagining herself outside in the rain watching an ex enjoying a happy life in the warm inside (could it be Paul?)
'It Just Won't Stop' is the opposite to most songs on the album - Pete Wolf's melody is terrific in a 1980s sounds-like a-digital-watch-gone-mad kind of a way, but this time it's Grace's lyrics that don't quite do the job. Returning to the album theme about technological progress not necessarily meaning human progress, this track has Grace as a dumb teenager proclaiming 'let's make all the big boys take all the money - because it's too hard to stop it!', a poor substitute for the rallying calls of old. There are still some good lines about corruption though:  'Put some cheese in the trap and the rats just get fatter!'
'Habits' is a rare album ballad and with confessional lyrics and less instruments going on sounds more like 'Dreams', which can only be a good thing. Grace is offering advice, though whether to her younger self or to the listener is unclear: she tells herself not to beware of 'Crazy Friends' and admits to spending too much time caring what other people think. Regretting all the ice cream she's eaten, nicotine she's smoked and caffeine she's drunk Grace sighs over 'how hard it is to change', but alas a stop-start chorus and a woeful lack of melody prevent this from being the clear album favourite it ought to have been.
'Re-Arrange My Face' is about altering styles and becoming someone else which turns into another parody of modern musical trends. Grace sings that years in the past she'd simply 'change her mind' but nowadays it's the trend 'just to change your name' - as if that's going to solve anything! The song ends with that ominous last verse: 'My boss says I'm lucky to have this job, my boss thinks I'm a lazy slob, today I think I'll quit!'
Closer 'Bikini Atoll' is the only song on the album written by Grace alone and anyone who thinks all the album's weird vibes are coming from Pete Wolf alone might be surprised to learn that it's the strangest song here, with shades of 'Hyperdrive' in the unusual song structure and spacey lyrics. Taking the lyrics straight, this is simply the tale of an island romance, but the atom bomb referencing title and the eerie ending which gets all atonal and ends in a big explosion is clearly hinting at nuclear war - a very real threat in 1984. Grace should have kept this one in particular for 'Nuclear Furniture' - it needs to be played by a 'real' band and would have fitted that album's anti-cold war spirit and sense of impending doom perfectly.
In fact 'Software' is a good complement to 'Furniture' all round, with the same laughing-because-if-I-don't-I'll-cry feeling about it all and a sense that mankind has reached the end of days and that the inhabitants of Earth are at best merely 'furniture' to be moved around by world leaders at will. The album doesn't lack for heart and lyric on lyric is perhaps an even better album, although it lacks the consistency of the last Jefferson Starship record and the variety that comes from having so many different band members all going their own ways. 'Software' is not a record I play that often - it's an intellectual exercise rather than a record made for enjoyment and the lack of clear definable melodies and the anti-septic production, whilst suitable, is wearying. However whenever I do make a rare return to this album I always end up liking it much more than I remembered and if nothing else it's great to hear Grace back at the challenging, thinking end of her talent after a solo record best described as 'mis-guided'. It's far from being an album that only a robot could love, but there's no getting away from the elephant android in the room - this record has dated far more than Grace's timeless 60s and 70s material and won't be to everyone's tastes until their circuits have been re-programmed. Verdict? The Alan's Album Archives machines says....whirrhissclangbuzz334774y43hcdkvpdu23041918&^$£&(*&%^()))!!!! Oh no, somebody's been using it to listen to The Spice Girls again, get the pan and brush out again somebody quick...

Jefferson Airplane "Time Machine"
(Pair Records, '1984')
White Rabbit/Crown Of Creation/Plastic Fantastic Lover/Won't You Try?-Saturday Afternoon//Lather/Blues From An Airplane/Rock Me Baby/She Has Funny Cars///A Song For All Seasons/Let's Get Together/Turn My Life Down/The House At Pooneil Corners//Volunteers/Star Track/Come Up The Years/We Can Be Together
"My yesterdays have melted into tomorrow and the present leaves me with no point of view"
An apt title - Jefferson Airplane were always a sci-fi band and while the 'space' element of their ideas is often spoken about few people seem to 'get' the occasional 'time' e;ement ion their work. Many Jefferson songs are set in the future (sometimes whole albums in the case of 'Blows Against The Empire' and 'Nuclear Furniture') so this low-key low budget record probably has an apter title than the people who put this double-album set together ever realised. However perhaps there really was a fan involved in this set as the track selection is pretty much spot on too, mixing the band's more famous material from 'Surrealistic Pillow' and the title track of 'Volunteers' with several fan favourites such as 'Won't You Try?' 'Crown Of Creation' and 'Lather'. The packaging never says it anywhere either but this set also takes the unusual decision to only include songs from the 'classic lineup' that everyone always thinks of (Marty, Paul, Grace, Jorma, Jack and Spencer) so there's nothing from the debut record without Grace or Spencer, nothing from the last pair of records with different drummers ('Bark' and 'Long John Silver') and nothing from either live album. Even so this set is quite interesting for what it leaves out even with these rules applied. The most obvious omission is the band's biggest hit 'Somebody To Love' - an oversight did they assume that every fan interested in this set would already have it? Similarly nearly all compilations include flop single 'The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil', which is about as close as one song can get to summing up this eclectic daring band - the compilation even goes to the trouble of including harder-going sequel 'The House At Pooneil Corners' so it's not just a 'playing it safe' thing either. At just four songs per side of the original vinyl this is also quite a short-running compilation as double albums go (although many of the band's longer 'epic' works are here unedited I'm pleased to say) and there's plenty more where these 16 tracks came from. Oh well - better than average if far from perfect is still pretty good odds for a record set this cheap and along with the Starship's higher profile at the time showed that there was fuel in the old band yet. Long overdue for a CD re-issue.

Jorma Kaukonen "Magic"/"Magic Two"
(Relix, Recorded December 1984, Released '1985'/'1995')
'Magic' : Walkin' Blues/Winnin' Boy Blues/I'll Be Alright/Embryonic Journey//Candy Man/Roads & Roads &/Good Shepherd/Mann's Fate
'Magic Two' : Walkin' Blues/Winnin' Boy Blues/I'll Be Alright/Embryonic Journey/Broken Highway/Candy Man/Follow The Drinking Gourd/Rock Me Baby/Another Man Done Gone/Roads & Roads &/ Good Shepherd/Police Dog Blues/Come Back Baby/Mann's Fate
"Time goes on and I get older, what am I going to do? My mirror face keeps getting colder, my eyes still look for you"
With Hot Tuna put back in the fridge for now, Jorma set off on some memorable solo acoustic tours that mixed all eras of his past: a little bit of Airplane, a fair amount of Tuna, bits and pieces from his solo records and lots of blues songs Jorma hadn't got round to covering yet. Fans and critics who had always been a little put off by the sheer noise of the Hot Tuna gigs loved the shows and Jorma decided to have one of the gigs recorded as a 'souvenir' of what he was up to. Still without a record contract, Jorma got in touch with old pals the Grateful Dead who agreed to release this record on their 'Relix' label for outside musicians; the record was so popular that a new compilation of the recordings was put together for the tenth anniversary in 1995, confusingly titled 'Magic Two' even though technically speaking it's more like 'Magic 1.2', an extended version of the same concert.
Jorma is on cracking form throughout, ignoring the sensibilities and demands of the hungry 1980s pop scene that his old colleagues were falling for and the fact that this album was only ever made for the faithful, not for the general public, means that it's probably the one Jefferson release of the 1980s that hasn't dated badly. There are two Rev Gary Davis covers, one Robert Johnson cover and a Jelly Roll Morton song, all delivered with Jorma's typical authenticity and the previously uncovered 'I'll Be Alright Some Day' is perhaps the best of the guitarist's many takes on the Davis songbook. As for the originals, a rather tentative 'Embryonic Journey' is not the best version around, the bluesy cover of 'Good Shepherd' is rather thrown away and the superb 'Roads & Roads And' has seen better days; however the one lone new original 'Mann's Fate' is a fascinating blues song, full of unusual atonal sounds and an awkward, restless rhythm that reflects Jorma's fears as he approaches middle age. The expanded version is better yet, with a whole load more Jorma originals from earlier in his career (a funky 'Broken Highway' sounds particularly good with a new comedy original 'Police Dog Blues' another strong addition to the Kaukonen-Canon)  and some excellent exclusive cover songs such as Lightnin' Hopkins' 'Rock Me Baby' and Alan Lomax's turbulent 'Another Good Man Done Gone', all of which deserve to be on the original record more than most of what made the album. The only thing really holding 'Magic' back from being the definitive live Jorma album is the curious echo that hangs heavy over all these songs - and which sound particularly odd on the sparse blues covers - and the occasionally hysterical cries from the crowd (meaning 'Pointed Head' still easily retains that crown). However 'Magic' does indeed feature plenty of magic and demonstrates that even though Jorma might have been without a record contract and was in danger of not being heard that was no excuse to slow down or stop challenging himself - how greater still might Jorma's back catalogue have been without these 'missing years' as part of his discography?

Jorma Kaukonen "Too Hot To Handle"
(Relix,  March 1985)
Broken Highway/Too Many Years/Radical Sleep/Killin' Time In The Crystal City//Ice Age/Walkin' Blues/Death Don't Have No Mercy/Too Hot To Handle
"It's been too many years to watch our hearts die this way"
We'll start with the positives: Jorma's back, yay! And unlike 'Magic' this is a proper studio recording - his first since 'Barbeque King' four years earlier. What's more it's a 'proper' Jorma album, with no attempts to be trendy or to do anything except play the blues. The front cover to this record is fantastic - a recognisable portrait of Jorma made out of magnetic tape - and it even sports the same bright yellow background 'traditional' to Hot Tuna releases. Two songs later featured on the Jefferson Airplane reunion album, 'Too Many Years' and 'Ice Age' both appeared here first and sound much better - less artificial without the 80s backing and with Jorma in better voice. However, there's no escaping the Jefferson in the room: this still isn't Jorma anywhere near full strength yet despite the long lay-off. Many of these songs are covers and - just to add insult to injury - many are re-recordings of covers Jorma had already recorded once (does the world really need another 'Death Don't Have No Mercy'?) In addition, 'Walkin' Blues' had also appeared on two separate Hot Tuna Releases ('America's Choice' and 'Double Dose' yet again)and  'Killing Time In The Crystal City' had already appeared in live form on Hot Tuna's 'Double Dose' leaving just five of these songs as 'new' (and three exclusive to this set if you already own the Airplane reunion album, as many of you are likely to). Given the price this set currently goes for, that's not really great odds. Of course it's not completely forgettable: the title track is a nice acoustic ballad, while the sparse and bluesier take on 'Ice Age' makes it sound like a whole new song to the reunion record's rather thrown away re-make. Jorma is on good form and sings all of these songs very well, no matter if you have heard them before, with lots of space for his guitar-work as he performs solo throughout, arguably the best showcase for his abilities post-Airplane notwithstanding the electric might of Hot Tuna; it's just a shame there aren't more of them here and that Jorma arrived with half an album rather than a full one. Many of the new songs were co-written with Jorma's wife Margareta under her Icelandic pen name 'Malles Meje'.

Starship "Knee Deep In The Hoopla"
 (Grunt/RCA, September 1985)
We Built This City/Sara/Tomorrow Doesn't Matter Tonight/Rock Myself To Sleep/Desperate Heart//Private Room/Before I Go/Hearts Of The World (Will Understand)/Love Rusts
CD Bonus Track: Casualty
"I just checked into some low-rent room"
The end of Jefferson Starship was not a pretty sight. A band that had always been several different groups at once since the Airplane days abut had always managed to stay together through brotherly love and a shared ambition became a divide of factions and power struggles as two halves the band sought to wrestle controls of the Starship from each other. This was a coup, an inverse of Paul's original intensions to hijack a Starship to spread brotherly love into the universe - instead Jefferson Starship was hijacked under his nose to spread the antithesis of their music to the world: empty 80s pop. Shedding both Paul and loyal number two David Freiberg Starship became a quintet and also lost the right to use the 'Jefferson' half of their name (which Paul had copyright registered along with Grace and manager Bill Thompson - even though the band was originally Marty's and the name at least partly thought up by Jorma). This will result in a series of albums that sold well - far better than anything the Jeffersons had managed since 1967 - and gained a whole new following who'd never heard of or been born when the Airplane first took off, but for old fans who hadn't bailed out already this was the moment when 'their' band went down in flames and parachutes had to be used. The Starship's full story will result in the loss of four members across the next four three records and what was to some extent a most unhappy ship resulting in bust-ups, punch ups and court cases. For some of you this late spin off of the band might be the only reason you're reading this article at all - but to Jefferson fans like me it's one of the greatest travesties of musical history that a band with this much promise, this much fight, this much spirit and this much soul ended up just sounding like every single other bland band of the 1980s .
On the plus side, this first album especially knows it's target audience in a way that few other bands do and Mickey at least flew the Starship exactly where he wanted it during the course of the band's run. This album alone contains two number one hits - something even the Airplane had never achieved - with both 'We Built This City' and 'Sara' amongst the upper end of 80s-pop-songs-made-with-excess-if-you-have-to-listen-to-that-sort-of-thing (even if the former has stupid lyrics - how can you build a city on rock and roll? Shouldn't it be 'transform a sleepy village into a thriving hubbub of a metropolis? - and the latter is just an inferior re-write of the catchy 'Jane' at a slower tempo, oh and not as catchy). Mickey, for so long trapped in the wrong band, is shaping the group around him and to some extent he's right -  if you're of the mindset that all music should be is entertainment in whatever the fashion of the day happens to be then 'Knee Deep In The Hoopla' is bang on the money. It's when you look at the band's glorious past that things go wrong.
Take what happens to Grace Slick. There she was as one of the leading counter-culture figures of her day, writing songs that made the Government of the day shake with fear and breaking taboos that no one else had even thought about putting in song yet. Furthermore she was a girl as aggressive as any boy back in a time when that was unheard of; if you didn't fancy Grace in 1967  or want to be like her then you were part of the problem, not the solution. Here, though, she's a middle aged puppet singing duets with a man half her age in a style that's the antithesis of everything she once stood for and with none of her own songs on the album whatsoever. Many fans rate 'Knee Deep' over the next two Starship albums because Grace does actually get more to do in terms of pure singing, with solo vocals on the deeply irritating pop song 'Rock Myself To Sleep' and the duet on 'Love Rusts'. But in a way that's actually worse for fans to take, given that Grace is on automatic, no longer adding anything of herself (as she will on the superior sequel 'No Protection' ; even when she leaves and the band become simply Mickey's Starship with a tiny bit of help from Craig on 'Love Among The Cannibals' it makes a little sense - it's this album out of the original three in particular I can't stand because of what it does to Grace). Pete Sears, who ended up in the band more on auto-pilot than anything else, left soon after the sessions for the album, recalling it as 'coming to his senses' when the band were filming a music video with fixed grins on their faces and he was miming to an instrument he didn't even know how to play (Grace will follow an album later; Craig and drummer Donny Baldwin two albums later; even by Jefferson Starship standards that turn over is not a sign of a happy crew however many millions the band were raking in).
To be fair, there's too much talent in this band (including - perhaps especially - Mickey Thomas' abilities with these sort of catchy pop songs) for 'Knee Deep' to be truly awful. The hit singles are both catchy indeed, with the Peter and Ina Wolf collaboration on 'Sara' almost up to what the pair were writing for 'Nuclear Furniture' and not all that far removed from it. 'Tomorrow Doesn't Matter Tonight' is a catchy pop song with a nice lot of aggressive Craig Chaquico guitar (his talents are actually used on this album, not like the next two where he might as well not be there). David Roberts' 'Before I Go' is a sweet pop ballad with a pleading narrator that Mickey was born to play -the album highlight by far, this is the one song I actually like from this album rather than simply make allowances for. The Martin Page/Bernie Taupin collaboration 'Love Rusts' features some great interplay between Mickey and Grace on only the second song on the album to feature both singers together - it's not even close to what the Jeffersons were doing a few years before but it's not bad. The rest however is noisy nonsense that isn't particularly played well (most of the band are replaced by session musicians anyway) and which wouldn't have got a look in had it not been for a) the clever choice of singles b) a few curious fans trying the album out to see what they think of it all and c) the clever and very mid-80s cover, with the band in silhouette painted over with crayons, a cartoony version of the way that Jefferson Starship started off with their striking graphic art covers.
'We Built This City' is regularly votes 'worst song to make number one'. I'm not sure I disagree - a trite song with a catchy chorus that's as annoying as a jingle without the blessing of ending after a few seconds, it's allegedly about San Francisco (the lyrics mention the Golden Gate Bridge) although other states have been quick to claim it - even Cleveland who assume it refers to the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame (which is a joke given how their town was dismantled on 'Stairway To Cleveland' in 1981). The trouble with this song is that it's so catchy and of its time and such an obvious sell out - and yet pretends to be daring and rebellious: if the city was built on rock and roll then it was killed by pop. Grace even sneers about playing 'corporation games' at one point, seemingly unaware of the irony of what she's doing. She at least, should have known better although at the same time I can see why something this catchy was a 'hit'.
Putting the hit songs together, 'Sara' is an ok ballad written by Peter and Ina Wolf together and reportedly commenting on the state of their marriage (both were unhappy, but neither wanted to leave - or at least that's what I assume from some coded messages in interviews). The song is bland but less offensive than some, but it's the music video that fills me with horror -Mickey gets a whole back-story of a childhood on a farm that's destroyed by a tornado (eh? Where's that in the lyrics?!)
'Tomorrow Doesn't Matter Tonight' is one of the highlights, closet to what the Jeffersons were doing anyway towards the end, with Craig the standout star and Mickey getting a lyric about fearing the future that he can really get his teeth into. This sort of thing has been done better before and after by lots of people, but not bad.
Kimberlye Rew's 'Rock Myself To Sleep' sounds like a song that wasn't good enough to get on Grace's 'Welcome To The Wrecking Ball' album, all noise and hollering, but with even less taste than that album if that can be imagined. Hearing one of the greatest singers of her generation reduced to a noisy nonsense pop song largely on one note might be one of the most depressing experience of your musical life.
Michael Bolton was something of an unknown when the band chose his song 'Desperate Heart' for the album - in fact the singer recorded it himself after Starship to cash in on his early success when he was short of material. It's more of a Starship song though, with some nicely aggressive guitar and more dreamy vocals from Mickey, although the song runs out of tricks past the verse never mind the full song.
Craig and Mickey's 'Desperate Heart' is the only band composition on the album and perhaps the most disappointing song of them all. Just an album ago the pair made for a great songwriting team - Craig had the chords, Mickey had the words and together they wrote some great catchy songs with a slight sense of depth to them. Here there's so much messy noisy jagged production work going on you can't hear the words anyway and the tune is so unremarkable I can't remember it to write about now and it's only just finished playing.
David Roberts' 'Before I Go' wouldn't be that great on any other album but here it really stands out by virtue of having a proper tune and a lyric that at least sounds as if had some emotional investment in at some point. To be fair on Mickey he's great at these sort of songs where he can soar and be his usual ebui8lkllent self but with a hint of tragedy in there too - he should have covered more songs like this and indeed will across the next three albums.
The noisy 'Hearts Of The World Will Understand' sees the return of Grace on another noisy faceless pop song with another power pop chorus that's so mid-80s it's practically wearing shoulder pads. It's not the worst offender on the album, but nor does it have a single redeeming feature.
The closing 'Love Rusts' is a rare chance to hear Elton John's writing partner Bernie Taupin away from his mentor and the song is far better written than most on the album, even if the tune is so close to being non-existent it can throw in all sorts of random production noises without getting in the way at all. It's an odd song, quite unlike any on the rest of the album and more like the overtly theatrical songs Paul Kantner was writing at the end, but Grace especially really takes to the track and the ability to sing 'properly' rather than 'young'. Not sure I'd like a whole album of this but it's a striking closing song.
Overall, then, 'Knee Deep In The Hoopla' is knee deep in something and it isn't good. It's like all the worst fears of the last few Jefferson albums realised and stuck together, emphasised by awful production values, gormless performances and average songwriting. Only the occasional track and the talents of Mickey as an under-rated pop singer and Craig as the expert guitarist he always was keeps the band out of total calamity. However 'Knee Deep' still isn't a record I'd recommend to any Jefferson fan and even those who do think Starship are ok should instead go to either of the next two records with have a much better idea about what the personality of the band is meant to be: that's what's seriously missing from this album (no wonder the band are seen on the front only in caricature - how apt!) Perhaps the worst record in this book.

