Monday 19 February 2018

Jefferson Airplane Essay: Why Flying In Formation Was So Special/Updates

You can buy 'Wild Thyme - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Jefferson Airplane/Starship' by clicking here

There's a point where every newbie Jefferson listener knows that they've just 'got' this band and will remain a fan for life. It's not when they hear [19] 'Somebody To Love' or [27] 'White Rabbit' on the radio, although those two songs might have been what sent the listener scurrying to check out the albums in the first place. It's not the band's Monterey or Woodstock sets, where they put on an especially big show for the crowd. It's not even when you've figured out the link between 'Jefferson Airplane' on the one hand and 'Starship' on the other and learned the art of forgiveness after buying 'Knee Deep In The Hoopla' by accident. No, it's the moment when you've heard, for the first time, that special magical moment that only the Airplane can do. Maybe it happens for a full song at first. Maybe it's only for an instant. Very rarely, on bootleg, it's there for more or less a whole show. But whenever you hear it, it's the moment when this band makes sense: the moment when the Airplane stop competing with each other and fly in formation. It's a blissful moment that will leave you hookesd more than any other drug (and probably spending more money too) in your search for more examples like it when it feels as if the band truly levitate and lift you off your feet.
The Jeffersons had it in all eras (we'll leave the Earth-bound plain 'Starship' for another day) and they had it in a way no other band ever did (maybe the Grateful Dead a little, suggesting it's a San Franciscan thing, but they tended to be either 'on it' or 'off it' the whole night like a switch: the glory of the Airplane was not knowing when that magic was going to happen or how long it was going to last). Why don't more bands have 'it'? Well, because there was no other band designed quite the way the Airplane was designed. They were, you see, multiple bands in one. Not a band who brought different influences to the band pool of resources and threw them into the mix while becoming something different, the way some other bands did, for that's not the 'Jefferson' way. They were a band who all played what they'd have played in very different bands - all at the same time. Grace once said in an interview that this was the part of the Jefferson lineage most peiple didn't like but which she loved - the daringness of having five (maybe six?) bands playing simultaneously. I concur, heartily: there's something about the Jefferson approach, mixing pure folk, pure blues, pure rock, pure psychedelia, pure jazz, pure sci-fi and Grace's unique and uncopyable style that's unique to them. When it works it's beautiful; when it fails it's ugly. It's a risk no other band would be as daring (or perhaps as stupid) to try to pull off and as any artist knows mixing so many different colours is at risk of having everything coming out as a muddy brown mess that's all noise and no shade; by contrast, though, if you can get it right then you get more colours in more dimensions than using any other source of materials.
Chances are you've noticed it too to be enough of a 'Jefferson' fan to pay money for a book by an author you've never heard of with a pediliction for jokes about the Spice Girls. In case you haven't, though, perhaps the biggest example of this in the Jefferson canon comes at the segue point of [39] 'Won't You Try?-Saturday Afternoon' (particularly live versions though it's there in the 'Baxters' studio cut too) right at the point where the song is going from asking the 'question' to celebrating the 'answer'. After three odd minutes of sounding inticing, pulling at our sleeves in order to show 'us' what Paul Kantner's narrator sees and with the urge that 'times can change', he shows us how to pass through to another dimension. Suddenly Jack's funky bass stops gnawing, Jorma's bluesy guitar stops screaming, Paul's restless acoustic stops chopping, Spencer's jazz drums stops improvising and the three singers, Paul Grace and Marty who've been circling each other like prize fighters pyshcing each other out, come together in a sudden blaze of wild fury and passion. After your ears have been listening to counterpoint for so long, whether for a single section, a whole song or an entire album, to suddenly hear the Jeffersons fly in formation is a moment of true beauty. There are other examples too: the point where the three singers and three musicians suddenly stop chasing each othert's tails with a net and start eating each other all at the same time on the other-wordly [29] 'The Ballad Of You and Me and Pooneil' before falling back into the warm arms of a freaking out feedback-filled guitar peal. Or a million live performances of [19] 'Somebody To Love' where that churgging first verse suddenly rights itself into the song. Or the cover of [54] 'The Othert Side Of This Life' that throws you left and right, forwards and back, trying to shake you off before finally taking the plunge somewhere near the end for a no-prisoners ending. get the idea. Chances are you'll have plenty of examples of your own. Handled the wrong way it can be like turning from stereo to mono: limiting rather than expanding. But the way tjhe Jeffersons do it is like opening up into another dimension that once opened can never be closed, even after the song ends. I've never taken drugs (music is drug enough for this lifetime) but I can so see why it was this band, more than the Dead or Pink Floyd or all those other 'druggy bands', that hippies particularly liked to listen to stoned: at it's best their music is mind-blowing enough sober.
The joy is that this band never over-use their special gift. A lesser band, having happened upon this happy accident during the early years at The Matrix club, would have used it all the time and lessened it's impact. It's perhaps no coincidence that the Airplane fragment and split at the 1970-1971 point in their career when they've pretty much gone as far as they can with that sound, over-extending it across full jams like [64] 'Hey Frederick' (which is nearly an instrumental in search of that pure sound) and [67] 'Eskimo Blue Day' (which has a monster closing jam with the band chasing their own tails quite brilliantly). But the Jeffersons used this magic trick sparingly and - on first listen and maybe even a few dozen more - you can't work out where the trick is going to be played. It's like the 'fan-boost' of certain forms of motor racing when the extra drenalin kicks in (quite possibly literally taken from the 'energy' of their fanbase at any particular gig) or the sudden impact of an Airplane turbo-engine that takes half a gig to charge before it can be used. It only works at times when the band are truly in synchronisation with each other - when Marty's loved enough, Grace is open enough, Paul is curious enough, Jorma is pleased enough, Spencer is thrilled enough and Jack is awake enough to get it to work (though it's a sound best heard on this classic line-up Signe, Skip and Joey could all do it too). Sometimes the Airplane are just too loud and over-bearing to get it to work. Sometimes ther equopment's faulty. Sometimes they're just in a bad mood. But oh when they finds that sweet spot and come together - there's nothing in music like it.
