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Jefferson Starship - Profile

  by Carl Bookstein

published: 25 / 11 / 2015

Jefferson Starship - Profile


Carl Bookstein examines Jefferson Starship’s career including their work in the 2000s which yields mixed but sometimes compelling results on 'Jefferson’s Tree of Liberty' and 'Soiled Dove'

Jefferson Starship, although not Jefferson Airplane, still was able to hit epiphanies in the 1970s, including the album 'Red Octopus' (1975) with 'Miracles' and 'Fast Buck Freddie', plus such other stately ballads such as 'Count On Me' and 'St. Charles'. Grace Slick would leave the fray. Marty Balin would for a long time remain. Yet it was Paul Kantner who was the constant. As the 2000s rolled in, Jefferson Starship had become Kantner’s band- distinguished from Starship, now led by Mickey Thomas. Jefferson Airplane had their finger on the pulse of the Summer of Love and the 1960s in the Bay Area of California, San Francisco. Their 'Surrealistic Pillow' (1967) album with its hits 'White Rabbit' and 'Somebody to Love' was a masterpiece work that blew minds - rivalling the Beatles’ 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Band' in the way it captured a psychedelic age. Airplane’s 'After Bathing At Baxter’s' (1967) was decidedly trippy, an even more psychedelic work, and the 'Volunteers' (1969) album was politically charged and highly relevant. With Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady having left for Hot Tuna, it was even more remarkable that the reformed Jefferson Starship could create a work as rich and multifaceted as 'Red Octopus'. As time rolled on, all of this history would not be easy to live up to. The Retroworld division of Floating World Records has seen fit to re-release two Jefferson Starship albums. First comes 2008’s 'Jefferson’s Tree of Liberty'- an eclectic studio collection of folk classics. The opener 'Wasn’t That a Time' features Paul Kantner singing about “the soul of man” in tribute to his longtime folk muse and inspiration the Weavers, and then segues into the traditional 'Follow the Drinking Gourd'. These are all fine and solid folk cover treatments, tackling singer- songwriters from the 1960s and more traditional fare from yesteryear. The material, somehow fascinating and worthwhile, is not necessarily of interest however to longtime Jefferson Starship or Airplane fans. David Freiberg does a solid vocal turn on 'Cowboy on the Run'. Cathy Richardson’s vocal on the welcome Phil Ochs’ song 'I Ain’t Marching Anymore' is followed by Kantner singing Bob Dylan’s 'Chimes of Freedom'. This collection of folk classics is certainly a compelling concept- but the execution while pleasing is nevertheless a bit uneven. Kantner, while a significant figure in rock history, is not an equal vocalist today to his Jefferson Airplane band-mates Grace Slick or Marty Balin. The traditional 'Frenario' is another example of a song too good to not enjoy here - just in total not an indispensible work in the Jefferson Starship canon. Bonus track 'Surprise Surprise' however, which includes Grace Slick singing, is nevertheless riveting. 'Soiled Dove' is a two disc CD/DVD release recorded in 2003 in an acoustic setting at the venue of the same name in Denver, Colorado. 'Mountain Song' with Kantner on acoustic guitar and lead vocal is a lovely start. Diana Mangano adds notably strong vocal accompaniment. From there Kantner and this spare band version of Jefferson Starship go into the classic 'Wooden Ships', which is very well executed. This is certainly the more palatable of the two recordings being re-released here. While longtime collaborator Marty Balin is missed, the choice of material is well tailored to this stripped down line-up. “Oh good shepherd won’t you feed my sheep?” Kantner sings on “'Good Shepherd' and Mangano provides a stirring vocal rendition of 'White Rabbit'. There are also folk song treatments present here, yielding similar results to 'Jefferson’s Tree of Liberty' - pleasing but not always stellar. Mangano’s treatment of Sandy Denny’s 'I’m a Dreamer' is an evocative exception. The classic 'Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil' is a welcome choice, 'Hyperdrive' too is pretty great, and the festivities conclude with 'Somebody to Love'. Both albums have their moments, particularly 'Soiled Dove', even if not fully capturing this band’s past glories.

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Jefferson Starship - Profile

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The Best of Mick's Picks (2012)
Solid live compilation from the reformed Jefferson Starship, who were a 70's offshoot of influential 60's psychedelic act Jefferson Airplane

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