Kantner/Balin/Casady in "The KBC Band"
(Arista, October 1986)
Mariel/It's Not You It's Not Me/Hold Me/America//No More Heartaches/Wrecking Crew/When Love Comes/Dream Motorcycle/Sayonara
Message printed on the inner sleeve: "Life is a test. Had this been a real life you would have been told where to go and what to do!"
One of the games you can play if you're a Jefferson fan is guess what weird and unlikely combinations they'll start popping up in next: few fans of the Airplane would have guessed at Marty returning to the Starship for instance or that Grace would return to the latter band so soon after a very public dismissal or that the entire 1967-1990 career of the band would start with such an unlikely friendship as that of Marty and Paul's and end with the split between best friends Mickey and Donny. Perhaps the most unlikeliest meeting of all though is the KBC Band, which stands for Kantner Balin and Casady, a trio who last worked together a full sixteen years early and seem to have little in common except their past (their most recent projects had been respectively a prog rock epic about nuclear war, a pop album and a heavy metal-style rock record). As a rhythm guitarist, a singer and a bass player do not a band make the other instruments are filled out by Slick Aguilar (formerly of Crosby-Nash's band) on guitar, Keith Crossan on saxophone, Tim Gorman on keyboards and Darrell Verdusco on drums.  It also led to the strange fact that three founding members of the Jefferson Starship could tour under a different name - when Starship was getting away with just one at the time (and even Grace wasn't an original). Hopes were high that the explosive differences that made the Jeffersons great could be heard again across this album - but on those terms it's a disappointment, with the trio so busy looking for common ground they end up in safe and empty harmless pop. Hearing this record back to back with even 'Nuclear Furniture' is a recipe for despair as the bar is set woefully low, the equivalent of bringing back Newton, Einstein and Galileo and asking them to have a bash at the Sun crossword. Few fans remember this record at all nowadays, although that said few even noticed it at the time.
However, perhaps fans should remember it - the penultimate time this many Jeffersoners were making an album together, this reunion has a lot more going for it than the official reunion album of 1989. Although the sound is defiantly pop-like it's still full of many more Jeffersony quirks than what Starship were doing at the same time and a combination of Marty's voice, Paul's off beat idea and rhythms and Jack's fat bass (sadly not fat enough by past standards) means that this 'seems' more like a Jefferson Airplane sound than any album since 'Earth' in 1978. Yes there's a big hole in the record where Grace should be and Marty's fading voice twinned with Paul's gruff vocal  is not the most pleasant experience in the world. Anyone coming to this record after the brilliant knife-edge daring of Skip, Spencer, Johnny and Aynsley will want to see the person responsible for the appalling tinny 80s drum sound taken out and shot (it's not all the drummer's fault - the heavy echo and artificiality so 'in' this year sounds particularly bad when added to the Jefferson signature sound). As for the songs, it's a mixed bag this album: it's great to hear Paul and Marty pair up as a writing team for the first time since 'Volunteers' in 1969 and their songs (which are noticeably heavier on the 'Kantner' vibes of big concepts) are easily the highlights of the set. The singalong 'Mariel' is one of their most under-rated works, a hippie singalong for the cold war era that actually beats anything Paul wrote for 'Nuclear Furniture' in terms of good old fashioned pop riffs. Also, though ignored at the time 'America' has rightly been taken on as some sort of an anthem, revived by the 'Next Generation' Jefferson Starship immediately post 9/11 and a regular in their sets ever since. However their third collaboration (the trite 'Dream Motorcycle') is a candidate for the worst original either man had written up to this point and none of the six cover songs were worth even the little effort the band seem to be giving here. Overall this record has its moments - arguably more than Starship ever did - and had it been the stepping stone to something greater next time around rather than that reunion album three years later all could have been forgiven. However the great moments are few and far between. In a nutshell it's on a par with 'Winds Of Change' and a little behind 'Nuclear Furniture', though perhaps a couple of interstellar hops ahead of its nearest rival, Starship's second album 'No Protection'. Or, you could add, the KBC are one part KGB (Russian military protest) and two parts KFC (fast food filler, heavy on the production spices!)
'Mariel' is however an undeniably great song. Starting off with mock applause, this song is clearly a prog rock epic and quickly turns into traditional Kantner territory: a sci-fi heroine whose going to take us to the promise land (see 'Lightning Rose' from the last few batches of Jefferson Starship records). However then Marty sings in a cooler, softer voice about love being the only thing strong enough to 'chase the wolf away' (referencing the 'Winds Of Change' cover perhaps?) It's also the first politically motivated Kantner song in a decade and for that reason alone is important, a 'warning' to America that 'Chile could happen here' if the country doesn't get its act together quickly. The song was dedicated on the sleeve to Victor Martinez, a Chilean protestor and believer in spreading 'banned' songs who was tortured and shot in 1973 after the latest coup and his body thrown into the street as a 'warning' to his followers and Nora Astorger, a guerrilla fighter and later ambassador  in the Nicaraguan Revolution of the 1980s - alas Paul's hope for her 'future' proved wrong as she died of cancer in 1988 all too soon (the KBC Band later played this song at her memorial service).
'It's Not You, It's Not Me' is a sweet but rather noisy cover song that if you can get past the poppy chorus and horrendous production values is actually a good vehicle for Marty's voice. Marty is trying to meet up with an old love who never shows, looking out at the stream of people passing by, 'the beggars and the dreamers, the young and the wild'. The result is very similar to Graham Gouldman's work in period band Wax (that's fairly true of the album as a whole actually).
'Hold Me' is one of the weakest songs on the album. The slight country twinge (an Eagles style keyboard plod, a harmonica and soft-rock guitar) doesn't suit the band and the trite lyrics about getting drunk with 'Dave after work' about his marital problems don't do Marty's voice justice. The harmonies are surprisingly nice though.
'America' isn't quite as good as people say it is now, nor bad enough to have been ignored for so long. Starting with a synth riff taken from 'America The Beautiful', Paul turns the track into a song where America is a little girl growing up, 'once with her heart on fire, burn in the dust of the magic of history. However the second verse, the present day, is the country's difficult teenage years, losing her 'father' in Vietnam and 'brother' in the Lebanon and warping her hopeful frame of mind. By the third verse there's poverty and hunger in the streets after Reagan cut the welfare bill and food stamps and warns of 'something in the air' similar to other countries immediately prior to revolution (Germany in the thirties, Nicaragua in the eighties). Paul references a fan he met who poured her story out to him one day and inspired the song: she'd been brought up to idolise America but with two relatives dead in different wars for nothing felt that America had let her down badly. Paul clearly feels the same and is at his emotional here, with Marty also turning in a powerful vocal. While still one of the best songs here, it's a shame the melody and the setting aren't quite as inspired and memorable as the words however.
'No More Heartaches' is another noisy pop cover, unworthy of the trio's talents and best forgotten. This is Marty's first out and out love song in quite a time though and possibly worth hearing for that alone, though it's no 'Comin' Back To me' or 'Miracles'!
Aguilar's song 'Wrecking Crew' might have sounded good in different circumstances, but alas the slick production values (no not Grace - or even Aguilar) get in the way and it's a case of playing hunt-the-Jefferson.
'When Love Comes' is a little better, if only for the Jorma-style guitar noodling and there's a little bit of a bluesy Hot Tuna vibe about this song. Marty's oddly less than convincing on a song right down his usual line of cover songs, however.
'Dream Motorcycle' is the third original on the album, but to be honest only a great sax lick elevates it beyond the lacklustre cover songs on this album. Marty's got a new bike and wants his lover to try it out, with a whole load of metaphors for how much his love for her is like the roar of his bike - yawn. Her love in response ought to be like a steamroller and flatten him right now!
Thankfully the album ends as well as it begin with 'Sayonara', the best cover on the album by far. A Grace-style piano riff leads into Marty at his best on a lyric he can really get into, a tale of an inevitable split after years of on-off romance that was all the better for the making up post-rows. Despite fitting Marty so well it's probably fair to guess that Paul discovered the composition - Japanese songwriter Oda Kazumasa is barely known to Western audience but Paul always had an ear on the music and eachings of the Far East.
So ends a rollercoaster ride of the album, which at times plunged to the depths of Starship, but occasionally reaches the political ambitious peaks of the Airplane. It's a shame that Jack was so under-used, barely audible throughout, but it's good to hear two old friends throwing their lot in together again after eight years apart and it's a shame that the band didn't last for longer.

                                         
Jefferson Airplane "2400 Fulton Street"
(RCA, March 1987)
'Beginnings': It's No Secret/Come Up The Years/My Best Friend/Somebody To Love/Comin' Back To Me/Embryonic Journey/She Has Funny Cars/Let's Get Together/Blues From An Airplane/JPP McStep B Blues
'Psychedelia': Plastic Fantastic Lover/Wild Tyme (H)/The Ballad Of You and Me and Pooneil/A Small Package Of Value Will Come To You Shortly/White Rabbit/Won't You Try?-Saturday Afternoon/Lather/Fat Angel/The Last Wall Of The Castle/Greasy Heart
'Revolution': We Can Be Together/Crown Of Creation/Mexico/Wooden Ships/Rejoyce/Volunteers (Live)/Have You Seen The Saucers?/Eat Starch Mom
'Airplane Parts': Pretty As You Feel/Martha/Today/Triad/Third Week In The Chelsea/Good Shepherd/Eskimo Day/Levi Jean Commercials
Note: the 1990 CD Release -expanded the track listing and it's that version we've chosen to list and review here
"It's a wild tyme, I see people around me changing faces, I'm doing things thast haven't got a name yet!"
A superior kind of anthology, '2400 Fulton Street' may have been named simply after the Haight Ashbury address where the band lived together for a while, but there's nothing workmanlike or functional about this dazzling free-for-all-comp which might well be the best single-shop Jefferson release on the market. The sound is much improved, several tracks that at the time hasn't been readily available for years were back together and at last the Jefferson vaults seemed to be being treated with care.  In keeping with the band's pioneering stature and love of side-long suites, the original vinyl and even more the CD re-release of a few years later re-sequence the songs to cover certain topics. This sort of an approach is always controversial and by and large stupid - songs that weren't meant to go together and sequenced at random anyway (what's wrong with good ole' chronological order?) However this series - almost - acts as both. The first side is dedicated to 'the early years' and features a pretty spot-on collection of ten songs from the first two albums plus charming outtake 'JPP McStep B Blues'. The second side is 'Psychedelia' and lives up to its billing: 'Wild Tyme' 'Pooneil' 'White Rabbit' 'Won't You Try?' 'Lather'....this might just be the best ten-song selection of Airplane songs ever, a relentless yet magical half-hour compilation that will be ringing in your ears long after the record has stopped. The third side is 'Revolution', perhaps the most controversial of the four (having the hard-hitting 'We Can Be Together' 'Volunteers' and the under-rated single-only 'Mexico' together is great - but what's revolutionary about Marty's love of a TV-set in 'Plastic Fantastic Lover' or Grace's Ulysses re-write 'ReJoyce', great as both songs are? Finally, 'Airplane Parts' seems like the compilers just ran out of ideas: while songs like 'Today' and 'Third Week In The Chelsea' are amongst the best things on the whole set these songs don't belong together stapled together like this (would it not have been better to have expanded the other three parts to include perhaps thirteen songs each instead? Or even a 'sci-fi' 'the truth is out there' side featuring 'When The Earth Moves Again' 'Have You Seen The Saucers?' and most of 'Blows Against The Empire'?)
The one new addition for the collector is a compilation of a series of radio commercials the band did for Levi's Jeans in 1967. Recorded with Spencer drumming behind either Marty or Grace, the pieces have the hypnotic psychedelic feel of 'White Rabbit' with the intensity of 'White Rabbit' and Grace's in particular is worth a listen, even if it seems odd to hear the Jeffersons basically finish on a jingle after two hours of socking it to the man and his consumerist society. It's a shame that there wasn't the inclusion of both the funniest of the three commercials ('Quack Quack I am a duck, I cannot wear white Levis, you are probably human - you have all the luck!') and Grace's extra-curricular number counting for the first series of Sesame Street from 1969 ('Two!!!! Two....two...too-hoo!...' for about ten minutes). Still if you're new to the Airplane's flights of fancy then this really is the compilation for you, charting all the highs and few of the lows with the space and track content to manage what so other compilations ever manage to do: offer an understanding into what this band were really all about (folk-rock, psychedelia, rebellion and peace since you ask).

Starship "No Protection"
(Grunt/RCA, July 1987)
Beat Patrol/Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now/It's Not Over (Til' It's Over)/Girls Like You/Wings Of A Lie/The Children//I Don't Know Why/Transatlantic/Say When/Babylon/Set The Night To Music
"This is an age when you must win, for there is no gold upon the street today"
Pete left straight after the sessions for this album's lead single and first recording 'Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now', unable to take the blaring lights and cheesy smiles needed for a pop career and Grace would follow soon after making this record, citing her reasons as feeling daft singing pop and rock and roll as her 50th birthday approached. Starship were clearly in disarray and after eight years in the band Mickey Thomas was more in charge than ever (Grace only sings on four of the album's eleven songs - the two duet hit singles and her own couple of co-writes). As with 'Knee Deep In The Hoopla' the songs that weren't good enough to be the hit singles are pretty awful and the oh so 80s production (with Donny Baldwin sounding as if he's hitting a punch bag, not drumming!) and selling out this far and this badly is a travesty given the band's name and heritage. However, what naysayers often forget is that at least this is superior pop music, well mostly. You can see why Mickey wanted to push so hard in this direction because he knows exactly what he's doing - when to soar, when to go OTT, when to pounce. If this was Eurovision and Eurovision was open to all countries (they've allowed Australia in nowadays for heaven's sake...)  he'd be winning by a landslide and the competition would be hosted in every state of America in turn (nil points scorers Jemini clearly modelled themselves on Starship; given less nerves on the day they still might have done well). The artificial 80s backing, which sounds so atrocious now, was everywhere back then: believe it or not for those not around at the time this was amongst the better made versions of the same drippy-wet keyboards and over-booming drums. There's no arguing too with the mega-hits 'Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now' and 'It's Not Over (Till IT's Over)', the former of which might well be the best of all the Starship mega-sellers (though I can't say I ever cared much for the latter). The world needed a Starship in 1987 - it's just a shame that they needed it so badly that a truly great band had to die in order to get it.
If you have to own a Starship album - and there's now law that says you must, thank goodness - then 'No Protection' is the one to own. Less clichéd than 'Hoopla' and with Grace along to temper the excesses of her singing partner (though 'Love Amongst The Cannibals' does hold its own more than you'd expect without her there), 'No Protection' has most of the best songs and Craig Chaquico is still interested enough to inject some life into the guitar solos every now and again, whenever the computers allow him the space. The fact that the entire band is overshadowed by the five session musician men playing keyboards and that even Donny gets replaced by two drum samplers for much of the album is, sadly, par for the course in this era, if still very very irritating. However at least Starship never 'pretended' to be a band - the whole point of this group was to score big hits the easiest way possible and the fact that there is any emotional worth in some of these songs is in many ways a nice bonus.
Johnny Warman's 'Beat Patrol' is a sweet but silly song, Mickey's vocal taking off on the opening as if this is a traditional Scottish air before the mother of all eighties productions comes in behind him to swat any real emotion away. I'm half surprised this offer of support to 'dance' the narrator's friend's problems away (what is he up to really?) wasn't the album's 'other' single as it's catchy but gormless.
Albert Hammond once co-wrote the majestic Hollie hit 'The Air That I Breathe'. Which means that we should cut him some slack for also co-writing 'Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now'. A fourth big hit for Starship in a row, mainly thanks to the extra publicity from being endlessly used in the films 'Mannequins I and II' (insert joke about pop puppets here), it features a bland verse where not much happens but a genuinely enthralling singalong chorus that's just good enough to nag your sub-conscious into singing it all night. Mickey and Grace sound as if they've had a big row before making the song (there's even less chemistry between them than normal), but both put in just enough work to take this catchy song to the top of the charts.
The album's other single 'It's Not Over (Till It's Over)' is a noisy Keith Olsen song (a one-time Grateful Dead producer, who really should have known better) and was the first Starship song not to go top three in America (though a chart peak of #9 is still way better than anything the Jeffersons did post-'Miracles'). Weirdly, though meant to sound like a partner reaching out to a lover to give their relationship another try, it can also be read as Mickey scoffing as the rest of the band attempt to leave and admitting that they're all 'mannekins' (this should have been in the film as well!) 'The odds are against us, but there's no giving in!' he yells. That's a shame.
'Girls Like You' is a nicely silly pop song co-written by Craig and Mickey, although it's nowhere near as good as their songs for 'Nuclear Furniture' what with Craig fitting his guitar round the silly pop riff in the middle. The chorus is at least a little bit catchy though and the lyrics are surprisingly good: 'Boys like me, girls like you, we never fit in' is one of Mickey's best chat up lines of the 1980s, calling out for outsiders everywhere to join in their own mega-friendship group. As with the last album, it's a crying shame the band weren't writing more of their own songs as they're easily the best thing here, #1 hits notwithstanding.
'Wings Of A Lie' is a return of our old friends Peter band Ina Wolf, although they're working on their own this time without Grace's input. A poor man's 'No Way Out' without the emotion or the purpose, it's sadly one of the worst things here and about as anonymous as the anonymous Starship gets. Seriously you or I could write a better song from that title than this.
Martin page song 'The Children' is more interesting - Mickey's singing in his softer voice on a prog-rock song 80s style that sounds suspiciously like Marillion (surely the direction 80s Jefferson Starship should have followed?) The lyric is almost Kantner-like at times, telling young children not to be afraid of adult life, to 'ride the wings of change to a better time and take the hand of hope'. Not bad at all, surprisingly.
The first of Grace's co-writes 'I Don't Know Why' is another great song on a similar theme, Grace talking about falling in love and 'feeling like a child again', longing for the feeling to stay before the reality of finding another partner and all their petty differences starts up again. The chorus still sounds slightly unfinished, however, as if Grace got interrupted mid-way through writing it.
'Transatlantic' on the other hand, is simply appalling. Mickey sings along to a riff that sounds as if it's been borrowed from the Ghostbusters soundtrack, with an oh so obvious key change in the middle and everything drowned out by the heaviest-handed drums this side of Keith Moon (but played with far less skill). If anyone ever tells you the 1980s was a great decade for music, play them this track - but only if you hate their guts and want their ears to drop off, of course.
David Roberts' 'Say When' at least has a tune and has the right sort of 'oh my goodness we can't be splitting' lyric that brings out the best in Mickey's pleading, keening voice. The track would have been better yet with Grace present instead of the anonymous backing singers, though.
'Babylon', Grace's other song, is the highlight of the record. Sounding like an outtake from 'Nuclear Furniture', Grace and Mickey sing about the destruction of the old Biblical empire and warn that it all might happen again sooner than we think. It's nice to hear that the intellect of the band's past hadn't entirely passed them by and the lengthy chorus is easily the best on the album, although weirdly this is only the second song on the album to feature Grace and Mickey singing together and quickly turns into a 'power match' with both trying to drown out the other.
Against all the odds, 'No Protection' ends on the quietest, prettiest song of the album. Clichéd as it is, Diane Warren's 'Set The Night To Music' at least has a pretty melody and the lack of drums or synths make this sound more like a Jefferson track than a Starshipper one. Even so, no song that has a chorus that goes 'a woah ho ho ho ho yeah' will ever be a classic, woah ho ho ho ho no.
Overall, then, 'No Protection' is still an insult to the name and memory of a once great band, but at least it's less of an insult than 'Knee Deep In The Hoopla', with some genuine emotion and three or four promising songs lost in the usual Starship haze of synthesises dead-ends and booming drums. If you liked the first album you should love this, although if you liked 'White Rabbit' or any of the old Airplane classics you will still loathe it, however infinitesimally an improvement it represents.