You could also argue that there was never anything like the original Jefferson flight-plan anyway. We've mentioned it a few times in this book already but one of the other things that makes the Jefferson great is the contradiction at the heart of it all. This is no mere peace and love hippie band, prepared to roll over whenever the authorities got dangerous. This wasn't a revolutionary band out to destroy society and spread hate to the world. Instead it was a glorious unique mix of the two: a band that demanded peace and love for everyone and who were prepared to fight to get it. People dismiss psychedelia slightly in this day and age, partly because the promise of a peaceful paradise never happened, consumed back into capitalism as just a particularly lurid shade of a mess of brown, but mostly because they see it as weak, or flimsy, or twee. There's nothing cute about 'true' psychedelia, which didn't just provide the 'answers' of where man should be going but was brave enough to confront the questions of why life had to change head on: you can hear it in all the best bands, from Pink Floyd through to The Grateful Dead to The Moody Blues to The Beatles to The Hollies and even The Rolling Stones: a sense of being scared by the past and present as well as a sense of wonder about what could be in the future. But Jefferson Airplane are unique in that they fight fire with fire most of the time, with many of their songs battlegrounds for why things have to change and why the authorities should be as scared of them as ordinary people are of the people in power. Was there ever an angrier hippie song than [23] '3/5ths Of A Mile In Ten Seconds', in which capitalism is gaining on the public at a younger and younger age and making the need to move everyone on spiritually to a more peaceful co-operative and less competitive way of thinking more and more urgent? Or [74] 'A Child Is Coming', where the beauty of creation and new life and freedom is tempered by the idea that 'Uncle Sam' is going to follow even 'our' precious baby rom the next generation and confine them to the same rules as everyone else? Or [29] 'The Ballad Of You and Me and Pooneil' that takes a childhood form of refuge, halfway up the stairs, and turns into a sanctity against an oppresive world (why can't we stay here, where it's safe, all the time? Because we need to make more money for fat cat capitalists? Huh!) (And what does Paul do for a sequel when the hopeful year of 1967 turns into the bitter protest-filled 1968? He write a sequel [52] 'The House At Pooneil Corners' in whuch he blows his 'safe place' up!) Whilst most people post-Watergate agree that Nixon was a hopeless president, in way over his head aqnd out of touch with the people he tried to bully into his way of thinking, it was the Jeffersons who saw through him first as a 'small headed man come to crown himself King' on [83] 'Mexico' as early as 1970. And while many hippies discussed it and a few even touched on it, it was Jefferson Airplane who were brave enough to come out and say it on [70] 'Volunteers': things have got to change now or else, this is our last chance, urging fans on to 'gotta revolution!'
While the 1974-1978 Jefferson Starship largely backed away, to concentrate on mysticism (more on that later) the 1979-1984 line-up was just as brutal, refusing to give up or bow down even when things seemed hopeless, with 1987 the polar opposite of 1967 with a generation kow-towed and scared, rather than hopeful and free due to a combination of peer pressure, ruinous war-hungry leaders, manmade capitalist crisis and the rise of cold-hearted digital synthesisers. While other bands (including the half of the group that ended up in 'Starship') tried to ride the coat-tails of the latest wave that needed surfing to avoid sinking, there's a wicked sense of dark humour that arrives in Paul's work especially. Our world is doomed and he's disappointed in all the generations that came along after the hippies, so he writes us off and destroys us, in a big cold war annhiliation that sounds, in context, inevitable. Instead he looks to the generation after, 'huddled in caves, like animals, not human', who bizarrely end up more humane than any generation that ever come before them, having realised the cost to mankind if we don't get it together 'next time'. [61] 'We Can Be Together' pleads one song, with the threat of what will happen to those who dare to stand in their way (and no the contradiction doesn't jar - it's embraced, like so many Jefferson contradictions in a world where you can't have the good without the bad or the happy without the sad).
Voracious reader that he was, Paul may well have been inspired to write his 'Nuclear Furniture' concept thanks to the rise of 'ancient alien' theories (as started by Erich Von Dannikyen in the late 1970s), a strand of which was that mankind had once been as powerful and technological as the moern world (perhaps even more so) but lost it all in a nuclear explosion that destroyed 90-odd% of the world's population thousands of years ago and which left us scrabbling for the bits of civilisation to hang on to. This album, and the 'warnings' presented on 'Freedom At Point Zero' 'Modern Times' and 'The Winds Of Change' all declare, in a far scarier and more forceful way than any other band in the cold war peak years, that this has to end here. Most hippie bands end their career on a note of hope, a 'get it together even though we couldn't even stay in the same room by the end' message to their fans, whether it be the 'Abbey Road' medley or The Moody Blues' plea 'I'm Just A Singer In A Rock and Roll band' to tell them the answers when we get them because they'd quite like to know too. Instead the Jefferson story, which started with so much hope and love and forgiveness, ends in a nuclear explosion of which most of the world is wiped out and only a sparky, kind and clever kid named Rose finally leads us out of the darkness - the few of us that are still left, that is. That's one hell of a goodbye message (one final Airplane reunion album that doesn't 'count' aside) but it's typical of the Jefferson family who beat with the stick at least as often as they thre us the carrots.
Nevertheless, was there ever a greater utopia in album form than the one heard on 'Blows Against The Empire'? (or to a lesser extent the ones heard on sort-of sequel 'Sunfighter' or true sequel 'The Empire Blows Back'?) The hippies who steal a spaceship meant to spread capitalism across the galaxy and instead spread peace and love sounds like a 'manageable' 'believable' future. This isn't some view of the planet suddenly learning not to be evil or wicked or greedy (there are too many people out there like that to fight, sadly), but a chance of redemption, of a future that really could be. A flight to a new world where we can begin again based on the hippie foundation stones of kindness, tolerance, co-operation. Where the painters and poiets and writers and mystics and 'telepaths' are equal to and every bit as important as the logicianas, politicians and mathmeticians. Where in order for man to be truly free we need to embrace every aspect of ourselves: our need for spiritual fulfilment as well as material goods; where our childike sense of wonder and exploration is as important as any life lesson learned as adults about trust and deceit and betrayal; where finding out inner man is at least as important as exploring the outer galaxies. Mankind craves to know it all, to see what's out there, to embrace what every might lie over the threshold - 'Blows' is such a magnificent album because it sees past petty human restrictions, the backbone of most Earth-bound albums, through to how gorgeous the future could be. Even if, in 'Sunfighter', Paul and Grace actively turn back to the 'real world' in order to bring up their child the best way they can and to put hope into her and her generation so that they can find the happiness they 'can't (starting a move towards the doom and gloom of Jefferson Starship proper); even if in the much darker sequel 'The Empire Strikes Back' the hippie invention of telepathy is nearly stolen back from them by the 'man' for capitalist greed and escape only comes at the last minute; you get the sense that the Jefferson dream never really died - it just got more complicated. It's a dream Paul was still dreaming when he died, mankind given a temporary repreive from the nuclear Armageddon of 'Nuclear Furniture'.
Where did this come from? The twin restrictions of a lonely childhood (Paul's mum died when he was little and he was placed in a boarding school, barely seeing his dad) and a love of science-fiction. The problems many lonely children face isn't integrating into society when they need to (that bit's relatively easy) but working out that society won't integrate into your worlds of make-believe. You might be lonely in the big wider scarier world where nobody understands you - but sometimes it's lonelier knowing you can never share your creations from your own world to anyone because they won't 'understand' it. Paul was a writer early, inspired by his science-fiction to creatre utopias where nothing bad ever happened and people were always nice to each other, having outgrown mankind's restrictions. The unlikely twin influences of Robert Heinlein and AA Milne mixed with the sudden insight from a drug that helped his brain combine the two allowed Paul to re-shape his childhood playgrounds of the imagination into a 'real' world - because our world was all an 'illusion' anyway. [29] 'The Ballad Of You and Me and Pooneil' is his 'breakthrough' song in that regard - the moment when the world gets turned on it's head, the sky and sea change colours and being 'halfway', neither in one world or the next, is the best way to get a handle on them both, escapism in the past turned into utopia in the future, the two 'halves' tethered by the umbillical chord of Jorma's fiery feedback-filled guitar. By becoming a musician Paul was able to find those people he could explore his 'inner worlds' with to the point where for some of 'us' listeners they sounded every bit as real as our own lives (maybe more so). He yearns for the brotherhood and brethren of a 'pack' on [100] 'When I Was A Boy I Watched The Wolves', for instance. Unlike some hippie bands who look to the future (the year 2525?!) for hope, Paul imagines that better world now, just a soupcon into our then-future ('They've been building the rockets up in the air ever since 1980!) to give us something practical to work towards. Just as this was a peaceful hippie band who took no prisoners over politics or ourage, so this was a band who dreamed big but tried to set the trail of breadcrumbs to making that future a reality too.
However it's not just Paul. Dreaming of a better future is something that props up the Jefferson family from the beginning and can be heard on all sorts of earlier songs. Marty, characteristically, sees the world getting better through love, 'seducing' lovers and industries alike with promises of how good things can be. Less scary than his colleague, but every bit as intense, it's a shame Marty drops out of the writing credits so early because his songs offer a nice counterpart to where his colleagues are going, generally sweeter with his ideas of the future than what they have to offer. [8] 'It's No Secret' has Masrty dreaming of ther future in terms of love - personal romantic love maybe, but love all the same. The cover of [12] 'Let's Get Together' (...'and love one another right now!')is virtually the Jefferson manifesto in a single lyric. 'It's a bore, I need more!' pleads Marty on [14] 'And I Like It'. [22] 'Comin' Back To Me' dreams of returning to a golden age in the past that can be just as beautiful in the present. Grace too breaks through societal 'rules' in her haste to break through to purer 'dimensions' on [27] 'White Rabbit' imagines a time on [86] 'Crazy Miranda' when the world will see through capitalist propoganda and there are many moments of utopia on her solo albums, be they 'Manhole' or 'Dreams'. Songs like [95] 'Silver Spoon' and [120] 'Across The Board' also address this darker side to man (or indeed woman). similar to Paul's. Typically, though, Grace is more personal than her sometime-lover and thinks that mankind can only better themselves if they grow individually, spiritually, starting with herself on [177] 'She'll Do It The Hard Way'. As for the band covers even they are chosen withc care: [57] 'The Other Side Of This Life', by Paul's beloved Freddy Neil, is so fitting too: the idea that there's more out there than anyone will let you realise with their diet of school rules, job rules and religious rules to follow. Even Grace's brother-in-law's song [19] 'Somebody To Love' is, at it's heart, a song about imagining a better future with a lover by your side and how much better you will be with them there.
Jorma, meanwhile, gets depressed: his first band credit istethering Marty back to Earth on [14] 'And I Like It' and he moves on to sighing about how 'understanding is a virtue hard to come by' on [34] 'Last Wall Of The Castle', sighing over the treatment of his hippie generation on [112] 'Trial By Fire' and sighing over the state of the band itelf on [91] 'Third Week In The Chelsea'. The only introvert writer in a band of extrovert composers, Jorma is also the 'odd one out' in terms of his approach: he's the grumpy realist to Paul Grace and Marty's utopian adventures, not sure if mankind has it in him to embrace the future with peace love and hope when he can't even see his friends doing that. Nevertheless Jorma may well be the most 'important' part of the band (in as much as any democracy has any one important member) because - while perhaps hardest to convince - you know that a 'future' presented in song must be good if even Jorma agrees with it. That's why the rare moments that feel so good such as, erm, [84] 'Feel So Good' are as bright and vibrant as they are or why his passionate guitar solo outbursts underlying a Paul or Grace tune sound as gorgeous as they do - because he's been convinced the hard way and if even Jorma thinks a bright future is possible then it must be pretty amazing. Nevertheless, after quitting the Airplane, Jorma is clearly happier wallowing in the blues! All of this brings us back to what we were saying in the beginning: that the Jeffersons were at their best when flying in formation. The four Airplane writers (plus the odd thing from Jack and Spencer and Skip and Joey) might have had incredibly different ideas of what they wanted and clashed like anything on how best to get there, but this shared vision of what a wonderful future we could all have if we just got it together, man, (along the dangers of what would happen if we failed) makes the Airplane, when they're flying in formation, truly special. For if even a band this different can put their differences aside for the greater good of pushing mankind there, then surely anything is possible. The critics were 'wrong' when they said that the Airplane might have bveen better as five or six separate bands rather than a 'supergroup' - it's the clash, competitiveness and fire between them all and the glory when they all come together that makes this band like no other that ever walked the Earth - or space.
One final point before we go: The Jefferson family discover it late, but their lucky talisman is clearly the 'dragon'. A possibly mythical, possibly real, rarely seen creature that's both tremendously scary and full of an inner wisdom, it's generally seen as the talisman of the other-wordly thinkers and prophets who've seen thriough the 'fakeness' of this world - and yet can still breathe fire and singe nay-sayers in this world. It's the perfect beast for them: not quite there, dangerous if it is, much sought out but rarely found (do you know how rare Jefferson records are to track down in shops these days?!), full of beauty yet full of power. After dabbling with [125] 'Ride That Tiger' (another scary yet beautifulcreature), the band finally get going with [145] 'Dance To The Dragon' and [197] 'I Came Back From The Jaws Of The Dragon'. But to go back back to our introduction section, it wasn't the dragon but beauty that killed the beast and thanks to a combination of lonely childhoods, formation flying, band differences, take-no-prisoner fights and sci-fi books the Jefferson family came up with a beauty like few other bands. Even if only for a fleeting second or two on occasion, that beauty was always very much there and if you're a fan then you, like me, will want to search for it everywhere - even on albums like 'Earth' and 'Winds Of Change' when it's hard to come by.