Pete Sears "Watch Fire"
(**, '1988')
Guatemala/The Stream/Sanctuary/Save Something For The Children/Land's End/Nothing Personal/One More Innocent/Rain Forest/Let The Dove Fly Free/Blood From A Rose
"Save something now for the children, just a chance to live on a planet that still has something left to give, Earth's bounties their birthright, don't squander it away"
The final years in 'Starship' rather ruined the image, but before the pop career Jefferson Starship were a genuinely progressive, hard-hitting injustice-fighting band. In between the songs about skateboards and miracles I've always considered the Starship as keeping the thought-provoking spirit of the Airplane largely intact and were one of the few bands still treating music as a platform for debate and change. Paul Kantner, clearly, was the chief instigator of this, as radical and as courageous as any writer of the decade could be, but he chose the band members carefully and all of them had sympathetic leanings, certainly in the Grace-and-Marty era. However the Starship-spin off record with the biggest conscience and political hammering comes from the shy and modest Pete Sears, in tandem with his long-term songwriting wife Jeanette. 'WatchFire' is a good old fashioned protest album on behalf of the poverty-struck poor belt in middle America with a bit of ecology thrown in too, a plea for humanity to get things right before they do something stupid. The husband and wife team organised and played several benefit gigs in this period, raising money for refugees from Guatemala and El Salvador and demanding inquiries into human rights abuses during their passage to the Unites States, a brave and noble stance the Airplane would have been proud of. Pete revealed years later that he'd been submitting quite a lot of these songs to the band but that they'd been rejected; that's a shame if he meant the Kantner-era band as 'Nuclear Furniture' in particular would have benefitted greatly from songs like these as part of its overall structure, however good the overtly pop songs the pair did write. By contrast these songs would never have fitted in with the Starship philosophy of surface pop and indeed it was finding himself posing for some cheesy Starship music video, while his head was full of this album, that led him to quit Starship in 1985 after their first LP.
Like many a charity LP 'Watch Fire' is simple, bordering on basic. Some songs, such as the folk song 'Save Something For The Children' and the new agey 'Rainforest' are exactly the sort of tacky do-good toothless pap you might be expecting from the titles, without even the expert nous of Starship at their best. However, taken as a whole this is a powerful record and one that's usually trying to offer up a surprise with a wide range of genres and a whole bunch of textures from bluegrass to modern synth epics. Pete's voice, while not a natural lead, is at least heartfelt and passionate and has just the right amount of melody to get by. Luckily he's supported by a long list of names - Jerry Garcia (who donated money to make a film about the project, which was later given away free and screened briefly in Canada - US telly didn't want to know), his fellow Grateful Dead musician Mickey Hart, David Grisman, Mimi Farina, Holly Near and Kitty Beethoven. You may have noticed that none of the extended Jefferson family were invited to take part, which is a shame - an event like this deserved bigger, although you can understand Pete's being miffed at having so many of these songs rejected. Highlights include the George Harrisonesque 'Guatemala', the flutes-and-piano instrumental 'Sanctuary' (which starts off like the opening to 'That's For Sure'), the Fairport Convention-with-steel drums 'One More Innocent' and the Scottish air 'Blood From A Rose' (complete with bagpipes!) There are better Jefferson solo albums out there and none of the actual songs quite manages to match Pete and Jeanette's recent work for the band (although all the instrumentals are a big improvement on 'Sandalphon'), but 'Watch Fire' is an album with its heart in the right place and it still continues to do good work today, with profits from every sale going to charity.

                                                                    
Starship "Love Among The Cannibals"
(RCA, August 1989)
The Burn/It's Not Enough/Trouble In Mind/I Didn't Mean To Stay All Night/Send A Message//Love Among The Cannibals/Dream Sequence-We Dream In Colour/Healing Waters/Blaze Of Love/I'll Be There
Note - the CD edition includes a Bonus Track 'Wild Again' as track six
"I wanna see those eyes in the mirror full of fire again, oh to be wild again"
You could be forgiven for assuming that Starship would simply park themselves after Grace Slick quit the band, leaving just Mickey and Craig from the Jefferson Starship years (and nobody from the Airplane). Instead this third Starship LP, released a mere week before the Airplane reunion album, outsold it (well barely: it peaked at a US high of #64 rather than #85, which is a sort of victory - I guess) and got the better reviews (although in the same way, many reviewers commented on the fact that this record wasn't quite as awful as they expected it to be, while the Airplane reunion was - well a victory's a victory I guess). With Grace and Pete now gone, this is very much Mickey Thomas' idea of what Starship should be with Craig increasingly sidelined (he'll be gone by the following year too) and whilst it's clearly not as great as what the band once was there's a side of me that thinks that he was right.
Despite assumptions, 'Cannibals' is a much earthier, more dangerous record than its two predecessors. There's a lot more angst and a lot of pure noise as opposed to songs so slick they sound like they've been spread with butter (there's a joke to be made about the band getting less Slick now Grace is gone in here somewhere...) The very title and the song it's named after is a Mickey Thomas original about the pain of the last few Starship days and his observation at how the biggest hippie dreamers (ie Paul and Grace) turn the nastiest in the court-room. The front cover - the first not to feature a cheesy shot of the band - is like the album surprisingly tasteful and perfect for the contents (a heart filled through not with an arrow but a bone). More impressive yet is Mickey's other new song on the album, 'We Dream In Colour (But We Live In Black and White)', a haunting six minute epic that's perhaps the best of all four Starship albums (if Mickey had been writing this sort of stuff in the Jefferson years Paul might have found the singer easier to work with).
Before you rush out and buy this album, though, there are of course caveats. Like all Starship albums there's so much 1980s production stuffed in here that you half expect your record to start moon-walking round the room with a bandana on its head and shoulder pads. Not all of the cover songs are good choices: Martin Page may well be the most anonymous writer any of the band ever worked with (and that's saying something given some of the figures in this book), while even the Elton John-Bernie Taupin rarity 'The Burn' sounds weak and insipid. Mickey's larynx, though sport on for the majority of the material, becomes tiring without Grace around to dilute it - in fact interestingly enough Grace isn't replaced at all leaving Mickey as the sole singer and breaking up the traditional Starship 'duets' - a move that manages to be both brave and needlessly stupid all at the same time. Wrecked (eaten alive?) by the negative publicity of the court cases and the loss of Grace, 'Cannibals' flopped badly compared to the other two Starship records and even the usual all conquering Starship single 'It's Not Enough' could only get to number twelve in the States. The band were clearly in trouble and split up soon after, with just two more tracks to release on the end of a best-of released in 1991.
Or at least that's the simple version: as this is Starship's last entry in this book for another quarter century, we'll give you the long story now. A month after the album's release Starship were nearing the end of a weary tour and were due to be playing a gig in Scrann, Pennsylvania that fell on Craig's birthday. The show was cancelled due to bad weather, upsetting the crowd and the band left behind apologising for it, aware that their career was slipping away with bad publicity like this. Starship went out that night anyway to celebrate Craig's birthday and reportedly got terrifically drunk. No one quite remembers what was said, whether it was genuinely hurtful or whether it was taken the wrong way, but somewhere along the line drummer Donny Baldwin was so outraged by a comment Mickey made that he attacked him so viciously that the bone structure around the singer's eye was broken. The incident was hushed, Mickey was non-committal to the press and everyone went back to the hotel, but Mickey was in such pain that he took himself to hospital where the damage was found to be severe. In the end most of the singer's face had to be re-constructed. Donny had till now been Mickey's best friend - the pair had toured together for fifteen years including a long time in the Elvin Bishop Band - and their bond had seemed the strongest in the increasingly fractious Jefferson line-up at the end. At first Mickey tried to cover for the drummer and didn't name names, but the truth slowly came out when the rest of the tour was cancelled to allow Mickey's face to heal and the singer has since said that he and Donny never once spoke again after the incident - that the drummer was fired that night by management. Having lost his regular source of income, Craig quietly quit the band shortly afterwards too, leaving just Mickey left in a band that at one stage had included eight members. He'll be back before the end of this book, though...
'The Burn' is a bit of a disappointing start. Elton and Bernie appear to have written it just for Starship, but of course that means that it's generic faceless pop like most of the Starship output. Could it be that the lyrics have a hint of Grace leaving the band though? ('One heart goes free, one just aches').
The single 'It's Not Enough' may have flopped compared to it's predecessors but it's actually pretty good and one of the best on the album (certainly it's the best Martin Page song). The tune is great singalong pop, but the lyrics are actually a tad rude - the girl wants to make up after a row but the narrator doesn't care as her caring 'isn't enough' any more. Charming!
'Trouble In Mind' is something of a nothing song. A hip young girl walks through 'city lights' - is she a hooker or simply walking home? We never find out in this ambiguous, forgettable song.
Mutt Lunge will go on to become one of the 1990's biggest songwriters, chiefly courtesy of his work with Shania Twain. Before that however he sounded very 80s with Starship and wrote the tacky 'I Didn't Mean To Stay All Night' where the narrator promised himself he'd play it cool but got too carried away, 'my heart beating like a drum'.
Mickey's own 'Send A Message' isn't one of his better songs, although a rare Craig Chaquico guitar solo does liven things up nicely. Mickey is waiting for a sign from someone he cares about that she cares for him but doesn't get it by the end of the song. Missing Grace, per chance?
'Wild Again' is the start of a much improved side two of the album, with some real grit in the guitars and a swagger about Mickey's performance that's less calculated than some of the others here. Lyrically it's a rare Starship song about growing old and wanting to be young again. Oddly this song was dropped from the vinyl version despite being one of the better tracks.
Mickey's 'Love Among The Cannibals' is an impressive experiment. Despite the close ties the old band had with the Grateful Dead this is the closest to a Mickey Hart solo album - a very 80s filled production of a number that's meant to be sparse and tribal. I'm not sure it quite comes off, but it beats empty pop songs anyday and Mickey's lyrics are an eye-opening attack on the later Jefferson years ('I heard you sing about love, but that was a long time ago, I was one of those who believed your lies, but now your true colours show').
While the linking instrumental 'Dream Sequence' isn't all that interesting, Mickey's final song 'We Dream In Colour' is special - a prog rock epic that the old band would have been proud to make and which even the heavy drum track can't spoil. The very Kantner theme of the lyric is how humans limit themselves out of fear and circumstances, never risking the chances that could make them happy. It is perhaps Mickey's greatest moment with the band - certainly his best in a long long time.
Thereafter it's back to normal. Martin Page's 'Healing Waters' is one of those boring clichéd 'I'll be there for you' songs, which is a sentiment the band might have pulled off had the backing been warm instead of the same antiseptic backing heard on the rest of the album. If you want to demonstrate emotion then let Craig play!
It took three writers to come up with 'Blaze Of Love'. Perhaps they wrote one word each, because there really isn't a lot of invention going on in this noisy pop song. Even Mickey has given up singing and gone back to screeching - horrid.
Finally, 'I'll Be There' adds some belated warmth to the album courtesy of a 'proper' backing track and a nice vocal from Mickey on a song he and Craig wrote together. 'Shining In The Moonlight' or 'Layin' It On The Line' (the pair's other collaborations down the years) this ain't, but it's a fair pop song and certainly more interesting than most of the cover songs on the album.
And that's your lot: a weak opening, a dreadful ending but against all the odds four or five songs in the middle there which are more than up to standard and easily the best sequence of tracks on a Starship album. Had the band been braver and keener on including their Jefferson heritage then 'Cannibals' might yet have been a truly great addition to the Jefferson canon. It is in many ways more interesting than the Airplane reunion album with five original members out a week later, though perhaps more because you come to this album with lower expectations. The Starship concept does sound a little tired, however, with precious little for an overlooked Craig (who only gets three or four solos across the whole album - back in the day ever Jefferson song came with a Chaquico special) and a pre-programmed Donny to do. It remains, however, Mickey's greatest moment on record, full of subtleties over Starship records miss as well as his usual power and two excellent new songs to the canon. Love for Love Among The Cannibals? No, I wasn't expecting that either the day I bought this grudgingly for 50p in a car boot sale, but it was actually one of my better Jefferson bargains as it turns out...

Hot Tuna "Pair A Dice Found"
(Epic, November 1990)
It's Alright With Me/Parchment Farm/Urban Moon/Eve Of Destruction/AK-47/Shot In The Act/Brand New Toy/To Be With You/Flying In The Face Of Mr Blue/Love Gone Flat/Bulletproof Vest/Ken Takes A Lude/San Francisco Bay Blues/Happy Turtle Song
"Black hair blowing in the wind, out of another time, out of another world...I live across the way from the corner store and I'm a poet in my spare time"
After twelve years away (and fourteen since the last studio set) fans assumed that Hot Tuna had gone past their sell by date forever or that at any rate their return would be mere cold cuts and leftovers from the glory years. But not a bit of it: 'Pair A Dice Found' was the best new release of Jefferson material in years (not that there's an awful lot of competition across the 1980s) and the band managed to wangle a new contract with Epic out of the goodwill of the Airplane reunion deal (in fact, helped by promising reviews, this record nearly outsold the Airplane set - no one would have predicted that a few years earlier!) This time around the roll of the dice seems to have been beneficial for everyone - which is strange because at the time this album didn't seem to have much going for it. Only Jorma and Jack are back from the 'old' band, with new members Michael Falzarno, Galen Underwood and Harvey Seagan all new to the band (none of them appear on the very 1980s front cover either, suggesting that they weren't 'full' members just yet). Fair enough for long-term fans, but a quick glance at the back cover reveals that Falzarno actually has a bigger songwriting hand in the album than Jorma (at five songs to two, the rest being taken up by the usual blues covers).
However Falzarno was clearly a Hot Tuna member in waiting as this album just sounds like it fits with the earlier albums. Whilst Jorma is a long way from his prolificness in the 1970s he's in great voice (much nore so than on the 'Jefferson Airplane' reunion record) and his guitar sounds terrific, while Jack is a major part of the band once again. What's more the band are brave enough to reach out and try a few other things as well as the usual blues covers and as is so often the case with Jorma he's at his best when pushed well out of his comfort zone: 'Urban Moon' is a spoken word ballad that's surprisingly moving, 'Ak 47' is a stomping aggressive blues very different to Jorma's usual laidback style, 'Endless Sleep' is a retro rockabilly 1950s number and pretty closing instrumental 'Happy Turtle Song' is one of Jorma's best instrumentals for slide guitar and acoustic with a sleepy, dreamy feel. Jorma also throws in his first acoustic blues cover for a long while with 'San Francisco Bay Blues', although the 'other' famous song here, Barry McGuire's 'Eve Of Destruction' is the album's single major mistake (drums this 1980s on a song this 1960s? Why?!?) Overall, though, this is a nicely spaced, generously long helping of a sound we fans never thought we'd ever get to hear again and Hot Tuna have got richer in taste and more eclectic with age. What a shame, then, that a few low-key live albums and a few odd compilations aside this really will be a last serving from a band who had so much to offer.

Marty Balin "Balince"
(Rhino, '1990')
Today/Miracles/Hearts/Atlanta Lady/Do It For Love/What Love It Is/There's No Shoulder/Hold Me/Sayanora/Camelia*/Valeria*/Candles*/What's New In Your World?*/What About Love?*
* = Previously Unreleased Recordings
"Today I know what I want to do - but I don't know what for"
Question: When is a best-of not a best-of? When half of it contains unreleased tracks, that's what! 'Balince' is a curious beast. It's half the compilation that Marty always deserved - and still hasn't got - full of his biggest solo hits (plus, weirdly, the Airplane's 'Today' and Jefferson Starship's 'Miracles' and The KBC Band's 'Hold Me' and 'Sayonara') and the very best of his 1980s solo work all spruced up with care by fan favourite record label Rhino and delivered just in time for the new interest courtesy of the 1989 reunion (when Marty's songs were largely the best of a sorry bunch). All of these deserve a home in your collection somewhere, although you're better off buying them in the format of the original releases - chances are you already own them a couple of times over by now. The other half, though is made up of five previously unreleased recordings, none of which are at all essential and most of which were left unreleased for good reason, although all have their interest for the passionate collector who adores Marty and can't get enough of his voice. You see the problem: depending whether you're a beginner or a newcomer you only need half this album - but not the other. And if you're in between, with an interest in Marty but not a passion, then there are better releases out there to start off with anyway. Not to mention the fact that all five originally unreleased songs can now be found on the 'Nothin 2 Lose: The Lost Studio Recordings' CD. For the record  'Camelia' is a noisy nothing rock song with an aggressive guitar riff, 'Valerie' sounds like a KBC Band outtake with an insistent synth riff and some more harsh guitarwork, 'Candles' is a teary pop song that sounds like Starship, 'What's New In Your World?' is the best of a sorry bunch with the feel of the upbeat 'Lucky' album about it and 'What About Love?' is an odd mix of funky and pretty that doesn't quite come off. Given that the 'Lost Recordings' will eventually amount to some seventeen songs it's a shame that more space couldn't be found for some others here . What this album does have going for it, though, is the chance to mop up some rarities, such as 'There's No Shoulder', a   only released in Japan on an EP in 1983 (alas the other three songs aren't here) and half a nice introduction to Marty's work which doesn't involve the re-recordings of 'The Very Best Of' from later in the decade.  

Marty Balin "Better Generation"
(GWE (Green With Envy) Records, January 1991)
Better Generation/Skydiver/Mercy Of The Moon/Green Light/Let It Live/Wish I Were/Don't Change On Me/Let's Go/See The Light/It's No Secret/Even Though/Always Tomorrow/Treadin' Water/Lady Now/Volunteers/Summer Of Love
"We had so many dreams, even a few of them came true it seems"
The Jefferson Airplane reunion of 1989 had caught the different members of the band at very different times in their careers. Paul was on the way down, the Hot Tuna pair were on the way up and Grace was about to retire. The band member who arguably did best out of the project (gaining most of the tiny bit of praise the album ever got) was Marty, who returned to the solo career that had been cut off abruptly in the early 80s with this his second album in two years (though his first of largely new material). This album was a low-budget collaboration with producer Jimmy Miller, most famous for his quartet of albums with the Rolling Stones in the late 1960s and early 70s who'd always been an Airplane fan - however without much of a budget this album was designed to be a low-cost first recording made at a new recording studios ion Hampshire, with Marty as a 'warm-up artist' to test out the new equipment more than anything else. However the gremlins thankfully stayed away, Marty and Jimmy getting more done than they expected in the time - hence this album's impressive length.
Very much made with curious Airplane fans in mind, Marty re-creates two of his favourite Jefferson moments (a noisy and very 90s 'It's No Secret' to celebrate the song's 25th anniversary and a scrappy version of 'Volunteers') plus a near-identical re-make of 'Summer Of Love', his best song from the reunion project (though actually half-recorded for this album first before being 'rescued' when the Airplane came a-calling). However it's the new material that's most interesting, a combination of songs written by old friends (Jesse Barish's pretty pop song 'See The Light') and - at long long last - by Marty himself. 'Skydiver' is a great new song, one which sounds like a leftover from the musical Marty was writing in the 70s (though I can't find any mention of it if it was), the Eurovision style 'Let It Live' and best of all the gorgeous acoustic ballad 'Wish I Were' about Marty's restless nature and jealousy of birds who can fly where they please where the years drop away and Marty sounds as great as he ever has. Admittedly some of the cover songs are deeply anonymous, the production pompous and overbearingly loud and Marty's voice is at times a pale shadow of the powerful tenor we all knew and loved. You have to be patient across this album to tease out the magic lying dormant for so long. But Jefferson fans are used to being patient with this band, of sitting through the difficult moments before it all magically comes together and there's more worth sitting through this album for than the reunion record. Even with the album title and a cover showing Marty with his hair dyed blonde and a trendy leather jacket Balin is fooling no one about the 'Better Generation' thing, but this is easily his best album in half-a-generation and a cause for celebration amongst fans. Fans who've heard the session tapes claim that the demos were better still, however, before the record company insisted on using a 'modern production style - hopefully a re-issue some day soon (like many solo Jefferson projects this album badly needs one) will correct that at some point.