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 afraid 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 [214] 'Let's Go') and  a 'hidden' original track unlisted at the end (and even that's an old recording from the 'Sunfighter' period 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 - a first for any of the extended Jefferson family since the late 1980s - this doesn't 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 [68] 'Volunteers', while 'Santo Anny' is introduced as a song about 'ships of wood' with more than a nod to [64] 'Wooden Ships' and 'In A Crisis' starts with the eerie foghorn warning system of [102] '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 (the album's latest Grace Slick clone) and her 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 up coming to a close here). The real highlight though is the one hidden away at the end: 'Surprise Surprise', a lovely folky recording from 1971 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, with no mention of Grace on the sleeve, 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 which is why technically this album isn't quite credited to Jefferson Starsjip but the next best thing). 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' either - 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 1960s and 1970s protest songs made for the country - a side ofor the Americans and a side for the Cubans. Somewhere along the way this got diluted to what we got here: a series of English and early American folk songs, weith nothing Cuban about it. 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 that no record company seemed to want and no bandmate seemed all that interested in making (it will end up becoming part of 'Msrtian Love Songs' a decade later instead). 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 with 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 instead. 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 with Paukl's untimely death one wonders?

Marty Balin "The Nashville Sessions"
(self-released on Marty's website, 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 maybe second best of six albums now released this way (that's more than Marty with either the Airplane or Starship!) 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 [159] '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 makeovers of old Hot Tuna favourites and the usual blues covers. It's the former that fare the best this time around 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 in his Hot Tuna days, more of a slow graceful glide. 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 too, once his rival in the Grateful Dead, and this bluesier version of his poppy 'Operator' (from 1970 Dead LP 'American Beauty') is nicely played, even though it's a poppier song than most Pig sang with the Dead. Alas most of the rest of the record 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, it's just welcome to have Jorma back at all - and it's a shame that, at the time of writing, this is still his last album.