Starship "Greatest Hits (Ten Years And Change)"
(RCA, May 1991)
Jane/Find Your Way Back/Stranger/No Way Out/Layin' It On The Line/Don't Lose Any Sleep/We Built This City/Sara/Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now/It's Not Over (Til' It's Over)/It's Not Enough/Good Heart
"Someone's always playing corporation games"
Something about this compilation doesn't add up - and I don't just mean the title (shouldn't it be 'twelve years and change?!') Despite the similarity of the names and the presence of many of the same people, Jefferson Starship and Starship are two very different beasts. Putting them together is a silly idea - especially given that this compilation basically only 'counts' Jefferson Starship records from the 'new wave' era act (and thus misses out on most of the band's big hits, like 'Miracles' 'For Your Love' 'Count On Me' and 'Runaway'). At least when other compilations like 'Flight Log' do this they're trying to trace the many different directions of the Jefferson flying machine - but this sound likes two different eras shoe-horned together. It is you see a 'best-of' featuring the Mickey Thomas years alone (he sings lead on everything here - Grace barely features and Paul isn't  really here at all), which seems like a curious idea to us now that Mickey's been all but forgotten by everyone but loyalist supporters but made more sense at the time when Mickey's pulling power was at its peak. Still including a picture of him somewhere might have made more sense - why is there instead an illustration of a multi-headed God on fire? (And why does he look so cross? Well, because he's been set on fire obviously - but if I wanted to pretend a God had blessed my compilation I would have portrayed him as a lot friendlier than this. Is the 'hidden' message instead that a once great band has burnt itself to ashes in the fires of the top forty?)
The good news is that this compilation is pretty cheap and handy, being one of the few Jefferson sets not have gone off-catalogue at some point in its existence. The even better news is that a few curious pop goers who fell in love with 'We Built This City' and 'Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now' were intrigued by how much better the Jefferson Starship songs were and ended up discovering the band that way and then back through to the Airplane- and while using the 'rear entrance' to the band's classics isn't the way round I'd recommend all roads lead to 'Surrealistic Pillow' and 'After Bathing At Baxters' eventually which is all that matters. The so-so news is that Starship release their last ever song here, 'Don't Lose Any Sleep', recorded in 1990 and featuring just Mickey and Craig. It's ok-ish and deserved better than becoming the only Starship single to miss the charts (they simply left too long a gap between releases due to that fracas and cancelled tour in 1989), without cutting any deeper or being any more memorable than the 'Love Amongst The Cannibals' album. The biggest mistake of the album, other than skimping so much on the 1979-1984 period, is including so many Starship album tracks which just fail as music even compared to the hit singles (the unfocussed and noisy 'It's Not Enough' and 'Good Heart' are candidates for the worst ending to a compilation album ever, outside 'The Spice Girls' 'Greatest Hits' obviously). To think the album could have included - even going by its own misguided rules - 'Girl With The Hungry Eyes' 'Awakening' 'Stairway To Cleveland' 'Can't Find Love' 'Save Your Love' 'Black Widow' 'Shinin' In The Moonlight' and 'Magician'. Now doesn't that sound like a better LP all round? The set doesn't even include all the hit singles which would make more sense: 'Be My Lady' and 'Winds Of Change' outsold a good half of this LP's contents and are better than most songs that made it to boot. Only 'Find Your Way Back' 'Stranger' and at a push 'Layin' It On The Line' really represent the best of this period which was actually a lot more colourful, interesting and memorable than you would ever understand from this album. Make that: 'Biggest Sellers, Almost, Plus A Few Fillers and One New Track (Twelve Years Of Being Deranged)'.
Jefferson Airplane "Loves You" (Box Set)
(RCA, October 1992)
CD One: I Specialise In Love (1965 Balin Single)/Go To Her (Alternate Take)/Bringing Me Down/Let Me In (Uncensored Version)/Chauffeur Blues/Free Advice (Great Society Single)/Somebody To Love/Today/Embryonic Journey/White Rabbit/Come Back Baby (Unreleased)/The Other Side Of This Life (Live)/Runnin' Round This World (Live)/She Has Funny Cars (Live)/High Flyin' Bird (Live)/Tobacco Road (Live)/Let's Get Together (Live)/White Rabbit (Live)/Comin' Back To Me (Live)/Won't You Try?-Saturday Afternoon (Live)
CD Two: The Ballad Of You and Me and Pooneil (Live)/Things Are Better In The East (Unreleased)/Watch Her Ride/Two Heads/Martha (Single Mix)/Don't Let Me Down (Unreleased)/Crown Of Creation/Lather/In Time/The House At Pooneil Corners/Ribump Ba Bap Dum Dum (Unreleased)/Would You Like A Snack? (Unreleased)/3/5th Of A Mile In Ten Seconds (Live)/It's No Secret (Live)/Plastic Fantastic Lover (Live)/Uncle Sam Blues (Unreleased)/Wooden Ships (Alternate Mix)/Volunteers (Alternate Mix)
CD Three: We Can Be Together (Alternate Mix)/Turn My Life Down/Good Shepherd/Hey Frederick (Alternate Mix)/Emergency (Documentary Soundtrack)/When The Earth Moves Ahain/Pretty As You Feel (Single Mix)/Law Man/Feel So Good (Unedited)/Twilight Double Leader/Aerie (Gang Of Eagles)/Trial By Fire (live)/Dress Rap (Live)/You Wear Your Dresses Too Short (Live)
"Baby mine, feel so good, all the time, if you would...sit round runnin' numbers, sittin' round with my friends, wasting time now watching the sky and waiting for the story to end"
We Jefferson Aviators have long known that the band loves us - that comes over loud and clear in every album they make and every live set they play (well, give or take the reunion album and a few rough concerts in the 1970s). But what's bigger news about this box set is that after decades of half-getting things right, misunderstanding and censoring all things Airplane and rushing out a number of cash-in-quick best-ofs suddenly RCA love us as well - and the band. 'JA Loves You'# is one of the better AAA box-sets out there. The three CDs are about the right size for a band that released seven original albums, the track selection is chosen with care and by and large everything you'd ever want to have by the Airplane is here (although personally I'd have liked a little more from the 'Takes Off' debut and 'Baxters'). The packaging is exquisite too, with lots of unseen photographs of the band in their prime and without any real Jefferson books out there (Grace's autobiog being the closest) is a highly useful source for telling the Jefferson story. The unseen front cover shot, with the band 'peering' down the camera lens, is particularly apt and Airplaney.
It's for the unreleased material that this set will be best remembered, however. Much of it subsequently appeared on various CD re-issues and so has become rather well known (the likes of 'Got To Her' 'Runnin' Round This World' 'Things Are Better In The East' and the Grace Slick-Frank Zappa collaboration 'Would You Like A Snack?') but at the time was tremendously exciting with a massive 22 tracks originally unreleased - and really unreleased too, not mere remixes or slightly longer edits but genuinely unheard studio or live recordings (although a 'Quadrophonic' mix of 'Volunteers' additionally turns up a few surprises). Given that the Jeffersons had already been one of the first to release an up-and-down 'outtakes set in 'Early Flight' the quantity and quality of these unreleased recordings rather took fans by surprise. Even now there's quite a bit of interesting stuff only available on this box set, mainly featuring the band's lead singer: a Marty Balin single from 1965 that's very Marty and yet very different at the same time, with a very 50s string backing that makes him sound like Paul Anka but with several of Marty's quirky vocal tics already there. 'Free Advice' is the lone Great Society piece included in the set and the only evidence of what Grace sounded like before joining the Jeffersons - it's an odd choice, given that its then-husband Darby who does most of the singing and the original Great Society versions of Airplane hits 'Somebody To Love' and 'White Rabbit' are of far more interest to fans (in fact a fourth disc full of 'outside' releases might have been the way to go, with highlights and rarities from Hot Tuna, Paul and Grace's albums and more of the Great Society that casual fans may not have heard - given that only the Great Society weren't already on RCA and they managed to get the right to this one track points that the concept would have been feasible, a sort of expanded edition of the 'Flight Log' compilation). 'Don't Let Me Down' is a noisy Marty Balin rocker with bluesy overtones and not many lyrics from the 'Baxters' sessions that finds the singer in good form even if it  does all sound a little like every other blues-based rocker the Airplane ever did. 'Emergency' is almost the same song, a slightly slower bluesy rocker that was given over to the soundtrack of the hard-to-find San Francisco music documentary 'Music For Mind and Body'. The improvised 'Bear Melt' style 'You Wear Your Dresses Too Short' is also exclusive to this set and Marty was unlucky that his similarly inspired rap was cut from the 'Bless It's Little Pointed Head' live album: while more straightforward than Grace's surreal lyric-scape its still mightily impressive and shows just how 'in tune' the band were in 1969.
The other big selling factor here is the presence of a May 1967 concert from a time when Grace has only just joined the band and is still basically there as a substitute for Signe Andersen. The band are a little rough in places and haven't quite reached full throttle yet but the ingredients are most certainly there with an epic eight minute take on 'The Other Side Of This Life', an already near-perfect 'High Flyin' Bird', an early and slightly wonky 'White Rabbit' and a rare chance to hear Grace singing on 'Tobacco Road' amongst the highlights. 'Won't You Try?' is already here interestingly, even though 'Baxters' is way off yet, though it's a rather curious  more 'normal' variation on the song - if it wasn't for the lyrics this performance of this delightfully weird song could have been the hit single! Note too the absence of 'Somebody To Love', which is a surprise - it had dominated the charts just a few weeks before this (have the band got bored of it already?)
Overall, then, 'Jefferson Airplane Loves You' is as good as any three-disc set can come to summing up the spirit and energy of the Airplane, with all the right introductions a newcomer fan could want as well as a healthy dose of rarities for the more long-term fan. Box sets are notoriously difficult to get right (they usually appeal to one but not the other) but this one ticks both boxes off nicely. We love you too Jefferson Airplane - now how about a re-issue  of this increasingly hard to find box set now that we're another couple of decades down the road? And a follow-up sequel dedicated to Jefferson Starship? ('Jefferson Starship Hate You' has a nice ring to it!)

Papa John Creach "Papa's Blues"
(Bee Bump, '1992')
Sweet Life Blues/Bumble Bee Blues/Old Fashioned Papa/Big Leg Baby/Why Don't You Let Me Be?/Scufflin'/Tired Of Crying/Papa Blues/I Think You're Stepping Out On Me/Train To Memphis/Walking My Way Back To You/Girl You Must Be Crazy/Baby Please Don't Go
"My friends say 'you're crazy' and the neighbours say it too!"
For the longest time this solo album held an AAA record  - the oldest album of new material released by an AAA member, with Papa John aged 73 when it came out (a record currently held by Ringo Starr with his 2015 'Postcards' album although it's a record that's changing all the time - Bill Wyman or Grace Slick would become the 'winners' if they ever make another record, which seems less likely in the latter case but you never know). Without any model to base his rock and roll career on (a fiddle player born in 1917 who came to that style of music later in the 1960s), papa John took the middle ground and continued to play and guest with other musicians whilst slowing down his own prolific solo output. This was his first record since 1978's 'Imphasion', since when Papa John had played on just two records - a 1985 live set by Hot Tuna and an album by Steve Taylor. Despite the long gap this album instantly sounds like the Papa John of old - there's no sense of slowing down in the performance, no gimmicky modern production (although the drums have a bit too much echo on them for my taste) and with the same old fiddle-led blues workouts and jams. His new side musician and collaborator for this record is Bernie Pearl, a guitarist and saxophonist (an interesting combination of instruments there!) who writes four of the album songs, while Papa John himself only gets one credit on the six-minute title track, the record highlight with its slower, sadder, nostalgic feel (Hot Tuna would do well to pick up this lyrical blues song as its right on the money for their style). The other highlight is Pearl's stomping instrumental  rocker 'Train To Memphis', which sounds more of a standard than the standards on this album. The other songs come from the traditional blues songbook again and to be honest are a bit of a strain - there's no space for the violin-playing which are the heart and soul of these records while Papa John's voice is not his strongest musical suit. The end result is another album that's something of an acquired taste and if you hated Papa John's cameos with the Airplane or his earlier solo records then this set isn't likely to convert you - but Creach remains a great player with lots of heart and it's nice to have one last bow before his death from heart trouble just two years later.
                                                                       
Craig Chaquico "Acoustic Highway"
(**, '1993')
Mountain In The Mist/Return Of The Eagle/Gypsy Nights/Angel Tears/Acoustic Highway/Sacred Ground/Summer's End/Land Of The Giants/Sunset Alter
There aren't any lyrics on this instrumental album, so we've made some up :"Sacred ground, album going round and round, gotta dig that acoustic sound, but does it have to be run into the ground?"
Alas 'Acoustic Highway' is the only record to date by the Starship whizzkid after the band's split, despite having so much to offer. While far from the greatest acoustic record around, 'Highway' demonstrates a whole new thoughtful side to Chaquico's playing that comes as a surprise after so many plugged-in years with Starship . Craig's just as accomplished on acoustic as he is on electric and his finger-flying solos on tracks like the Medieval-style 'Return To The Eagle' and the funky 'Land Of The Giants' are as great as any from his heyday. This is also a nicely eclectic album, veering from the history lesson of 'Gypsy Nights' to the Dire Straits tones of 'Summer's End'. However, this is ultimately just a collection of instrumentals, with keyboards added by producer Ozzie Ahlers, and you can't help but feel that Craig is wasting his many talents slightly when he used to write so many brilliant actual 'songs'.

Jefferson Starship "At Their Best"
(***, April 1993)
Ride The Tiger/Miracles/Cruisin'/Count On Me/Devil's Den/Jane/Dance With The Dragon/Skateboard/Find Your Way Back/Rock and Roll Is Good Time Music
"Woah this compilation's taken a bad fall!"
Well, here's the good news: this set is cheap, contains more songs than 'Gold' did at about half the price and apart from the obvious hits replicates nothing from that previous compilation. The front cover is nice too, an unseen shot of the with-Marty, without-Papa John line-up leaning, sitting or standing in an attempt to get all seven members in shot. However few fans would count such oddities as 'Cruisin' or 'Skateboard' as the real best of the Jefferson Starship's output and the fact that so few compilations dedicated to just this band exist (erm, this and 'Gold' are it) means it is something of a wasted opportunity with - apparently - two songs taken randomly from each of the first five LPs (and leaving 'Modern Times' 'Winds Of Change' and 'Nuclear Furniture' untouched).  There's a great CD length update of 'Gold' to be had from the Starship's back catalogue, going right up to 1984, but this isn't it.


                                                                           
Jorma Kaukonen/Tom Constanten "Embryonic Journey"
(Relix, September 1994)
Jorma Solo/Jorma And Tom Take One/Different Voicing/Going For It/Doing A Quick One/One Two Three Four/Take 3.1459.../Another One Two Three Four/Jorma and Tom One More Take/The Perfect Embryonic Journey/A MIDI Orchestration Embryonic Journey
"I like that, it sounds great...yeah yeah yeah"
Back in 1993 former Grateful Dead keyboardist Tom Constanten put together an album named 'Morning Dew' which featured re-makes of songs by lots of his old friends he'd known and loved down the years all played in his characteristic faux-classical style. Understandably the set is heavy on San Francisco rock luminaries, with re-makes of Grateful Dead songs and even the Airplane's own 'Lather' played as a soft rock jazz-blues shuffle and the Jefferson-referencing Donovan song 'Fat Angel' (turned into a honky tonk shuffle). For many fans though the highlight was the closing 'Embryonic Journey' actually played by Jorma alongside his old pal and the chance to hear this song as a duet for piano and acoustic guitar is a rare treat. The version of the song used on the record took a long time to come together, however, with the pair trying out lots of different ways of recording it; with the piece so popular  and with Jorma's blessing Tom simply released the complete hour long session tapes of the pair together with only a minimal amount of editing. As a result 'Embryonic Journey' is a real test of how much of a fan you are  as hearing eleven straight versions of this song, however different, becomes wearing somewhere around track three and good as all of these versions are none are quite up to the version that made the record in the first place (although the free-wheeling version labelled 'Going For It!' is perhaps the most Airplaney, full of mistakes and brilliance with alternating notes and the closing 'MIDI' version is at least different, though Jorma's not actually on that version). You'll never play it all the way through to the end more than once, but teasing tracks out and hearing them at random reveals this to be a lovely album, with lots of chat between the two old friends left intact and both clearly having a ball. Treat it as a glorified bootleg and you can't go wrong.
(JS): Deep Space/Virgin Sky (1995)...............................
Jefferson Starship "Deep Space/Virgin Sky"
(Intersound Records, June 1995)
Shadowlands/Ganja Of Love/Dark Ages/I'm On Fire/Papa John/Women Who Fly/Gold/The Light/Crown Of Creation/Count On Me/Miracles/Intro > Law Man/Wooden Ships/Somebody To Love/White Rabbit
Note: this album was expanded in 2003 as a two-disc set with the following track listing:
CD One: Sunrise/Have You Seen The Saucers?/3-5ths Of A Mille In Ten Seconds/Crown Of Creation/I'm On Fire/Count On Me/Gold/Shadowlands/Women Who Fly/Dark Ages/America/Miracles
CD Two: Ganja Of Love/Plastic Fantastic Lover/The Light/John's Other/Somebody To Love/Intro > Law Man/Wooden Ships/White Rabbit/Volunteers/Papa John/The Other Side Of This Life
"They don't make 'em like that any more, after ole' Papa John they broke the mould!"
Papa John went to meet the great fiddle player in the sky in February 1994 and like all good families the Jeffersons rallied round in support with a big reunion show partly to celebrate Papa John's life and partly to raise money for his family. The show was effectively a performance by the KBC Band, with Paul Kantner, Marty Balin and Jack Casady all back on stage with many of their original backing band from the mid-80s along with special guest Grace Slick making her first appearance in public for six years and her last performance with any of the band  to date (the Hot Tuna pair, who first played with Papa John, conspicuous by their absence). Other guests included Jerry Garcia pal Merl Saunders and It's A Beautiful Day founder David Le Flamme, filling in the 'Papa John' fiddle parts. An emotional, memorable day full of songs we thought we'd never get to hear the founding members sing again, split between memories of Papa John's life and poetry readings, you sense that Creach would have been very moved by it all. Though intended simply as a concert show, a live album was inevitable after the best reviews and fan praise any of the band had enjoyed in years and the show was in fact popular enough to release twice - as an hour 'highlights' set in 1995 and as a full two hour set in 2003.
While this live album clearly can't compete with the glories of the past (it's no 'Thirty Seconds Over Winterland' never mind 'Pointed Head') and the presence of Diana Monchego on stage back to back with Grace's four-song cameo simply shows up how the band's new female lead can't possibly match up to the original (although she gives it a good go). However there's a lot of heart in these recordings and a sense of old bonds being renewed that's heart-warming for fans and takes away some of the bad taste of the 1989 reunion album. Impressively there are eight entirely new songs here, most but not all appearing on the 'Windows Of Heaven' album by Paul's Jefferson Starship in three years' time, curiously all included at the start of the 'highlights' gig (they sound better as part of the variety two-disc set). The highlight is 'Papa John', a new song by Marty, who barely had time to work with Papa John ('Red Octopus' was the only album where both were full members of the band) who gets his exclusive-to-this-set  tribute spot on, re-working old blues songs into a new one about how much he misses his old friend. New Paul Kantner song 'The Light' is another good one with so much Jefferson imagery ('I want to go to the stars!' is the opening refrain) and it sounds much better in concert than it will on album. 
Elsewhere there are several excellent Jefferson favourites remodelled for the 1990s. While a horribly noisy 'Crown Of Creation' and a rather ropey 'Wooden Ships' have seen better days, Marty is on particularly good form tonight with 'Miracles' and 'Count On Me' taking on an added poignancy in view of their lost friend. For most fans though the highlight of the set will of course be the Grace Slick reunion: though 'Wooden Ships' is an anti-climax, 'Somebody To Love' and 'White Rabbit' sound terrific with Grace back fully in command of the stage even after so many years away, with the highlight of the entire night the first ever live performance of 'Law Man', performed with true anger and biting sarcasm. Even at 56 Grace was displaying no signs of slowing down or reigning her counter-culture status in and considering that she partly retired because she feared her voice was fading sounds remarkably good here. Overall, then, a great show. It would have been nice to have seen more of the band together and at times you do feel that the band are in danger of forgetting why they're there (the only actual Creach song performed the whole night is a rather under-rehearsed 'John's Other' - you think they'd have done 'Milk Train' and 'Devil's Den' at least, his co-writes with Grace, not to mention some of his solo work), but this is still the sound of a family pulling together in their grief with their fans and it's a memorable, moving night. If this does turn out to be Grace's last show, as seems likely over twenty years of retirement on, then it was a good way to go out.

Jorma Kaukonen "The Land Of Heroes"
(Relix, September 1995)
Re-Enlistment Blues/Trial By Fire/Do Not Go gentle/From The Land Of Heroes/It's A God Almighty World/Follow The Drinking Gourd/Banks Of The River/Judge I'm Not Sorry/Dark Train/Have More Faith In Jesus
"My destiny is still a living dream, young man in '65 anything could be"
After a 1970s and early 1980s where he couldn't have been more prolific if he's been recording albums based on shopping lists, Jorma's career all but dried up. After his last studio record in 1985 the only albums to break the silence were the Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna reunions, neither of which featured that many Kaukonen originals. However now, ten years after his last solo release, Jorma was back with the first of a string of albums which are all very much 'solo' albums again, complete with acoustic performances and some spell-binding guitar playing. Or at least this one is 'nearly' a solo album, with Michael Falzarno from the last Hot Tuna album along for the ride again with some authentic sounding blues songs for Jorma to sing. That's just as well because Jorma still sounds as if he's still in a songwriting rut - alongside a few instrumentals and a charming re-make of 'Trial By Fire' from the 'Long John Silver' album in acoustic form he gets just one new song-with-lyrics in the title track. That's a great pity because this song is fabulous, a rare chance to hear Jorma singing about Finland - though born in America to American parents his paternal grandparents came from there and till now Jorma had never added that flavour of writing to his already-stuffed lexicon. On this evidence he should do more of this, with some lovely autobiographical lyrics tieing their story to his and picturing himself in 1965 at the start of his musical journey a collection of their DNA and his ambition.
Elsewhere there are the usual gorgeous instrumentals 'Do Not Go Gentle' (a calmer, slower 'Embryonic Journey') and the take-no-prisoners rock of 'Dark Train' (which features the only electric guitar of the album) are also amongst the best. Instead its the older traditional blues material that lets the album down slightly: 'Banks Of The River' and 'Have More Faith In Jesus' are this album's Rev Gary Davis covers and they're the oddest yet -more country than folk and with backing from a gospel choir that really don't sit right with the bluesy lyrics about isolation and despair. James Jones' 'Re-enlistment Blues' is better but isn't a patch on Jorma's own 'Uncle Sam's Blues' , while three similar songs from Falzarno is at least one too many (the authentic blues holler of 'It's A God Almighty World' being easily the best, even of that God-damned choir is back again!) Overall, then, it's nice to have Jorma back and going back to his traditional low-key ways after a couple of big reunion albums where he was at risk of selling out his muse and this album holds promise for Jorma regaining his artistic strength across the 1990s and beyond. However we aren't quite there yet - even at a short running 38 minutes this record only delivers on half of its promises with more filler than even the Hot Tuna albums, with only Jorma's ever excellent playing holding the album together.

                                                                           
"Christmas With Jorma Kaukonen"
(Relix, July 1996)
Downhill Sleigh Ride/Christmas Rule/What Child Is This?/Christmas Blues/Journey Of The Three Wise Men/Baby Boy/You're Still Standing/Silent Night/Holiday Marmalade//Holiday Segue
"I never did believe in Santa before but there he was at my front door - and boy was he pissed!"
What did you get in your Christmas stocking in 1996, dear reader? If you'd been a good girl or boy you might have got a Jefferson Airplane box set or perhaps a white rabbit to treasure. And if you were bad then you got this: the sound of a once great blues guitar legend trying to supplement his pension with a hastily recorded set of that perennial contract filler The Christmas Album. Jorma's voice doesn't naturally scream 'Christmas' and the addition of sleigh bells to the usual Hot Tuna style jaunts seems more than a tad out of place. It's also very unusual to hear quite so many instrumentals on a Christmas album - traditionally a 'singalonga' collection the whole family joins in with in between the family rows and falling asleep through another Queen's Speech that sounds exactly like last years' (in fact only 'The Snowman' soundtrack and 'Tirijuana Brass'  have more - and both are special cases).
On the plus side, however, the ever prolific Jorma doesn't take the easy approach and along with latter-day writing partner Michael Falzarno writes every song on the album except for 'Silent Night' and the less well known 'Whose Child Is This?' Both are album highlights, the former seemingly sung with a sdrunk choir but with lots of beautiful guitar strumming and the latter recycles the melody of 'Greensleeves' on flutes to lovely effect as Jorma's acoustic and electric guitars weave themselves around the melody like stockings around the fireplace. Other highlights include the witty 'Christmas Rule' (in which a stressed Santa actually swears!), the pretty synth-heavy instrumental 'The Journey Of The Three Wise Men' and the eleven minute epic 'Holiday Marmalade' is a charming memory of all of Jorma's childhood Christmases rolled into one. However overall it doesn't matter how much tinsel is hung over the top of this album to make it all shiny - this really is a 'blues' album collection of festive cheer and the contradiction in that sentence means that something doesn't quite feel right about it somehow. Perhaps that's what attracted Jorma to it in the first place but in that case a few 'ho ho hos' into the opening track and the joke gets rather tired after that. At least the album cover is great though, an illustration of Jorma winding his way through a snowy blizzard with an 'axe' over his shoulder (he obviously doesn't want his guitar to get wet).


                                                                          
"We Built This City - The Very Best Of Starship"
(Camden, August 1997)
We Built This City/Jane/Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now/It's Not Over (Till It's Over)/Babylon/Set The Night To Music/Sara/Love Among The Cannibals/Rock Myself To Sleep/Hearts Of The World (Will Understand)/It's Not Enough/Layin' It On The Line/Find Your Way Back/Stranger/No Way Out/Don't Lose Amy Sleep/Good Heart
"Listen, we don't call the shots here - we don't make the rules!"
Cheap, cheerful and slightly tacky, this low budget Starship compilation rather suits the decaying embers of the Jefferson's final incarnation. Concentrating on the Mickey Thomas years and with just five of the seventeen songs dating from the Paul Kantner era of the band, 'We Built This City' is a nicely generous and oddly entertaining record which manages to salvage most of Starship's better moments all in one place so fans don't have to buy everything the band went on to do. The highlights are clearly the Jefferson era songs with 'Jane' leaping out of the speakers, 'No Way Out' having a deeper storyline than anything here by miles, while 'Stranger' and 'Find Your Way Back' rock impressively. Starship are represented by all their hit singles but also a lot of the better album tracks as well: Mickey's 'Love Among The Cannibals', Grace's 'Babylon' and the cover song 'Hearts Of The World Will Understand' are at least as good as the hits and while the collection is slightly slewed towards 'Knee Deep In The Hoopla' all Starship albums out at the time this set was released are featured via something. This compilation also rounds up the two 'new' 1991 songs from 'Ten Years Of Change', which is handy if you didn't bother buying that set (as this one is longer and better value for money). Of course you're not going to get an album as great as anything Jefferson Airplane did and this is no substitute for a full compilation of the Jefferson Mickey Thomas years as their last four neglected album deserve a full retrospective of their own (just to throw it out there, this is what you need to download for 'Freedom In Modern Times; Winds Of Change Blowing Down My Furniture, an Alan's Album Archives Almanac': Jane/Lightning Rose/Awakening/Girl With The Hungry Eyes/Rock and Roll Is Good Time Music/Freedom At Point Zero/Find YOur Way Back/Stranger/Wild Eyes/Save Your Love/Modern Times/Mary/Stairway To Cleveland/Winds Of Change/Be My Lady/Can't Find Love/Black Widow/I Came Back From The Jaws Of The Dragon/Layin' It On The Line/Magician/Showdown/Shining In The Moonlight/Connection/Rose Goes To Yale/Champion) never mind the Airplane. There's also no real packaging and only one sorry photograph, off colour and warped and set against a background of the sky (erm, why?) Still it is what it is and does it cheaply enough and well enough to if not quite build the Starship city then at least lay the foundations. Perfect for fans who only want to get knee-deep in the hoopla, rather than drown in it.


Marty Balin "Freedom Flight"
(Solid Discs '1997')
Beautiful Girl/Fire/My Heart Picked You/Until You/Can't Forget The Night/A Part Of  Me/Sexy Eyes/Heart Of Stone/Goddess/Freedom Flight
"I can forget a little more each day, but I can't forget the night!"
For anyone who felt that Marty was under-served by the Airplane and Starship and who was as frustrated as he plainly was that Marty had gone from central band pin-up to Grace Slick backing singer, 'Freedom Flight' is a revelation. That's not, unfortunately, because this is the perfect Marty LP - although it is another good one - but more because of how much effort Marty put into this LP. Of all the Jeffersons you expected to make a full solo album (minus a few backing singers) the generally tambourine-holding Balin isn't one of them, but a few backing singers apart Marty played almost everything here, setting backing tracks with his own guitar parts and overdubbing a bit of synth and drum work as the album demanded. Sadly he still isn't writing much, although his one new song 'Goddess' is one of his best for years, a sultry slow-burning piece in the 'LOng Cool Wo,an In A Black Dress' mode. Instead most of this album is written by friend Richard Landers and while Marty's own songs might have been better yet Landers does have a particular feel for romantic-songs-that-cut-a-bit-deeper that Marty does so well and the strike rate across those album is higher than average. 'Fire', for instance, is a classic pop song that's so much better than the song of the same name from 'Earth', 'Can't Forget The Night' is a Beatlesy-tune that would have suited the late Jefferson Starship well, the title track is a terrific pop song that deserved to be a big hit and the moody 'A Part Of Me' might not be much of a song but it really shows off how strong Marty's voice still is (this is clearly 1997 Marty not 1967 Marty, but he's aged better than most singers and sounds a lot better than he does back with Paul's version of Jefferson Starship before and after).If a lot of the rest is a little anonymous, then at least it's better than nothing: Marty is too good a singer to lose.
Jorma Kaukonen "Too Many Years"
(Relix, August 1998)
Fool's Blues/Big Town/Too Many Years/Home Of The Blues/Nine Pound Hammer/Gypsy Fire/You Gotta Move/Larue Larue/Man For All Seasons/Heaven On Earth/Say No To The Devil/Hypnotation Blues/Friend Of The Devil
"Life did not work out like I'd planned it and alienation has left me damned"
Although credited to Jorma alone, this set was really by the Kaukonen trio and features old friend Michael Falzarno on second guitar and our old friend Pete Sears from Jefferson Starship on keyboards - even though the pair had never crossed paths in their days as a Jefferson (talk about keeping it in the family!) The good news is that Jorma is in great voice and having a trio to bounce off makes this acoustic album sound bigger and more 'complete' somehow than Jorma's solo work. The other good news is that Jorma has his typically good ear for cover versions with some great if surprising choices: the Grateful Dead's most Hot Tuna-ish song 'Friend Of The Devil', the Johnny Cash rocker 'Home Of The Blues' and 'Say No To The Devil' which might well be the best choice yet from the Rev Gary Davis songbook. However the bad news is that Jorma still isn't writing that much: he gets just three songs to his name and one of those (the title track) was previously heard on the 'Jefferson Airplane' reunion album anyway (and doesn't sound much better to be honest with similarly misguided synth strings throughout). The end result is another mixed Jorma album, with lots of promise but also a lot of filler and a template that will sound much better when the trio hit the road for their next album, a live concert.

"The Best Of Hot Tuna"
 (RCA, July 1998)
CD One: Hesitation Blues/I Know You Rider/Winnin' Boy Blues/Mann's Fate/Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning/Candy Man/Been So Long/Keep On Truckin'/99 Year Blues/Ode For Billy Dean/Sea Child/Water Song/I See The Light/Living Just For You/Easy Now/Sally Where'd You Get Your Liquor From?
CD Two: Hit Single #1/Serpent Of Dreams/Sleep Song/Funky #7/Hot Jelly Roll Blues/Sunrise Dance With The Devil/Bar Room Crystal Ball/I Wish You Would/Watch The North Wind Rise/It's So Easy/Song From The Stainless Cymbal/Genesis/Rock Me Baby/Extrication Love Song
"Ain't no ceoncept I can stop, moving on my way, the future's bright, with eyes of light leaving Monterey"
Amazingly it took 28 years for Hot Tuna to get their first retrospective, but thankfully it's a good one, containing selections from every seventies album (though not the 1990 reunion sadly), striking artwork of Jack and Jorma in watercolours (drawn by none other than Grace Slick!) and sensible song choices courtesy of one-tie manager and long-term friend Bill Thompson. The set is particularly useful for getting some of the non-album singles on CD: 'Been So Long' is a pretty 'First Pull Up' era recording that features an early existential lyrics from Jorma worrying about having 'lost my way', while an unused cover of BB King's 'Rock Me Daddy' from  the 'Double Dose' period is nice to have. With two long-running discs to play with most of what you'd want is here, although I'd still make a few changes if I could ('Letter To The North Star' and 'Corners Without Exits', both from 'Phosphorescent Rat' are the band's peak for me, for instance, although at least 'I See The Light' from the same record is here). I'm not sure how much more you really learn about the band from this set, but it's ever so nearly every Hot Tuna song that's essential to own and a much easier way of getting hold of these records than trying to buy up all the original albums. This compilation deserved to do better - Hot Tuna has never been so ripe for tasting.

Jefferson Airplane/Starship "Hits"
 (RCA, September 1998)
CD One: It's No Secret/Somebody To Love/White Rabbit/Embryonic Journey/Plastic Fantastic Lover/Comin' Back To Me/The Ballad Of You and Me and Pooneil/Greasy Heart/Lather/Crown Of Creation/Wooden Ships/Volunteers/Good Shepherd/Have You Seen The Saucers?/Pretty As You Feel/Third Week In The Chelsea/Long John Silver/Caroline/Ride The Tiger
CD Two: Miracles/With Your Love/Count On Me/Runaway/Jane/Find Your Way Back/Stranger/Be My Lady/No Way Out/Layin' It On The Line/We Built This City/Sara/Tomorrow Doesn't Matter Tonight/Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now/It's Not Over (Til' It's Over)/It's Not Enough
"Marconi plays the mamba, listen to the radio"
The only Jefferson release to cover all three eras of the band's convoluted history, this two-disc set makes for rather uneasy listening. Without the space to concentrate on any period for very long all three periods have been cut back to the bare minimum - and yet even then the compilers seem to have an odd idea of what the best of the bands really consists of: the set seems unusually heavy on 'Bark' and 'Long John Silver' for the Airplane and under-rated as both records are no one would claim they represent the best of the Airplane (at the time, with both albums unavailable, this was welcome - but still an odd idea for a best-of), the Jefferson Starship years are mainly covered by Marty Balin love ballads (which is a true reflection of what were the 'hits' but not really a true reflection of the band's output) and Starship is included not only via the hit singles but by monstrosities like 'It's Not Over Til It's Over' and 'It's Not Enough' that actually flopped badly on release. In fact why is this set entitled 'Hits' anyway - the Airplane had two chart entries, Jefferson Starship had four in the Marty days and four in the Mickey years, with Starship adding a further four. That's fourteen hits - enough to pad out a single album, but not even close to filling out this thirty-five track best-of. Remember too that the line-up that played on the first track has absolutely nothing in common with the line-up on the last six tracks and Starship have no links to the Airplane at all really except the name and Grace (who isn't even on the last two songs). The sad truth is that most Airplane fans hate the Starship stuff and vice versa with the Jefferson Starship years kind of caught in no man's land in the middle - which means that inevitably even if there's something a new fan likes in this compilation they'll hate at least part of it (by and large anyway - not all Starship is bad and not all Airplane is good, but it's probably fair to say both are about as opposite as any bands can be). Still, this is the only 'complete' coverage of all three bands and as such is the launching pad for many fans and worth talking about, although I sense that there might have been a lot more fans besides had RCA done this properly and turned this into a box set with, say, two discs of Airplane and one each for the eras of Starship.
Jefferson Starship "Windows Of Heaven"
(CMC International, February 1999)
The Light/See The Light/Borderlands/Ways Of Love/Later On/Let Me Fly/'AcousticaMajora': The Windows Of Heaven (FUTR)/Shadowlands/I'm On Fire/Goddess/Let It Live/'Alternate Quantam Thursdays': Millennium Beyond (Frontera Luminosa)/Yes Yes Yes/Let Me Fly
"It's a good year for civil disobedience!"
I wish Paul Kantner's restyling of 'Jefferson Starship' had been called something else (Jefferson Interstellar Cruise Missile perhaps?) because it's hard to know what to measure this album against - it's more like a second KBC Band album in personnel than where the Jefferson Starship ended in 1984 (with Paul, Marty and Jack all back again, with a guest appearance by Grace - though weirdly not on American editions of the album - although most of the female vocals are done by Dian Manchego). In pure musical terms, it's the Jefferson Airplane reunion album all over again, only with Jorma missing, and a similar amount of 'updated' material referencing the millennium and growing older. To be honest though, it's not even that good, with even less decent songs this time around and chaotic performances that tend to rumble along with lots of noise rather than the poise and precision of old. Fans were not really that excited about all this and at first this record was only ever released in Germany, the European country that had stayed most loyal to the band. I can't say I'm all that excited about it either to be honest, lacking the wit and telepathy of old and only Paul sounds like he really wants to be here (I can't even hear Jack, who used to be the musical focal-point of the band). Most of the best material has also been heard in better condition on the Papa John benefit show released as 'Deep Space/Virgin Sky'. However as usual the band throw in something to make this worth listening to: Jesse Barish's pristine pop song 'Ways Of Love' peels back the years to Marty's ballads in the late 1970s (even if his voice is oddly gone on this performance), Paul's pretty 'Shadowlands' is very Jeffersony at last, a young girl who has nothing still dreaming of changing the world and Marty's 'Let It Live' is better than most of what the singer has been writing of late. Unfortunately even these better moments come surrounded by the tacky production which seems peculiarly 80s for such a late 90s release (all booming echo and heavy drums) and a hideous front cover where a painted lady reaches out to the Grand Canyon with no mention of 'windows' 'heaven' 'starships' or anything remotely connected to the music. A rather lacklustre and disappointing release.
'The Light' introduces a new Kantner heroine, Ginger, who in true fashion dreams of the stars and going into outer space. However this re-cap of 'Blows Against The Empire' ('Let's go to hell together!') is inferior in every way, with wordy clunky lyrics ('Is there sex in heaven?'), an unmemorable tune and a torrid performance with Dian Manchego at her most uncontrollable.
Jesse Barrish's 'See The Light' is a pretty pop song with Marty on relatively good form, though rather anonymous by Barrish's high standards. At least there's a very Jeffersony theme of how everyone has the power to shape the world, though.
Kantner wrote 'Borderland' but gave it to Diane to sing. That's a bad move as he'd have done this tale of refugees (heading to a new country or a new planet?) much better on his own.
Barrish's 'Way Of Love' is one of the better songs on the album, with a nice Slick Aguilar guitar solo and the sort of aching heartfelt love songs that Marty does so well. Even this isn't up to Barrish's best, however.
Marty's own 'Later On' would be a nice song without such an awful production, sounding more like the blues material Jorma used to bring to the band though with the usual romantic ballad lyrics.
Paul's 'Let Me Fly' is a return to the bombastic wailing Starship of the 1980s and does the usual thing of threatening another world revolution in the name of love and peace. No one seems to believe it this time around, though, which is an awful shame and a betrayal of everything the band once stood for.
Title track 'Windows Of Heaven' is more Kiss-style shouting about nothing as the Earth is a 'world in confusion'. Paul's lyrics are rather good actually, a cut above most here, but Diane's screaming and some awful drumming between them drown out any interest you have in the song.
'Shadowlands' is one of the album highlights, as Paul's latest 'Rose' has a dream 'compelling me to action' as she 'goes off to change the world'. It's full of the usual Jefferson optimism and with a decent tune to match, although the mixture of Paul's and Diane's vocals still leaves much to be desired.
'I'm On Fire', a tribute song to all those who fell in the name of justice (JFK, Martin Luther KIng Jnr, the protestors at Tiananmen Square), this song strangely wasn't on the original version of the album despite being the very marketable return of Grace Slick in her last appearance with the band. Sadly it's not the best return - Grace barely out-sings Diane and again this is Paul's show with very little input from anyone else.
Marty's ballad 'Goddess' is far from his best love song, but this is the best version of it, with two inferior re-treads on Marty's solo albums. He's in good voice too after struggling for much of the CD, although nothing about this song really gets moving.
'Let It Live' is better, Marty doing a Paul and writing a metaphysical song about how 'the planet is alive my friends' and his pleas to 'let it live!' The chorus is terribly repetitive but there's a strong lyric in here and this is exactly what the new-look Starship should have been doing, updating their usual stance on mankind's treatment of the planet to more modern causes.
The album wraps up with 'Millennium Beyond', a final plea for humans to get things right and finally make good on their 60s promise. However Paul's song doesn't really say much beyond the chorus, which insists on telling us 'this is the millennium!' over and over (those who bought this album at the time surely knew that already - those who've bought it since just wonder what all the fuss is about).
Overall, then, 'Windows In The Heaven' is a disappointing return of a great band. While the group learnt from last time and made sure there was less fuss about this record than the Airplane reunion, in most ways this one is even more of a disappointment as all the worst aspects of the old sound (over-cooked lyrics, repetitive arrangements, bombastic productions) are here without many of the good ones. The band sound older, except for Diane who sounds too young, and seem to be back together again for money, not love. There are good moments across this set with Paul on particularly good prolific form, but his songs don't fit with Marty's and - not for the first time - Jack might as well not have bothered to turn up. The result is a shame, stalling a career of a band that might yet have reached the peaks of old.