Marty Balin "Time For Every Season"
(self-released on Marty's website, '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' blues!"
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[1] '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 briefest albums out there in the CD era - and you could make the claim that Marty doesn't over-stretch himself anywhere across this record. 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' by the way.

Marty Balin "Nothin' 2 Lose"
(available via, '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 1980s/1990s feel of all the other recordings Marty has been making available on his website and sound as if they started life as an aborted third album for EMI in the mid 1980s with a few songs added along the way. The set is value for money, with seventeen songs to choose from (with five of them 'previewed' on the compilation  'Balince') 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 song with such an 1980s backing can be - preferable to most of Starship anyway - with Marty and guitarists on great form.  The pretty 'Shaping The Night' is another [138] '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 in style 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, '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 sweet. 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. Much of the material too is strong again too 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 busy couple of years 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 a remake nobody wanted of [147] 'You're 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), [228] '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.

"Setlist: The Best Of Jefferson Airplane Live"
(Sony, July 2010)
Somebody To Love/She Has Funny Cars/White Rabbit/Plastic Fantastic Lover/It's No Secret/Feel So Good/Comin' Back To Me/Have You Seen The Saucers?/Good Shepherd/Volunteers/Crown Of Creation/The Ballad Of You and Me and Pooneil
"Good things can be found around, in spite of all the sorrow"
Well, this is an oddball. Sony's series of live recordings mingles the famous with the unknown, the ghastly and the great, all together in one cheap single disc package, with the mix of quality somehow very Jeffersony. But who is this set really for? True Airplaners will already own the tracks from 'Bless It's Little Head' and 'Thirty Seconds Over Winterland' plus the 'Jefferson Airplane Loves You' which make up the bulk of this set, while newcomers will be put off by the tinny sound of the bootleg-level performances from Signe's last show and Grace's first with the Airplane a night apart in October 1966. What's more the running order is bonkers, sticking the lengthy jams from the later years in the middle which makes even less sense amongst the compact early Airplane songs from 1966 and 1967 than this would on a studio set, given the difference between approaches and running times. The highlights remain the songs from 'Head' even though the 'wrong' ones have been used - there's none of that album's glorious exclusives like [57] 'The Other Side Of This Life', [58] 'Fat Angel' or [60] 'Bear Melt', for instance, and thus no idea what it was 'really' like to see the Airplane flying high in concert, just a soggy greatest hits live set instead. Disappointing.
Non-Album Recordings: 2010 (Grace Slick)
After twenty-one years without releasing any new material, Grace was so incensed by the Gulf Oil Spill and so desperate to raise awareness and funds that she agreed to a one-off collaboration with her friend, songwriter Michelle Mangione as part of a batch of fifty lyrics (telling her new friend  she could 'keep them or burn them, as you feel fit'). Written with Grace's usual sense of rage it also touches on Iraq soldiers who have nothing to do when they come home - Grace wants the army to help save the planet instead and work on the oil spill! Though Grace doesn't sing on the resulting song 'Edge Of Madness', you can tell straight away it's a Slick song and that retirement hasn't dimmed her take-no-prisoners approach. 'Who will see through this hell? Who will bring us justice? Tell me who will?' Michelle's narrator demands during an arresting opening before, unfortunately, the political protest gets softened by  Michelle's cajun rhythms that make this sound more like a dance than a protest. Grace hadn't disappeared from the music scene entirely - she returned to Jefferson Starship a fortnight after 9/11 and a few other gigs that caught here eye - but this song remains her only 'comeback' as a songwriter since the 1989 Airplane reunion and her only musical appearance after her health scares of  2006, despite tantalising hints that the pair have other songs already recorded (including an elusive piece titled 'What Is A Saint?', much talked about but never performed). 'The Edge Of Madness' was released as a downloadable single from

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 [81] '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 [12] 'Let'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 [65] '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.