"The Best Of Grace Slick"
(RCA, '1999')
Somebody To Love/White Rabbit/ReJoyce/Lather/Triad/Eskimo Blue Day/Sunrise/Mexico/Law Man/Across The Board/Better Lying Down/Hyperdrive/Fast Buck Freddie/All The Machines/Wrecking Ball/We Built This City/Do You Remember Me?/Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now
"Let me see moving everything over, smiling in my room, you know you'll be inside my mind soon"
Grace deserves a decent solo best-of: all her quartet of albums are currently hard to get to various degrees and while only 'Dreams' comes close to matching the best of the Airplane, there's a still a terrific hour-long compilation in there somewhere. Even if you add in the three albums she made with Paul Kantner and dilute the album down a little - that's still a superb compilation right there. What's more this was the right time to release it, with Grace's new autobiography just out (the pair even share the same psychedelic cover). Unfortunately this isn't the mind-blowing compilation it ought to be because stingy RCA have decided to simply release the best-selling songs Grace made with anybody, which means we get the old tired hits from the Airplane and Starship days around again - automatically killing off sales for the curious long-term fan who might have invested in a straight Grace Slick best-of but already own almost everything here. Insult to injury those solo albums are only represented by one song apiece - apart from her masterpiece 'Dreams' which isn't featured at all! Even the songs that are there seem like the 'wrong' ones - yes 'Somebody To Love' 'White Rabbit' 'We Built This City' and 'Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now' are kind of inevitable but where are gems like ' 'Two Heads' 'Silver Spoon' 'Al Garimasu' or 'Hey Frederick'? (Though full marks for including 'Sunrise' complete with sudden fade 'ReJoyce' and 'Across The Board', all three great Grace songs that never get enough credit). To add insult to injury fans felt compelled to buy this set anyway just for the one new Starship song 'Do You Remember Me?' taped during sessions for 'Knee Deep In The Hoopla' in 1985. As it happens that's a good question for this period, with Grace sounding just as unhappy and stifled in a box marked 'hit single' as she did on the album. Also, a minor point compared to the music but should an artist of the calibre, imagination and intelligence of Grace Slick be given such cut-price packaging and such an indistinctive title? This is bad, very very bad with only the chance to hear the under-rated and hard to get 'All The Machines' from 'Software' worth saving your money up for- hopefully somebody will put a better version together some day.

Marty Balin "Greatest Hits"
(Trove Records, '1999')
When Love Comes/Miracles/Atlanta Lady/Plastic Fantastic Lover/Until You/Count On Me/Today/My Heart Picked You/Hearts/What Love Is/Runaway/Beautiful Girl/Summer Of Love/With Your Love/Comin' Back To Me/Volunteers
Bonus Disc - The Interviews: Jefferson Airplane - The Beginning/Janis Joplin - The Queen/Jim Morrison - The Poet/Jerry Garcia - The Deadhead/Jimi Hendrix - The Experience/Paul McCartney - The Pinnacle
"Is everything alright? I just called to say how lost I feel without you!"
Marty's best-of is even more of a 'cheat' than Grace's. Rather than the 'juicy' bits from Marty's solo career - which deserves re-packaging as much as his colleague's - this is one of those cheap re-recording CDs where artists get to re-cut their greatest hits, only with aged voices and cheaper budgets. To be fair, there's a good reason for this: even by AAA standards Marty chopped and changed labels a lot so this is the only way of getting round the fact that the RCA and EMI recordings are licensed to different companies. However while that background detail explains it, it doesn't excuse it and really this sorry album has no business being part of the canon. Marty's voice is going and hard as he tries he can't do justice to the songs of old - whilst the Starship ballads don't sound too bad, the Airplane rockers sound horrid ('Plastic Fantastic Lover' for instance is all about youth). The track selection seems confused too: Where is 'Caroline'? 'St Charles'?'3/5ths Of A Mile In Ten Seconds'?  'She Has Funny Cars?' (which would be fun to revisit now that everyone around Marty really does seem so much younger than him these days). Even the addition of a pretty re-make (is this the third now?) of Airplane reunion song 'Summer Of Love' and 'Beautiful Girl', one of the better 'modern' Marty covers, can't rescue this sorry album. However the second 'bonus disc' comes close. Years before Paul thought of the same thing Marty talks all about his memories of the band and (even more interestingly) all the great musicians he met along the way, which is far more essential than any amount of re-recorded music. Erudite and thoughtful, Marty's always made for a good interviewee when he's on form and this is a rare chance to hear him without the rest of the band butting in. You get the sense too that Marty can't quite believe everything that happened to him - especially the support of a real live Beatle back in the day! - although there's a wistfulness here too that Marty is busy talking about heroes and heroines who died young and glamorously while he sits out his days having to re-cut old glories for money. Time can be cruel; Marty, one of the greatest singers of his generation and perhaps the Airplane's most under-rated talent, deserves so much better than this.

Jefferson Starship "BB King's Blues Club, N Y City 10-31-00"
(CD Internet Archive, Late 2000')
CD One: Crown Of Creation/Caroline/J P P McStep B Blues/Good Shepherd/Lather/ Borderlands/Planes/Miracles/Atlanta Lady/Martha/The Bag I'm In/Eskimo Blue Day
CD Two: Greasy Heart/Count On Me/Diana > Volunteers/Comin' Back To Me/Fat Angel/St Charles/Won't You Try?-Saturday Afternoon/ Today/Triad/Sketches Of China/Only One You
CD Three: Summer Of Love/Your Mind Has Left Your Body/Diana > Shadowlands/Hey Frederick/3/5ths Of A Mile In Ten Seconds/All Fly Away > Plastic Fantastic Lover/The Ballad Of You and Me and Pooneil/Have You Seen The Saucers?/It's No Secret
"Let me take you to another place, another time, another world of people dancin' in rhyme, dancing in the air..."
This record was produced by the CIA! No not that CIA but what the Jefferson shave christened their 'CD Internet Archive'. The initial plan was to use the label as a low-key not-ins-shops-but-true-fans-will-get-it-somehow production company for archive sets and modern gigs, but in the end only this gig from Halloween 2000 came out. The same line-up as on 'Across The Sea Of Suns' take part, but impressively the track selection is very different (there are only six songs replicated between sets, which isn't bad considering the other is a double album and this is a triple). Like last time the result is mixed. The track selection is if anything even more exciting: we get to hear Marty bawl out 'It's No Secret', the song that (more or less) started it all and in between we get oodles of songs that had never been heard live before from all sorts of unfairly forgotten sources: highlights include 'Comin' Back To Me' from 'Surrealistic Pillow' in 1967, 'Lather' from 1968,  'Your Mind Has Left Your Body' from 'Sunfighter' in 1971, 'All Fly Away' from 'Dragonfly' in 1974, 'St Charles' from 'Spitfire' in 1976 and gorgeous versions of the two best songs from the reunion album, 'Planes' and 'Summer Of Love', which sound much better in concert. The mix of Airplane and Starship songs is also spot on I'd say, about half and half with bits and pieces from Paul and Marty's albums. The cosily intimate performances, with asides about songs between the set lists (though sadly most of them are by Diana rather than Paul or Marty) are also a big improvement on 'Sea Of Suns'. However there's no denying that at times the band still sound a bit ropey and at times a bit-too over-ambitious: even the Airplane at their peak struggled with the counterpointal 'Crown Of Creation' and this version is tough going (especially as the opening track!) while this 'Won't You Try?' is all the sound of a band going in different directions instead of that magnificent 'tying up' at the end to make it all better. The band are a little heavy-handed in places and while good it still sounds hopelessly wrong to hear Diana singing Grace's songs, many of which she never did sing live herself. The one new song exclusive to this set, a cover of Fred Neil's 'The Bag I'm In' isn't one of the 'Everybody's Talkin' writer's better songs or Paul's better ideas. The final verdict? A so-so tribute act with occasionally great contributions from two of the original members that in true Jefferson style splutters and coughs and nosedives throughout - but you'll put up with all the lowlights for those glorious moments when the band hit a peak without warning and all isn't just well, it's superb. 
Jefferson Starship "Across The Sea OF Suns"
(Zebra, '2001')
CD One: Caroline/She Has Funny Cars/When The Earth Moves Again/Good Shepherd/Today/DCBA-25/Eskimo Blue Day/How Do You Feel?/Miracles/Have You Seen The Stars Tonight?/Embryonic Journey > Starship
CD Two: There Will Be Love/Hearts/Hey Frederick/When I Was A Boy I Watched The Wolves/Hyperdrive/You're Bringing Me Down/The Ballad Of You and Me and Pooneil/Mexico > Wooden Ships/Somebody To Love > Volunteers/You're My Best Friend/JPP McStep B Blues
"I pretend one wall is the past and one wall is the future and I just stand here like the present looking for a good place to run"
Despite containing only two original Jeffersons (Paul and Marty - just one more than the 'Starship' records) this live set is credited under the old name and is the first of several very similar concerts by this line-up of the band in the 21st century. What you get from this set really depends on what you expect from it - 'Sea Of Suns' not even close to being as good as the Jefferson Starship concerts of the 1980s and playing this tired and under-rehearsed set back to back with the young and exciting 'Bless It's Little Pointed Head' is guaranteed to make you feel old. However this reunion isn't meant to be big or a major addition to the canon - its more of a chance for two old friends to get back together and play music old and new together in front of a crowd of fans who know that these days the Starship is a little rusty and in need of repairs. If you're willing to suspend your expectations a little and realise that this is a band of 50-somethings with mortgages and families to pay for rather than a band at the forefront of the revolution, however, there's so much to enjoy. Clearly both Marty and Paul are singing their favourite songs just for the hell of it and that means we get a fare more exciting track listing than your usual run of the mill reunion albums. Lots of key Airplane and Starship classics are back in the set, some of them appearing for the very first time, and the joy of hearing great songs like 'DCBA-25'  'Caroline' 'When I Was A Boy I Watched The Wolves' the rare and unreleased 'You're Bringing Me Down' and even Skip Spence's outtake 'J P P McStep B Blues' for the very first time is heart-warming reason enough to buy the album, however less-than-classic they may sound. Even though the band is clearly struggling in places even on the simpler material, they're also brave enough to tackle the most complex material, such as a medley of songs from 'Blows Against The Empire' (linked by an unexpected revival of Jorma's instrumental 'Embryonic Journey') that's a joy to behold even if its sadly more earth-bound than celestial.
The sticking point is the band themselves. Taken separately each are great at what they do - guitarist Slick Aguilar (there had to be a 'Slick' represented in there somewhere) is a fine guitarist and even worked with the CSN crowd, as great a CV addition as any player can have - but he's no Jorma. Prairie Prince is a perfectly respectable modern-day drummer - but he's not built for the twists and turns of an Airplane set. Chris Smith is a fine synth player - but the Jeffersons are not a band that either used keyboards that often or suits the sound, leaving him either a spare part or in the way. Both Paul and Marty's voices have seen better days after so many years of being pushed to their limits and even in a slightly dodgy period this is not a great night for either of them technically, although soul-wise Marty especially still has enough tricks up his sleeve to sound both believable and moving. Most controversial of all is Diana Mangano filling in for Grace Slick - like the rest of the band she's a great vocalist by any other comparison, sharp yet subtle with a roar that can also do gentleness when she needs to. However she's no Grace Slick (vocally she's more like Janis Joplin actually) and hearing so many of our Gracie's classic songs delivered by any mouth - especially songs Grace never had the space to sing live herself such as 'Hyperdrive' and ''Eskimo Blue Day' is a peculiar listening experience (Jorma too is represented in absence by 'Embryonic Journey' and 'Good Shepherd'). I kind of understand why the band had to do this - they couldn't really get away without performing their two biggest hits 'Somebody To Love' and 'White Rabbit', although it might have been fun hearing Marty tackling both of them. But their desire to be fair to Grace's side of the stage rather overbalances the set and simply takes up time where more Marty or more Paul could have gone.
However if Grace herself, who retired a decade earlier after not wanting to be just another older person in a rock and roll band, was upset at the need to be replaced then she doesn't show it, surprising many by giving her whole-hearted blessing to this line-up and even writing the witty sleevenotes for the record with details about some songs (though interestingly not all - could she not remember what 'She Has Funny Cars' 'DCBA-25' or 'God Shepherd' or the like sounded like?!) Even so they're perhaps the most interesting and revealing part of the package - much more so than her autobiography - with Grace in kind and generous mood and make you wish she could jot down her comments for all the Airplane and Starship songs (this is her on 'When The Earth Moves Again' - 'Most people do not address cataclysmic events in song form. the sense of eons of glory and mortality throw a four-ton shadow on your own tiny life - Paul has always been able to present mammoth images within an orchestral but folk-ish context' and adding 'I don't think Marty ever got the credit he deserved for being one of the best love song writers during that era'. Grace is clearly in a happy place with her past (or was when she wrote these words anyway) and clearly, whilst gone, is far from forgotten.
Overall, then, there isn't much reason to want to buy 'Across The Sea Of Suns' or all of the similar Jefferson Starship live CDs that followed until you buy the whole (or nearly the whole) of the band's illustrious records - and that will take you quite a time to build up anyway as I know to my cost. However when and if you have stomached all that lot then this is a fair sequel to buy next, with the chance to hear lots of friends who hadn't ever been heard in a live setting before, played by a band who at least care a great deal about the material even if they can't always translate that passion into tight performances.

"The Roar of Jefferson Airplane"
(RCA, '2001')
It's No Secret/Go To Her/Greasy Heart/The Ballad Of You and Me and Pooneil/The House At Pooneil Corners/Plastic Fantastic Lover/Somebody To Love/3/5ths Of A Mile In Ten Seconds (Live)/Long John Silver/Feel So Good/The Last Wall Of The Castle/Eat Starch Mom/Volunteers/The Other Side Of This Life (Live)
"If your motor doesn't turn over smooth for you, you don't feed it right, give it a little grease - give it a little gas!"
At last! I still wouldn't say 'Roar' is quite perfect (there's no 'Blues From An Airplane'  'She Has Funny Cars' 'Two Heads' or 'Milk Train' for starters) but this compilation does come an awful lot closer to capturing the spirit and anarchy of the Airplane than all the other one disc sets out there. Disregarding preferences for hits and famous tracks and by and large covering all eras of the band equally, 'Roar' has more space than most sets to explore the madcap world of the Jeffersons. In case you hadn't guessed from the 'roar' title, this is an attempt to tell the story of the harder-edged adrenalin-fuelled Airplane without any drop in the energy levels for such ordinary things as ballads. Similarly this is a quickfire album mainly made up of the band's faster, shorter material so there's no space for eight-minute epics or lengthy guitar workouts, or any of Jorma's blues contributions. If that sounds a bit like a musical game of 'Guess Who' cutting out most of the bans' material simply because it doesn't fir the right 'criteria' then normally I'd agree with you, but there's something special about hearing the band in full flight with Jack's propelling the band into psychedelia at top speed and hearing a whole album of this stuff is a surprisingly satisfying, cathartic experience. I'm particularly impressed by the brave decision to put the two free-wheeling 'Pooneils' together - they make for a natural pairing despite being a year and a pairing apart - while the 'Pointed Head' version of 'The Other Side Of This Life', is a great finale ducking and diving it's way to a soaring climax. Jefferson Airplane really came soaked in jet fuel back in the early days and it's good to be reminded of that sometimes. I still await the inevitable sequel 'The Floating Jefferson Airplane' with hope (How great would a Jefferson ballads set be, eh? Just think of it: 'High Flyin' Bird' 'And I Like It' 'Today' 'Comin' Back To Me' 'How Do You Feel?' 'ReJoyce' 'In Time' 'Fat Angel' 'Turn My Life Down' 'Crazy Miranda' 'Third Week In The Chelsea'...Heck why am I writing these books when I should be working for RCA?)

Jorma Kaukonen Trio "Live"
(Relix, Recorded 1999 Released 2001)
True Religion/How Long Blues/Death Don't Have No Mercy/Do Not Go Gentle/I See The Light/Embryonic Journey/Good Shepherd/San Francisco Bay Blues/I Know My Rider/Just My Way/Friend Of The Devil
"It's paradise I'm livin' for each and every day, but about the crossroads of the past nothing more to say"
A recording of the band on their 1999 American tour, this album is like a 'grown up' version of the first live Hot Tuna album: it has the same acoustic sound and the same playfulness but the song choices are decidedly more 'adult'. While the set includes two impressive renditions of songs Jorma did with the Airplane ('Embryonic Journey' and 'Good Shepherd') and the usual high quote of Rev Gary Davis blues songs, the real worth of this set comes in the acoustic re-arrangements of Hot Tuna's originally electric tracks. For instance 'True Religion' (from 1972's 'Burgers') is a lot less distracting with just the guitar and vocal for most of the song and  'I See The Light' (from 1974's 'Phosphorescent Rat') sounds even better than the original, with an older and more world-weary vibe. There's also a lovely rendition of 'Friend Of The Devil', the most Hot Tuna-like song in the Grateful Dead's catalogue (apart from the ones sung by Pigpen!) However despite the billing for a trio the other two - fellow guitarist Michael Falzarno and our old friend Pete Sears on bass and keyboards, the first time he'd actually met Jorma despite years in Jefferson Starship - get precious little to do and even compared to some of Jorma's other releases this has a very sparse and at times empty sound. The strength of the performances just about gets by, but on the blues cover repeats in particular the album does become in danger of being boring - and while you could say many things about Jorma's previous work that was never one of his cardinal sins before. Enjoyable for those who like their Hot Tuna un-plugged (and un-microwaved!) but not that essential.
                                                                               
Jorma Kaukonen "Blue Country Heart"
(Columbia, June 2002)
Blue Railroad Train/Just Because/Blues Stay Away From Me/Red River Blues/Bread Line Blues/Waiting For Train/Those Gambler's Blues/Tom Cat Blues/Big River Blues/Prohibition Blues/I'm Free From The Chain Gang Now/You and My Old Guitar/What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?
"Tears so many I can't see, years don't mean a thing to me, time goes by and still I can't be free"
You'd think that the first solo Jorma studio album in twenty years would be a bit more...special than this somehow. Not that 'Blue Country Heart' is at all bad: Jorma is in great voice, the acoustic format suits him well and his voice is born for the folk covers almost as much as the blues. But it seems oh so sad that a man who once had so many songs pouring out of him he had to double-up with Hot Tuna and solo records for most of the 1970s now can't manage a single song the whole album. Good as Jorma is as an interpreter and fine as he is as a guitarist it was the songs that tended to make Hot Tuna, at their best, one of the greatest blues-rock hybrid bands around. The lowering of the vision here on an album that barely lasts vinyl-length in a time now firmly into the CD era, is a worrying sign. Still, Jorma does have a feel for the material, which nearly all dates from the 1930s and 40s and which were some of the earliest songs he cut his fingers learning. The low-key ballad 'Blues Stay Away From Me' is oddly moving given that it seems the sort of slow, staid, arch song the Jeffersons were put on this world to annihilate, with some lovely harmonies from Sam Bush and Byron House. Jimmie Rodgers' 'Those Gambler's Blues' is another good track Hot Tuna would have excelled on that still sounds good even in unplugged format and the over-covered but always-moving convict release song 'I'm Free From The Chain Gang Now' sounds rather good here too. All too often, though, the album seems to be trying too hard to make Jorma into something he isn't: it's not that Jorma can't do these songs so much as the fact that he can't do them as well as the straight blues songs he's been doing his whole career through; a handful of these songs as part of a bigger solo album can work but a whole album is heavy going. The record received a 2003 Grammy nomination as 'best folk album' though (losing out to wannabe Alison Krauss, unfortunately) so somebody must have liked it and it does at least show off a new side to Jorma.

                                                                        
Jefferson Airplane "Platinum/Gold Collection"
(BMG/RCA, June 2003)
It's No Secret/Come Up The Years/My Best Friend/Somebody To Love/Comin' Back To Me/Embryonic Journey/White Rabbit/The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil/Watch Her Ride/Crown Of Creation/Greasy Heart/Volunteers
"I didn't know you were the one for me, I couldn't see but you were waiting"
Sony's 'Platinum/Gold' collection - not to be confused with the 1970s best-of 'Gold' - is a set of 50-and-counting budget compilations of material by bands who were either on the label or subsidiaries (Starship had one too though not Jefferson Starship sadly). For most fans these sets are merely an excuse to trot out the same ten hits over and over again - but the Airplane pose a particularly challenge for sets like these: the band only ever had two bona fide hits though there's a whole range of fan favourites that have become semi-famous. It's also hard to try and get the essence of a band with that many voices being pulled in that many directions into one single CD set (the Marty era of 1966, the Paul era of 1967 and the Jorma era of the early 70s having nothing really whatsoever to do with the others, with Grace flitting in and out in between). A so-so flick back through the history of the Airplane and particularly the Paul Kantner years, this set succeeds by featuring all of the songs you'd expect to see there and an occasional inspired choice (Marty's 'Comin' Back To Me', Grace's 'Greasy Heart' and Jorma's 'Embryonic Journey') without having the depth or the coverage of the longer, pricier CDs. There are some curious absentees too: the vaguely famous (thanks to being covered by failed-opera-singer-turned-failed-rock-and-roller Renee Fleming) 'Today', Marty's snappy 'Plastic Fantastic Lover' and Grace's near-hit single 'Lather'. Still given that this set costs around half of the average single CD best-of and about a fifth the price of the 'Jefferson Airplane Loves You' box when it came out then this is a good low budget means of accessing the Airplane which should just about do the trick in making curious fans fall in love with the band and want to buy up all the albums 'properly'.