Marty Balin "The Witcher"
(released through the website, '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, but Marty really rte-acts to the adrenalin rush of recording this way. 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 Bodacious DF collaborator Vic Smith, doesn't sound much like 'Red Octopus' or that a;lbum's Smith-written outtake [147] 'You're Driving Me Crazy' 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, of course, Jesse Barish ('LA Girls') and also 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"
 (Gigatone, 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 publishing  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' from George Harrison's first solo record. Only an antisceptic 'Gimme Shelter' that's Stones-lite, an oddly grunge-heavya dn un-fab four '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 Mickey has ever ever had a hand in (yep even Starship never got things this wrong!), but on 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 as 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 otherand maybe gets three stars from the AAA jury. 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 and a better album than many fans might have been expecting.

Paul Kantner  and Windowpane Collective "A Martian Christmas"
(Gonzo, September 2013)
A Martian ChristmasWarning Winds/Four Strong Winds/Winter/What Child Wave To Mars?/Matty Groves/ Neujahrslieder/Regit The Eider/Run Run Rudolph/A Christmas Cracker/The Martian Christmas Mix (Have You Seen The Star Of Bethlehem?)/Christmas On Mars/Have You Seen The Stars Tonight?/The Blade Carol/Little Drummer Boy/Jesu Joy/The Cherry Tree Carol/Twas The Night Before Christmas/Adeste Fideles
"Weould you go up for a stroll and keep me company?"
Well, now I've heard everything! Paul Kantner's last release before his death was a festive record full of joy and cheer and - spaceships! That last apart aside, it's not the sort of thing anyone would have been expecting from him, but that's kind of the point of this curio double-disc set which takes great fun in sending up traditional festive albums while 'Jeffersoning' up old tales to include more love and peace and hope for the future, with less Christianity. The Windowpane Collective is, effectively, the modern-day Jefferson Starship with Grace Slick substitute Cathy Richardson (all the fire, none of the taste!) and various old friends including David Freiberg and Paul's old teacher Jack Traylor back again (and getting most of the set's best moments). The idea was that the band would release 'seasonal' albums for fans to buy every time there was a major date although sadly the second 'Valentine's Day' set was much delayed and Paul died before there was a third (how I'd have loved a bonfire night album: 'Guy Fawkes is under the hand of a small headed man whose come to crown himself King!')
The result is, like many a post-1980s Jefferson Starship record, patchy with an awful lot of self-indulgence from spoken word narration to sci-fi sound effects and not many actual songs. Those that are feature bonkers re-writes of traditional Cristiian hymns, which sounds to me as if Paul is still seeking revenge on his Catholic upbringing when he was taught to recite all these songs! The set includes the creepiest narraytion on 'The Night Before Christmas' you ever heard, a clueless re-make of [78] 'Have You Seen The Stars Tonite?' that has no bearing on the festive theme and Chuck Berry's 'Run Rudolh Run' has never sounded so anemic. However the album is - partly - rescued by the twenty minute 'Martian Christmas Suite', a new twenty minute collaboration between Paul and Jack that starts with the three Wise Men back on Earth and pulls back to see the starship providing the 'light' they follow in the sky. If that's your idea of blasphemy this album isn't for you, although it's what Paul does to old Jefferson tracks that's more likely to keep fans up awake at night chuntering. There are fleeting moments on this album, though, where in true Jefferson style it all suddenly makes sense and you'll forever feel cheated that all the other Christmas albums out there to listen to are so, well, Earth-bound. Like many a festive CD, it's the thought that counts but this time it sounds like this was a better album to make than to playback and sometimes it really is better to give than receive.
Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra
"Wally Heider Recording Studios San Francisco"
(Respect, Recorded 1971, Released May 2014)
Is It Really Monday?/Under Anaesthesia/Loser/Over Jordan/The Mountain Song/Wild Turkey/Jerry and Jorma Jam/The Wall Song/Eep Hour/Dpe Wrap/Shuffle/Jorma and Jerry's Jam
"If I write another song in E Minor, man, I'm gonna get fired!"
Released under one of those dubious 'it's kinda sort maybe outta copyright and there are enough fans who'll buy this stuff to pay the court case when it's pulled' kinda CDs, this disc is more than a bootleg, less than an official release, able to be advertised and sold on Amazon but not strictly part of the band's official discographies. How much you get out of it depends on how interested you are in hearing the cross-pollination of AAA bands, with this bunch of goofy informal sessions working on david Crosby's album 'If I Could Only Remember My Name' branching out for early stabs at songs by Crosby-Nash, The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. Crosby hogs the set (this was meant to be 'his' album everyone was working on after all) with some delightful acoustic doodles that could have turned into full-blown songs ('Is It Really Monday?' is a sad blues and 'Under Anaesthesia' a damning depictment of 1970s 'I'm alright Jack' American mentality). Jerry Garcia, meanwhile, has the chord changes and first verse for card-game ballad 'Loser' which sounds mighty good with Jorma Kaukanen guitar alongside him. Jorma, meanwhile, has the chord changes for what will become the 'Bark' Jefferson jam 'Wild Turkey', which is actually from a far less wild and more palatable breed thanks to the lack of Papa John Creach screech. Jerry and Paul, meanwhile, are working on 'The Mountain Song' leftover from their 'Blows Against The Empire' project which won't make it to an album until that record's 1983 sequel 'The Empire Blows Back'. In truth there's a lot of noodling and a lot of boredom in between the triumphant moments when it all comes together and this set - never intended for public consumption after all - is bitty and often self-indulgent rather than a revelatory meeting of minds (how much greater still might the session tapes for a full album, such as 'Name' or 'Blows' have been?) As a historical document though it's fascinating! Note that there's also a sister release out called 'At The Matrix' although as this features Crosby backed by The Grateful Dead (and isn't as excititing as it sounds) with no Jefferson particpation we've kept the review for our CSN book.

Marty Balin "Good Memories"
(BuckJoy Productions, December 2015)
Good Memories/It's No Secret/Blues From An Airplane/Come Up The Years/Young Girl Sunday Blues/JPP McStep B Blues/She Has Funny Cars/Martha/High Flying Bird/And I Like It/The Other Side Of This Life/3/5th Of A Mile In Ten Seconds//St Charles/Caroline/There Will Be Love/Comin' Back To Me/My Best Friend/Count On Me/Today/Fat Angel/Runaway/With Your Love/Hearts/Miracles
"One for Paul, one for Jorma, one to make my heart with joy!"
In which Marty turns the Jefferson Airplane back round for a trip through the past down memory lane on a record that's clearly cashing in on his links to his old band but also feels like a proud last salute from a captain who knows the ship is sinking. Now in his seventies, Marty sounds as if he can't quite believe everything he once did in his twenties or how he let it all slip away and he hasn't sounded this committed in decades, suddenly inspired by getting back to the heart of these songs again. The highlights are the tracks we haven't heard him sing in a very long time, all infused with the growing sense of age and loss: the title track is actually a re-write of [62] 'Good Shepherd', [7] 'It's No Secret' becomes a desperate plea for love performed with a real acoustic rock attack, an acoustic [31] 'Young Girl Sunday Blues' is re-modelled to sound like a Hot Tuna 'true' blues, [18] 'She Has Funny Cars' sounds like a real attempt to hold back 'time' and there's a brave stab at an all-acoustic [147] 'St Charles' that works a lot better than I expected it to without all the synths and mass harmonies. It's not just Marty's own songs he attempts either, with new versions of songs by Paul, Jorma and even Skip all treated with care, though surprisingly there are none from Grace's side of the stage. Marty's voice is, admittedly, far from the glorious instrument of his youth and at times this record is a painful struggle, but Papa John got away with far worse on his solo records at Marty's age and there's a nice sense that Balin is respecting his age and frailty, using it for added poignancy rather than merely failing to do what his younger self was so good at.

Marty Balin "The Greatest Love"
(Wienerworld, March 2016)
Scherezade/Crazy Over You/Always/The Greatest Love/Wonderful/Dance All Night/ Superman/Rollin' Ball/Stripper/You Had Me At Hello/Jamaican Me Crazy/What Can I Do?/ Surprise/Horses/Waves
"Go write your music and dance!"
More of the same from Marty, who has another batch of originals to sing - most of them written with guitarist Chuck Morrongiello who has a nice style caught halfway between the blues of Jorma and flash attack of Craig. I'm not sure what was in the air of the Jefferson family back in 2016-2017 but this is another album of romantic ballads, to go with the 'Venusian Love Somngs' Paul was working on just nefore he died. Typically Marty's songs are more direct and heartfelt, not hiding behind so many synths and spoken word poetry and Marty was always good at these sorts of songs, even if you miss the odd epic Paul or Grace would have thrown in there to shake things up. The all acoustic feel does make some of these songs sound a bit samey too, though the performances are pretty good all round, Marty singing from the heart as Chuck proves to be one of Balin's better collaborators of recent years. Some of these songs are excellent: 'Always' is the best Balin ballad in years, sweet and sultry as he tells an old lover from decades ago that he's spent all that time thinking of her and probably always will; 'Crazy Over You' is the welcome return of Jesse Barrish to the Jefferson songbook and Marty, always his most synpathetic interpretor, does this sweet new song proud; the bluesy 'Rollin' Ball' is a song and performance Hot Tuna would have been proud to include; the Papa John folky fiddle on 'What Can I Do?' is also the perfect setting for a sad song about losing the love of your life. Other songs are less successful - especially the noisy ones like 'Stripper' (which sounds as if it's being played on decorating tools as Marty quips 'You show me yours and I'll show you mine!') and 'Dance All Night' (which surely comes with the subtitle 'And have a hangover the week after!') The album loses marks for the awful pun in the title of 'Jamaican Me Crazy' too! Overall, though, this is one of Marty's better efforts and the Jefferson founder is in strong voice both vocally and creatively.