Jack Casady "Dream Factor"
(Eagle Records,  June 2003)
Paradise/Water From A Stone/Trust Somebody/Listen To The Wind/Outside/By Your Side/Daddy's Lil Girl/Weight Of Sin/Who You Are/Dead Letter Box/Sweden
"I try to put a little faith in you, first you gotta find somebody to trust"
Mark this page in your diary, AAA readers, because this must surely be some sort of a record: after ten LPs with the Jefferson Airplane and a similar number with Hot Tuna - not to mention a shortlived stint in the KBC Band - Jack Casady finally gets round to releasing his first solo album some 37 years after his first release! This has been done a few times before in AAA circles but is particularly interesting in this case given that no one in the Jefferson community was really expecting this record - Jack rarely writes and never sings so he wasn't exactly in the premier league of AAA musicians-we-expected-to-go-solo-after-thirty-years-in-the-business (Ray Davies yes, Roger Waters yes, bass players who stand at the back, no). Speculation was rife as to what this record would sound like: the psychedelic Airplane? The bluesy Hot Tuna? Something we'd never heard before?!? As it turns out 'Dream Factor' turned out not unlike the Marty Balin half of Jefferson Starship, an album of mainly pretty ballads with a bit of a country-rock vibe going on.
 The musicianship was a bit of a surprise too: not only are there no big fat bass lines across this record, Casady's preferred instrument is at times so deep in the final mix that you can't hear it at all. However there's lots of fine guitar from Jack throughout the record, Casady really stepping out of Jorma's shadow (although his old pal does guest on the songs 'Listen To The Wind' and 'Sweden'). Elsewhere though Jack's talent again gets dominated by over larger, noisier, less interesting figures: there are five guest vocalists on this album, all with the same slightly faux bluesy style and the song just ends up becoming more like the vocalist's respective bands (including most notably Little Feat's Paul Barrere). The result is a pleasant but unfortunately by Jefferson standards a rather bland album that offers nothing really new or groundbreaking except in the sense that it isn't new or groundbreaking - ultimately that's the most groundbreaking thing a legendary performer like Jack could have done!
'Paradise' is a fair opener, Hot Tuna-like in the long guitar riff at its heart and a chirpy chorus hook (it's not that far removed from Jack's lone Airplane credit - the music for 'Long John Silver' - either). The lyrics deal with the thought that paradise isn't about where you are but who you're with, with Little Feat's Paul Barrere the guest lead vocalist for this song.
'Water From A Stone' is the album's highlight. Jack does a good job on this Lindisfarne-like folk-rocker about how 'only love will keep you dry' but how some relationships end quicker than other and that you shouldn't hang around 'squeezing water from a stone'. Had this been by The Corrs, rather than an aging 60s rocker, this would no doubt have been a big hit. Jack's bass at last gets something to do, although it's still lost in a sea of acoustic guitars. That's Jeff Phreson handling the vocal duties.
'Trust Somebody' is - of all things - a gospel style song (we've obviously come a long way since Grace started snarling about Easter eggs in 1972!) Guest vocalist Ivan Neville rather overdoes his Billy Preston-style vocal but the song doesn't exactly do him many favours: lyrics about 'turning a diamond into a lump of coal, what's a broken hearted lover to do?' even Starship would have turned down a song this clichéd.
'Listen To The Wind' is a better song that recalls the Jefferson's 'Winds Of Change' but better: a rallying call to new horizons and a feeling in the air about how things are going to change. Usually songs about the present day recorded in the 21st century are full of despair and agony, so it's good to hear an old hippie with something good to say for a change. Some nice George Harrison-style guitar from old pal Jorma helps liven the track up too, although even this song could have done with a little something extra to help life it. That's Paul singing lead once again.
'Outside' is the most contemporary song on the album, the sort of 'modern modern jazz' Hot Tuna might be playing if they were still around. Annoyingly, though, this most promising of backing tracks is left as just that - a backing track without a vocal. Even as AAA instrumentals go, this one is lacking in soul and substance and is crying out for words - so where the heck are they?! Thankfully a Super Furry Animals-style finale (all crashing sound effects and a coda that comes in after two minutes of bleeping) saves the day.
'By Your Side' is another of the better songs on the album, a slow melancholy ballad about being 'complete' when you're next to the person you love. I'm not sure the song deserves to run for a full six minutes though! That's Jim Brunberg on lead vocals.
'Daddy's Lil' Girl' is a slinky song that has a nice groove running throughout but does sound a tad as if its running in slow motion, more Starship than Jefferson Airplane. Ivan Neville is lead vocalist again.
Weight Of Sin is probably my favourite song on the album and one that sounds quite unlike anything else in Jack's illustrious career. It's a gentle acoustic folk song with some lovely chiming guitars although for perhaps the only time on the album you can really hear the bass roar in this new setting. Lead vocalist: Jeff Phreson.
'Who You Are' is rather good too, a slightly calmer prog rock take on the theme of identity which suddenly explodes into a roaring Hot Tuna like throb of guitar riffs and blues. That's Jeff Phreson on lead vocals again.
'Dead Letter Box' is a third strong track in a row, a tortured painful blues but one that's more in line with 1960s British bands like The Yardbirds than Hot Tuna. Paul Barerre is on lead once again.
Closer 'Sweden' is described by its creator as 'an anti-travelogue' and is unusually harsh and aggressive for such a kindly, laidback personality. What happened in Sweden to inspire such a song one wonders? It's not as if any of Jack's bands toured there that often - if at all from what I've been able to research. Fee Waybill's vocals and Jorma's crunchy lead guitar sound rather good together here but it's Jack's lyrics that you remember: 'I guarantee you'll be sorry you came, but you only have yourself to blame'? At least it makes for a memorable close to a sadly unmemorable album.


Mickey Thomas/Over The Edge "Over The Edge"
(Cleopatra, '2004')
Over The Edge/One World/Thief/Surrender/Eyes Wide Open/Forest For The Trees/The Man In Between/Cover Me/Turn Away/Glory Day
"Where is my life heading? Man, I don't know!"
Following the release of the one new song recorded for 'Greatest Hits (Ten Years and Change)' in 1991, Mickey formed a new version of Starship (one without any former members) and hit the road as an 'oldies' act, reprising his hits with the band and from his previous career with Elvin Bishop. Fans remained split on the relevance of the 'Mickey Thomas' Starship which lost a little bit of an edge without Grace keeping Mickey honest or Paul keeping him on his toes, but Mickey hadn't lost his voice and on good nights the band were worthy of the Starship name. With the band's record contract having been terminated despite all the group's success, it seemed that Mickey might never make another studio album - the fact that he did is only the start of the surprises. 'Over The Edge' isn't strictly speaking a solo album - it's a joint effort by a new band of the same name, although as only Mickey is well known fans have come to treat it like a solo project. Having never been much of a writer (not without Craig or Paul to push him), Mickey instead hires a series of fellow 1980s has-beens to help him out on the writing side of things, recruiting songs from former members of Toto, Journey and Night Rider. This changes the sound of the album completely: whilst clearly still a pop album this record is more thoughtful and powerful than the plain pop of the Starship and impressively Mickey adopts his singing to the material, with a far subtler and more emotional performance than his work from years before. In fact in many places it's hard to tell that this is the same singer - although in many ways of course it isn't, that unfortunate 'beating' at the hands of his drummer in 1990 softening the more diva-ish element in Mickey's character. Notably there are no pictures of Mickey anywhere in this release (you couldn't keep a camera away from him in 'Starship'), although it might be simply that Mickey's voice has aged that way - it just doesn't seem to have the same richness to it somehow. However in many ways that's to the album's benefit, with Mickey developing a softer, more vulnerable sounding voice that works on this sort of material (the Journey and Toto submissions are far more navel-gazing than anything Jefferson Starship were doing even in the prog rock era). The best tracks, interestingly, tend to be the ones that in other circumstances could have been hits for Starship: 'Turn Away' is a great pop song, whilst 'Cover Me' is one of those 'lighters aloft in unity during stadium arenas with bands who should have known better' moments and the moodier 'One World' gives Mickey the first real vocal to get his teeth into since Paul Kanter left the band. This album won't convert you if you're the kind of fan who thought the Starship albums were dross and even if you're a fan who loves them you won't find many similarities here - but this is a much better return to recording than many were expecting and a release that's much more likeable than anything else Mickey has worked on since 'Nuclear Furniture'.
"The Essential Jefferson Airplane"
(RCA, April 2005)
Blues From An Airplane/It's No Secret/Come Up The Years/She Has Funny Cars/Somebody To Love/Comin' Back To Me/Embryonic Journey/White Rabbit/The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil/Martha/The Last Wall Of The Castle/Watch Her Ride/Lather/Crown Of Creation/Greasy Heart/Share A Little Joke//3/5ths Of A Mile In Ten Seconds (Live)/Plastic Fantastic Lover (Live)/We Can Be Together/Good Shepherd/Wooden Ships/Eskimo Blue Day/Volunteers/Have You Seen The Saucers?/Mexico/When The Earth Moves Again/Pretty As You Feel/Third Week In The Chelsea/Long John Silver/Twilight Double Leader/Feel So Good (live)/Milk Train (Live)
"It has always been a transparent dream beneath an occasional sigh"
One of the better Jefferson compilations around, with more space for the interesting songs than the single disc sets while at a cheaper price (and much easier to find) than the 'Loves You' box set. It's nice to see so many neglected gems get another look in ('Comin' Back To Me' 'The Last Wall Of The Castle' 'Mexico' 'Pretty As You Feel' 'Third Week In The Chelsea') and a couple of live tracks in there at the end so you can experience what the band were like live too. I could quibble about some absentees - and you know me well enough by now to know that I will (no 'High Flying Bird' 'Today' 'Wild Tyme' 'Won't You Try?' or 'We Can Be Together' for starters). However all the writing members of the band are well represented and the packaging is rather tasteful too, with this set perhaps the best overall career view of the band available to date, with most of the peak flights and only a few of the crashes along the way.
     



Jorma Kaukonen "Stars In My Crown"
(Red House, March 2007)
Overture: Heart Temporary/Fur Peace Rag/By The Rivers Of Babylon/Living In The Moment/Late Breaking News/Come Back Baby/Mighty Hard Pleasure/No Demon/There's A Table Sitting There In Heaven/The Man Comes Around/A Life Well Lived/Will There Be Any Stars In My Crown?/Preacher Picked The Guitar/Will There Be Any Stars In My Crown? (Instrumental Reprise)
"Blue skies in the morning, stars they fill the night, fall wind rustling through the trees, sings a song of great delight"
At long last this is the return of Jorma not just as a guitarist and singer but as a writer. Whilst 'Stars In My Crown' isn't quite the prolific writer of old and he still only writes a mere five of the album's value-for-money fourteen songs, there's enough here to please old fans that Jorma now has 'it' again, whatever 'it' might be. Many of these songs are the best on the album: the delicate folk-finger-picking of 'Living In The Moment' might well be the best Jorma instrumental since 'Embryonic Journey' and 'A Life Well Lived' is a teary sentimental goodbye to...someone (is it a friend? Is it Jorma himself?) The surroundings are a bit of a change though: whilst the blues stylings are still there this is much more of a folk album with gospel twinges with Jorma barely plugging his guitar in throughout. 'Crown' is in fact the closest Jorma has ever come to going back to his beginnings playing coffee houses and backing other singers (including a pre-fame Janis Joplin), with several of the songs he used to play back then. Lightnin Hopkins' 'Come Back Baby' is one of Jorma's best blues covers, whilst the traditional number 'The Preacher Picked A Guitar' about the closeness between religion and music is a wonderful choice that could have been written with Jorma in mind, a close cousin to 'Good Shepherd'. Only the high quota of instrumentals and the occasional odd moment (the full-on gospel of this album's Rev Gary Davis cover 'There's A Table Sitting There In Heaven' or the Harry Belafonte calypso of 'By The Rivers Of Babylon') knock this album down a bit. However even if this album isn't quite a star in Jorma's crowning back catalogue it is at least a 'protostar' with the promise of more glittering delights on the way.
Jefferson Starship "The Jefferson Tree Of Liberty"
 (The Lab/Universal/Varase Sarabande, September 2008)
Wasn't That A Time?/Follow The Drinking Gourd/Santy Anno/Cowboy On The Run/I Ain't Marching Anymore/Chimes Of Freedom/Genesis Hall/Kisses Sweeter Than Wine/Royal Canal (The Auld Triangle)/Rising Of The Moon/Frenario (Whiskey In The Jar)/In A Crisis/Maybe For You/Commandante Carlos Fonseca/Pastures Of Plenty/Imagine Redemption/On The Threshold Of Fire/The Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood/Surprise Surprise (Hidden Track)
"Come to the ledge she said, I'm afairad, I said, come anyway she said..."
...And so finally, after so many nearlies and almost The Jefferson Starship are back with a full reunion and a punchy album of new material and...wait, what? Err, news just in: this is really Paul Kantner's first solo album, with a few choice guest appearances - the old friends mentioned on the back cover appear at best on one track each. That's not how I remember it being advertised at the time! Other newsflash: all those juicy and very Jeffersony looking 'new' songs listed? Erm, most of them are cover songs - very good cover songs in many cases, but there's still about as much originality packed into this album as Starship with just one new Kantner composition (the nicely psychedelic folk song 'On The Threshold Of Fire' which starts off like an underpowered 'Let's Go') and  a 'hidden' track unlisted at the end (and even that's an old recording from the 1970s featuring Paul, Grace and Jack Traylor). Despite the name 'Jefferson Starship' this is really just a covers album by one sole founding member, one later member (David Freiberg rejoining the Jefferson family after thirty odd years, though he's as frustratingly under-used as ever) and some new friends and as such really isn't as interesting as everyone (fans included) assumed it was at the time of release. Despite being back with a big label in Universal - the first for any of the extended Jefferson family since the late 1980s - this doing feel like as big or as substantial a deal as it perhaps ought to be.
All that said, it's interesting to hear just what influences went into the Jefferson sound down the years with Paul returning to many of the folkie protest songs that first stirred his heart all those years ago. There are several songs here that are key to the Jefferson experience: the club named after the song 'Follow The Drinking Gourd' was the rival to Marty's own Matrix and the place where he first met Paul.  The acoustic and protest feel also makes this album sounds a lot more like 'proper' Jefferson Starship than the pair of albums that came out in the 1990s. At times this sounds very Jeffersony with overtones of deja vu: the Traditional 'Wasn't That A Time' opens with the strummed singalong chords of radical people-rouser 'Volunteers', while 'Santo Anny' is introduced as a song about 'ships of wood' with more than a nod to 'Wooden Ships' and 'In A Crisis' starts with the eerie foghorn warning system of 'Titanic', the soundscape from 'Sunfighter'.  There are also several cover versions that are simply lovely, whoever plays them and why: Paul's angry take on Dylan's 'Chimes Of Freedom' (made famous by The Byrds) is what she should have been doing thirty odd years ago (bucking trends and letting his heart and outrage over-rule his head). 'Cowboy On The Run' is an intriguing Jefferson re-make of David Freiberg's 'Quicksilver Messenger Service' song that suits them to a tee - if the band had done it when they were younger and in better voice and the world too was younger and in healthier voice it would have been the highlight of many an album. 'In Crisis' is a fascinating song about 'how we cut away what we don't need anymore', whilst questioning whether the things that get left out (the arts especially) are actually fundamental to our recovery. Cathy Richardson's a capella Pentangle style  cover of traditional folk song 'The Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood' is also surprisingly impressive - and a startling place for the Jefferson discography to end (if indeed it does end here). The real highlight though is the one hidden away at the end: 'Surprise Surprise', a lovely folky recording from early sessions for 'Sunfighter' with Paul and Grace singing with Jack Traylor on a  simple acoustic song that really fits this album's low-key protest vibe (the reason the song is left un-credited is less savoury - Grace and manager Bill Thompson were suing Paul for using the 'Jefferson Starship' name without asking - it was touch and go whether this song would appear at all). Amazingly no bootleggers had ever got hold of it so it really was an unheard treat no fans knew about and a welcome reward for sitting through the album, a reminder of the days when the Jefferson family really was  a brotherhood with every likeminded musician coming together.
Elsewhere not every song quite works: 'Santo Annie' is the scurviest AAA sea shanty yet, Richard Thompson's gorgeous 'Genesis Hall' deserves a better recording than what new vocalist Cathy Richardson (Janis Joplin's replacement in Big Brother and the Holding Company) offers here, the horrid folk tune 'Frenario'  is teeth-gnashingly out of tune and Brendan Behan's 'Royal Canal' is one traditional song that deserved to be gathered dust for centuries. I'm still not quite sure what I think about the decision to cover John Lennon's 'Imagine' and the distinctive piano lick as part of a medley with Bob Marley's 'Redemption Song' - the pair do fit quite well but you do have to ask the reason why they're both covered like this, instead of in full (at least its more inventive than most covers of the over-heard 'Imagine' I suppose). Overall I'd say it's about 50:50 between what works and what doesn't, which on a lengthy CD does at least mean there's a decent LP sized album in here somewhere, but the problem with covers is they have to be really good to stand out from the originals and only some of the recordings here do, not all.
Sadly the early version of this album sounded even more interesting: noticing a rise of political unrest in Cuba Paul had planned to make a concept album featuring re-makes of all the 60s and 70s protests songs made for the country - a side of the Americans and a side of Cubans. Somewhere along the way this got diluted to what we got here: a series of English and early American folk songs. This album also contains the ashes of another abandoned Katner project to be titled 'On The Threshold Of Fire', a more 'traditional' Jefferson Starship album of originals. Another change was that Marty was originally involved as an equal partner: frustratingly the session was even booked for him to sing lead on a cover of Buffalo Springfield's 'For What It's Worth' which had the potential to be the AAA crossover of all time; alas Marty bailed out as his work as a painter picked up and he needed to spend more time at home to be with his disabled daughter. In the end Marty winds up singing on just one song which had already been released previously in Germany anyway: 'Maybe For You' , a strange choice from the 'Windows From Heaven' LP and not one of Balin's better moments. Grace too was invited several times to take part, to the point where Paul went to visit their daughter China and set out a list of reasons of why she had to be on this album; Grace though was enjoying retirement too much to return - the unheard recording of 'Surprise Surprise' from 1970 was the compromise they came up with. Thanks to the inclusion of this song and 'Maybe For You' (which features Jack on bass as well as Marty) 'The Tree Of Liberty' did at least include five former Jefferson members on the album, the most since 1989; however this mixed album would have been better yet had the others had more of a role to play or had the record even been billed as 'Paul with special guests you might know'. More actual protest songs as opposed to folk songs might have been a better bet too. Still, this is a lot better than either 'Deep Space/Virgin Sky' and 'Windows From Heaven' and suggested Jefferson Starship were back on track at last. Will the tree of liberty be watered again in the future or has the watering can run dry? We shall have to see...