Paul Kantner  and Windowpane Collective "Venusian Love Songs"
(Gonzo, April 2017)
Pride In The Name Of Love-A Miracle Of Dreams/Today/Meadowlands-All You Need Is Love/Love Theme From 'Bladerunner'/Crazy Love/Crazy On You/Girl In The Wood/Martha Under The Venusian Sun/The Trees They Do Grow High/We Flew Away/Fifteen Years After//Don't Think Twice It's Alright/The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face/East Virginia/Just Right/Hearts/Love Has No Pride/I'm On Fire/My Romance
"Remember me remember me...remember me for the rest of your life!"

Alas, Paul died before putting the finishing touches to his second 'Windowpane Collective', a set originally due for Valentine's Day 2014 that was delayed by ill health and touring commitments. Like it's festive predecessor, it's an oddball compilation of old half-remembered folk songs, Jefferson oldies (most of which aren't Paul's but Marty's!), spoken word passages and a few odd nuggets of new material. It sounds much like a modern-day Jefferson Starship album in other words, but lacks the finesse and special guests of 'Tree Of Liberty'. I'd still like to hear more Paul and less Cathy Richardson (the Jefferson's latter-day Grace Slick replacement) and the album only really takes off when he sings or speaks - which sadly doesn't happen often. Given how few straightforward love songs Paul has ever written it seems an odd album for him to want to make - and far from being a love struck romeo he had no new partner in this era and no real reason to make this record (at least Paul McCartney had an excuse for going all gooey-eyed on 2014's equally hideous 'Kisses On The Bottom'). Mixing earthly primal love with sci-fi drama is also a real oddball - most people who speak about venus influencing their love life mean it in astrological terms; in astronomy terms, as here, they're clearly talking out of Uranus. The biggest problem with this set, though, is that while Christmas albums can get away with being a bit cheesy and dumb, love songs needs to be handled with care and come from the heart - and this album's too busy going through the little book of romantic cliches whilst using what must surely be the last synth from th 1980s still in existance (already this album sounds more dated than anything Jefferson Airplane did in the 1960s!) Still, I feared we weren't going to get this album at all - never mind a double-disc set full of everything including stuff that Paul probably wouldn't have okayed in the end - which makes it all a little morepalatable, if far from the tribute that a creative genius on Paul's level truly deserved.
Highlights include the oh-so Kantner sci-fi-with-sound effects re-interpretation of Jefferson instrumental [69] 'Meadowlands', some beautiful guitar on 'Love Theme From Bladerunner' (trust Paul to pick his 'love theme from the movies' from a film about a dystopian society rather than, say, 'Pretty Women' or 'Love Actually!'), a funky acoustic live recording of new song 'Crazy On You' (at least until the echoes creates multiple Cathy is enough!), Paul's gritty vocal on traditional song 'Girl In The Wood' that's imprerssively full of life, the haunting tale of aging and death on 'The Trees They Do Grow High' (though Pentangle still did it way better!) and the classy new country song 'Love Has No Pride'. Lowlights sadly are almpst equal and include a hideous cod-operatic re-make of Marty's exquisite [21] 'Today' (no wonder he quit the band...), an awful 21st century re-make of the beautiful [32] 'Martha', now lost in 'Venusian Space', Marty's shakey lead vocal on his one-off return 'We Flew Away' (which could be read as being about his split from the band - both in 1969 and in 1978), an awful synth-based reading of the beautiful 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face', a clumsy re-make of Marty's top ten hit 'Hearts' that sounds even more 1980s than the original, six whole minutes of spoken word on 'I'm On Fire' (talking about emotions is pointless when you can be playing them) and worst of all the cod jazz duet between Paul and Cathy on closer 'My Romance' that's made me feel rather ill.The first disc is the better then, but neither are CDs you'll want to play too many times. Worse even than 'A Martian Christmas', perhaps some 'lost' albums are better off left in space (and up to the imagination) after all...

A now pretty much complete collection of Jefferson articles from this website:

'Takes Off!' (1966)

'Surrealistic Pillow' (1967)

'After Bathing At Baxters' (1967)

'Crown Of Creation' (1968)

'Volunteers' (1969)

'Bark' (1971)

'Blows Against The Empire' (Kantner)  (1971)

‘Sunfighter’ (Kantner/Slick) (1972)

'Long John Silver' (1972)

'Baron Von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun' (Kantner/Slick/Freiberg) (1973)

'Dragonfly' (1974)

'Red Octopus' (1975)

'Spitfire' (1976)

‘Earth’ (1978)

'Modern Times' (1981)

'Winds Of Change' (1982)

'The Empire Blows Back'# aka 'The Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra (Paul Kantner/Jefferson Starship) (1983)

'Nuclear Furniture' (1983)

'Jefferson Airplane' (1989)

Non-Album Songs 1966-1984

The Best Unreleased Recordings 1966-1974

Surviving TV Footage 1966-1989

Tribute Special: Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson

Live/Solo/Compilation/Hot Tuna Albums Part One 1966: 1978

Live/Solo/Compilation/Hot Tuna Albums Part Two 1979-2013

Essay: Why Flying In Formation Was So Special For The Jeffersons

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