Marty Balin "The Nashville Sessions"
(self-released on Marty's website www.martybalin.com, 2008)
Hide My Heart/Mercy Of The Moon/Rising From The Ashes/Lost Highway/Nobody But You/Pieces Of The Rain/Count On Me/We Rise With Our Dreams/Hold Me/Red Roses
"Try living at the bottom if you think it's so lonely at the top"
The internet is a wonderful thing - dusty reviews of dusty albums nobody else thought to write about, jokes about the Spice Girls and singing dogs in top hats - and that's just Alan's Album Archives! The world outside our site is if anything even madder, but occasionally even more useful. The past few years have been hard for ex-Jeffersons with no major label support for any of them since 1989, but impressively they keep going, writing recording and making music because, well, they have to - whether it sells or not. Marty would never have got to make his own music in the past few years had he not had his own website to sell it straight to his loyal fans and the low-cost method has resulted in Marty's most prolific streak since the 1970s.
'The Nashville Sessions' is the first and best of four albums released this way and as the name implies has a slight country vibe, a sound that hasn't really appeared in Marty's work before now (that's another good reason about selling these albums online - you can try out new ideas of who you want to be or ways you wish your career had gone safe in your knowledge that your loyal fans will at least give you a listen before wrinkling their noses up). While the country box isn't a great fit for Marty it does at least give him a chance to show off how well he could still sing, with his best recordings in years. Some of the songs too are first-class, especially the title track which with the right promotion could have been the hit single of 2008, contemporary without being as ugly as contemporary music was back then and moving without being soppy. 'Nobody But You' is pretty impressive too, a tear-jerker weepie of the sort lesser singers like Rod Stewart and Elton John can take to number one. A re-recording of 'Count On Me' is unexpectedly sweet, Marty's older more lived in voice sounding ever closer to the 'I'll always be there' spirit of the original from 1978 Jefferson Starship LP 'Earth'. Admittedly a lot of the rest is decidedly average - and on closing track 'Red Roses' atrocious - but there's an emotional weight and an intelligent head behind this record that has been missing from so many of the past few releases Marty had a part in that even those odds are pretty darn good really. Going solo again may yet turn out to be the smartest move Marty had made since forming the Airplane in the first place.
Jorma Kaukonen "River Of Time"
(Red House, February 2009)
Been So Long/There's A Bright Side Somewhere/Cracks In The Finish/Another Man Done Gone A Full Round/Trouble In Mind/Izzie's Lullaby/More Than My Old Guitar/Nashville Blues/A Walk With Friends/Operator/Preachin' On The Old Camp Ground/River Of Time/Simpler Than I Thought
"I still had time to grow as I travelled down the road, I had the best elation as I waited for the wind to blow"
Jorma and his funky guitar are back again for another pleasing acoustic album which mingles new songs, acoustic makeover of old Hot Tuna favourites and the usual blues covers. It's the former that fare the best with some more cracking newbies to add to the bursting pile of excellent Kaukonen songs: the wistful , autobiographical 'Cracks In The Finish' in particular is Jorma's best song in years, while 'Been So Long' is a groovy acoustic rocker of an apology for being away so long (up until 'Stars In My Crown' anyway), the slinky title track is a cute blues-soundalike and there's a pretty if sadly rather sparse reading of 'Simpler Than I Thought', Jorma's message to his younger self that life was actually not the perilous fearful journey he thought it might have been. The covers are a mixed bunch though: why yes there is a Rev Gary Davis cover and 'There's A Bright Side Somewhere' is one of Jorma's better tributes, more joyous and carefree than usual. There's a nice nod of the hat to Jorma's fellow West Coast blues expert Pigpen, once his rival in the Grateful Dead, and this bluesier version of his poppy 'Operator' (from 1970 Dead LP 'American Beauty') is actually a lot more in keeping with what Pig usually played with his old band. Alas most of the rest is rather forgettable and on a couple of the country numbers (Merle Haggard's 'More Than My Old Guitar' and the traditional 'Nashville Blues', presumably here as Jorma has borrowed The Band's Levon Helm's studio for the day - that's him on drums) rather painful. Oh well, nobody ever said listening to the blues was going to be easy and on the plus side Jorma is in particularly fine voice throughout so even the worst mistakes aren't quite as unlistenable as on previous LPs. Another fine, if flawed, release from a guitarist with still so much left to give.

Marty Balin "Time For Every Season"
(self-released on Marty's website www.martybalin.com, '2009')
Free As A Bird/Viva La Vida/Can't Dance You Out Of My Mind/Don't Be Sad Anymore/City Lights/Rockin' Blues/LA Girls/Dance All Night/Time For Every Season
"People say I've paid my diues 'cause I play these rockin' blue!"
This is more like it! By far the best of Marty's website-made modern solo albums, this record has the singer doing what he does best without any weird jaunts into latin music or too many attempts to sound modern and trendy. 'Time' sounds very much like the third part of the trilogy of pop records Marty started making in the 1980s, with the singalong sensibilities of 'Balin' merged with the upbeat feelgood factor of 'Lucky'. Marty sounds as if he means it throughout the sessions, perhaps because for once so many of these songs were written by him (six songs out of nine - and when you see that two of the remaining three are by his best outside writer Jesse Barrish you can't really go wrong). Highlights include the charming hopeful pop of 'Free As A Bird' (so much better than the rotten Beatles reunion of the same name!), the first 'proper' percussion-heavy version of 'Viva La Vida', the slight bluesy take on the ballad 'City Lights' (a sort of sequel to 'High Flyin' Bird' with the narrator yearning to fly away and be free) and the semi-autobiography of 'Rockin' Blues', which sadly proved to be a little too much wishful thinking ('Go to see my buddies, played them my new songs, started up the band and before too long riding up the charts back on the radio...') Alas this record got nowhere near the attention it deserved and became another neglected Marty Balin classic that so few fans seem to know about. Now this record isn't perfect - at only nine songs and most of them short it's one of the shortest albums out there in the CD era - and you could make the claim that Marty doesn't over-stretch him anywhere across this record and if you come to this LP straight after 'Surrealistic Pillow' you might wonder what all the fuss is about. However this is easily the best thing Marty's had a hand in since 'Lucky' in 1983, possibly even 'Spitfire' back in 1976 and this record full of top notch pop songs and some great singing is well worth celebrating. Definitely the one from Marty's large online store to buy, 'Time' is head and shoulders above the other modern releases and while the other albums have their moments what impresses most about this record is it's consistency. Very very impressive and a lost Jefferson gem. Marty's son Joe produced the record, under the 'real' family name 'Buchwald'.

Marty Balin "Nothin' 2 Lose"
(available via www.martybalin.com, '2009')
Nothin' 2 Lose/I'm The One/U Know What I Like/What About Love?/Camelia/Devil Wears Lingerie/Shaping The Night/What's New In Your World/Valeria/Yes Yes Yes/Shock Me/Mary Ann/Breathe Away/Maybe 4 U/Someone/Candles/Away
"Do you want to stand there staring at the world or do you wanna taste it?"
More Marty, with an album sub-titled 'The Lost Recordings' although these recordings haven't been down the back of the sofa too long - they have the same late 80s/90s feel of all the other recordings Marty has been making available on his website. The set is value for money, with seventeen songs to choose from and most of them are good, even if only a few of them are great. Falling into the latter category is the charming title track, as Marty reflects on having fallen down to the point where he's hit rock bottom, but he's been there 'scratching for a living' before and he's almost relishing the challenge. 'I'm The One' is as great as any pop songs with such an 80s backing can be - preferable to most of Starship anyway - with Marty and guitarists on great form.  The pretty 'Shaping The Night' is another 'Miracles' for the modern age. 'Maybe 4 U' (what is it with all these trendy numbers replacing letters M4rt3?!) is a Eurovision winner in waiting. Unless someone sings 'Candles', an even better Eurovision entry (though sung by, say, France rather than, say, one of the ex-Russian countries - that's the difference between the two). Very little here is truly awful: 'Mary Ann' features a rare off singing day and 'Breathe Away' sounds like Madonna on acid, but neither are as bad as the worst things in this book. Too good to remain lost then, if not quite good enough to be a must-have purchase, 'Nothin 2 Lose' is another nice Marty Balin album that, whilst still not as good as the singer is capable of, is a lot better than just having silence.

Marty Balin "Blue Highway"
(available via www.martybalin.com, '2010')
Blue Highway/I Need Love/City Lights/Somehow The Tired Reach Home/Don't Be Sad Anymore/Sure Can Make Love/Goddess/Viva La Vida/Versace/Drivin' Me Crazy/Rocket Launcher/Solidarity/Papa John/Feelin' The Love Again
"It's forward, not forgetting"
Unfortunately this album undoes all the last record's good work. Almost the opening note of this album finds Marty painfully off-key on a song that in other circumstances would be rather present. That rather sets the tone for the whole LP, which has many good ideas and a nice sense of space and sparseness in the backing, which is a major improvement on the last few of Marty's solo records. Much of the material too is a shade above what Marty's been doing recently with some pretty songs that on a better day he'd have really done justice to: 'Somehow The Tired Reach Home' is a rock anthem to go alongside any from the old days and 'Sure Can Make Love' is a lush, warm orchestral ballad that has Marty written all over it. But our old hero is clearly feeling the strain during these sessions, either suffering from a cold or having simply over-worn his voice during the preceding months and much of this record is a struggle to sit through, quite unlike the usual warm ear blankets Marty's albums usually represent. Also while most of the album is the usual Marty mix of ballads and gentle rockers there's a curious latin big band quartet in the middle (from a ruined big budget repeat of 'Viva La Vida' from the last record through to 'Drivin' Me Crazy') that try to turn Marty into another anonymous Ricky Martin (Ricky Martin Balin?) I've never been at all sure the world needed one Ricky Martin, never mind  having two when one of them used to be one of the world's greatest vocalists - you hope that this was just Marty having a brave attempt at something new and that he didn't realise quite how rough this record would make him sound. The result is easily the worst Marty Balin solo record out there, although even this album has its moments: Marty makes a better fist at re-recording his own song 'Goddess' from  'Freedom Flight' in 1997 (with a much more suitable backing), 'Solidarity' is a fair re-make of one of his better songs from the Jefferson Airplane reunion record and best of all 'Papa John' is the sweet Papa John Creach tribute first heard on the 'Deep Space/Virgin Sky' live CD and features a great soundalike fiddle player in this arrangement. A few more songs like that and this might have been a winner - alas this latest stop off point down the highway is indeed mostly blue.

(HT): Steady As She Goes (2011).............................................
Jefferson Starship "Air Play"
(Fuel 2000, February 2011)
Have You Seen The Stars Tonight?/Chimes Of Freedom/Follow The Drinking Gourd/Lather/Get Together/Wasn't That A Time?/I Ain't Marching Anymore/Law Man/White Rabbit/Wooden Ships/In The Name Of Love > Somebody To Love/3/5ths Of A Mile In Ten Seconds/The Other Side Of This Life/Won't You Try?-Saturday Afternoon/Eskimo Blue Day
"It doesn't mean shit to a tree!"
Dear God, no! The Jefferson's follow-up to 'The Tree Of Liberty' features Paul, Cathy Richardson and co re-recording studio versions of old Airplane and Starship classics. Oh and a few outtakes, which looks nice on the box but actually amounts to 'two or three songs not thought good enough to include on the disappointing 'Tree Of Liberty' album a few years back' (don'tcha just hate it when that happens?) Fair enough as far as that goes, but most of these songs are Grace Slick songs - without Grace Slick. Now, I like Cathy Richardson. She's had one of the hardest jobs any singer could ever have replacing first Janis Joplin and now Grace and at her best she has a really good, powerful voice that works well on the new recordings the band have done together. But in truth she's still a poor substitute for both singers, without their gravitas or wit or charm (she has the power of both singers, but not the control) so really what is the point of hearing so many old friends murdered like this? To be fair the rest of the album isn't so bad - it's up there with the better half of 'Tree Of Liberty' rather than the bottom half, with Paul in good voice and David Freiberg finally given a little space to shine. But the four Grace songs and Cathy's parts on the four co-leads Grace used to sing so well are so bad you barely notice - plus a lot of this stuff is repeated from last time anyway. That leaves a raucous, ragged reprisal of 'Have You Seen The Stars Tonight?' that badly misses David Crosby but is a nice try, a rough-edged rare cover of Dino Valenti's 'Get Together' from the first album (and originally part of David's discography in Quicksilver Messenger Service), the 'Liberty' outtake 'I Ain't Marching Anymore' and the peculiar 'In The Name Of Love'. Nice, enjoyable had these four songs been included on an EP in fact, but they weren't - they come with eight sodding minutes of 'Eskimo Blue Day' without Grace which is just torture. Dare I say it Starship's latest was better than this mess - at least they sang in tune (most of the time...) Blooming awful.

Hot Tuna "Steady As She Goes"
(Red House, April 2011)
Angel Of Darkness/Children Of Zion/Second Chances/Goodbye To The Blues/A Little Faster/Mourning Interrupted/Easy Now Revisited/Smokerise Journey/Things That Might Have Been/Mama Let Me Lay It On You/If This Is Love/Vicksburg Stomp
"In the garden of life nothing blooms on its own and nothing is gained by living alone"
After racking up as many solo albums as Hot Tuna releases Jorma returned to the band once more for a far more commercial yet less anonymous reunion album, with Jack back on bass, their regular live guest Barry Mitterhoff on mandolin and a new drummer in Skoota Warner. 'Steady As She Goes' is as uneven a ride as 'Pair A Dice' but at least this sounds more like the Hot Tuna LPs of the 1970s and even features a similar striking cover of a tattooed woman's face. Jorma is in great voice, much more so than on his recent recordings and there are even two Rev Gary Davis covers just like old times (in fact both 'Children Of Zion' and 'Mama Let Me Lay It On You' are easily amongst the best and most suitable Davis covers the band do - why did they wait so long to record them?!) Best of all Jorma is back writing again, turning in more new songs than any of his last five or so solo albums and while not all of them are gems there are many great new songs here: 'Angel Of Darkness' is a catchy driving rocker; 'Second Chances' is a delightful acoustic Jorma song right up there with his 70s best; the passionate 'Mourning Interrupted'  is a great blues howler right in the tradition of early Hot Tuna songs and 'Things That Might Have Been' is a lovely acoustic ballad about the different life outcomes for Jorma and his brother and how differently his life might have turned out. To be honest the rest of the album plays things a little bit safe and you miss the sheer roar of Hot Tuna in their he day. But even if 'Steady As She Goes' is steady rather than groundbreaking, it makes for a much more satisfying conclusion to the band's discography and a record with much for fans to love. Hot Tuna are back at their cooking best after the last few albums of leftovers warmed over in the microwave, hot stuff again at last.

Marty Balin "The Witcher"
(released through the website www.martybalin.com, '2011')
The Witcher/Turn Me Up/L A Girls/Love Don't Lie/Gonga Of Love/Just A Dream/I Want You/Dream Motorcycle/Boulevard/Sleepwalkin'
"You know, I can step into the past!"
The first album in this list to be recorded in two days - even 'Takes Off' took two weeks! - 'The Witcher' is a fierce and unrelentingly rock album that goes in a completely different direction to Marty's other website releases and suits his deeper, gruffer, aged vocals much better. The playing is still a little monotonous and the song choice could be better  The title track is particularly interesting - Marty sang 'The Witcher' quite frequently during the band's 1975 'Red Octopus' tour and even recorded a basic track for the song a few years later that he never got round to finishing - the basis for this re-recording. The song, a collaboration between Marty and Vic Smith, doesn't sound much like 'Red Octopus' and would have struggled to slot into the Jefferson Starship mould, but it's too good a track to lie unused all those years. Alas with that and a pointless repeat of the horrid 'Dream Motorcycle' from the KBC album being in effect 'repeats' that leaves just the truly bonkers 'Gonga Of Love' as the only 'new' Marty track on the album. A sonic experiment that's exactly what the late sixties Airplane would have done with 21st century technology, that isn't necessarily a good thing - it's a shame that yet again Marty doesn't really seem to be stretching himself as a writer. As a singer, however, it's a different story - Balin is as bang on the emotional content of this album as he ever was and sounds particularly good singing songs by old friends like Jesse Barish ('LA Girls') and Johnny De Caro ('Boulevard'). While there's little here that's great and not an awful lot that will stay in the memory banks, there's very little wrong with this record either, which given the low-key release and the speed of the sessions is itself something of a triumph. More bands should record this way - Marty hasn't sound this alive since the early 1980s.
Mickey Thomas "Marauder"
 (**, July 2011)
Gimme Shelter/Sledgehammer/Maybe I'm Amazed/Champagne Supernova/Rain/Chasing Cars/Across The Universe/Super Massive Black Hole/Voices/Oh! Darling/Delta Lady/Hollywood Nights/Life Is A Highway/Money Talks/Tempted/Wah Wah
Bonus Tracks: Two Alternate Mixes of 'Hollywood Nights'
"You're giving me a wah-wah, thinking of you and the things you used to do" or "Maybe I'm amazed at the way you pull me out of time, maybe I'm amazed at the way I really need you"
Well, I'll say something for Mickey Thomas, that boy has taste! We usually take a dim view of covers albums, which tend to be great for the people making them and grim for their fans to sit through, but here Mickey chooses his songs with care with no less than seven of them appearing in our other AAA books (by The Rolling Stones, Oasis and The Beatles together and apart - sadly the original plan to just record a 'Beatles' album fell through when it was revealed just how costly those songs were thanks to Michael Jackson's exorbitant fees!) Whether a singer like Mickey, with such a powerful take-no-prisoners voice should be singing these songs in his style is another matter, but while he clearly doesn't come close to the originals this album is a lot better than I feared it would be. Mickey is enough of a fan to treat the material with reverence, turning in one of the better of the many hundreds of covers of 'Maybe I'm Amazed' clogging up the charts, a brave low budget stab at Oasis' most epic epic 'Champagne Supernova' and an expressive 'Wah Wah'. Only an antisceptic 'Gimme Shelter', an oddly grunge-heavy 'Oh! Darling' and an appallingly noisy cover of 'Rain' that misses the whole point (the song should be sneered with the threat that the singers knows something mere mortals don't, not sung like a straight up pop tune) let the side down. But to be fair even that is better odds than most horrific Beatles cover albums I've had the ill-founded pleasure of hearing down the years. The rest of the album is similarly mixed: Peter Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer' is indeed 'Sledgehammered' past recognition and the hip hop rapped remake of Tom Cochrane's 'Life Is A Highway' is possibly the worst thing he's ever ever had a hand in (yep even Starship never got things this wrong!), but o the other hand a much more straightforward cover of Gary Numan's Chasing Cars' than the original is delightful and a countryfied  'Delta Lady' by Joe Cocker sounds remarkably powerful (Mickey should do more of these soft-rock songs and inject them with his 100 watt bulb voice). Currently this album gets one-star and five-star reviews on Amazon, with both longterm fans and strangers confused as to what their natural response to me. So is mine - but unlike them I don't love or loathe this album overall, which instead swings from one extreme to the other. I'd only recommend getting it if you have a soft spot for both The Beatles and Starship however; if you hate both then this album will be your worst nightmare (well until the next Spice Girls reunion at any rate). A karaoke album maybe, and a waste given that we could have an album of Mickey's own material, but a better karaoke album than most.

Starship "Loveless Fascination"
(Loud and Proud Records, September 2013)
It's Not The Same As Love/How Do You Sleep?/Loveless Fascination/What Did I Ever Do?/Technicolour Black and White/Where Did We Go Wrong?/Nothing Can Keep Me From You/How Will I Get By?/You Never Know/You Deny Me
"Somehow I would find you, move Heaven and Earth to be by your side"
The first Starship album in 22 years was a surprise to many and was actually in the works for quite a whole before seeing the light of day. First promised in 2009, the sessions had to be halted when long-term Craig Chquico replacement Mark Abrahamian died of a heart attack backstage after a concert with the band in 2010. Delays finding a record contract and a change of direction (with bassist Jeff Pilson, borrowed from Foreigner, now writing most of the material) meant that many fans had given up on this CD long before it came out. After all those years of waiting and all that time and effort the record seemed slightly underwhelming, a noisy modern pop album without much of that distinctive Starship sound and absolutely nothing left nowadays from the Jefferson days of the past. However I actually prefer this set to either of the last two Starship LPs: Mickey's voice may be fading as he gets older but it offers him far more variety and shading to play with than the full-throttle sound of earlier. Mickey might not be technically as great as he was earlier, but he's turned into a really good emotional vocalist with a real range now and while Pilson's songs aren't as deep or worthy as, say, Paul, Grace, Craig or Pete's songs he used to sing the pair clearly have a bond, with Mickey understanding and resonating with the lyrics about regrets and lost loves. In many ways this is a bigger change for the band than the jump between 'Nuclear Furniture' and 'Knee Deep In The Hoopla' and it's a good one, even if the songs aren't quite as immediate as Starship fans are used to hearing. Highlights include 'Technicolor Black and White', a re-write of Mickey's most interesting song from the 'Love Among The Cannibals' period and Jeff Pilson's lovely 'Where Did We Go Wrong?' which had it been released in 1987 would have been another mega-hit single. Unusually there are only two outsider 'cover' songs left over from the earlier sessions: Richard Page's 'You Never Know' (which has fun with the effects button to cover up for the holes in the song) and Diane Warren's 'Nothin' Can Keep Me From You' (which is the most Starshippy moment here, complete with choir and drippy keyboards, although on the plus side it's a lot better than Kiss' more famous horrid cover). There's nothing here to convince naysayers, but compared to the lacklustre last couple of Paul Kantner Starship albums this isn't too bad at all, with an emotional weight and power underneath all the usual Starship gloss and bombast. Packaged with a beautiful album cover (a gorgeous rainforest habitat not unlike The Beach Boys' 'return' 'Summer In Paradise' - so's the music funnily enough) and with a lot of work from all concerned, 'Loveless Fascination' is actually a better title for the previous Starship LPs; this one is a real labour of love, for better or worse and unlike the last trio of releases no one could ever claim that Starship took the easy way out. A release you might not play that often but which does nevertheless bode well for any follow-ups the band might do.



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