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Music Review: Jefferson Airplane – After Bathing At Baxter’s

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The Jefferson Airplane’s second release, Surrealistic Pillow was a huge commercial success and catapulted the group to superstar status. So what do you do for an encore? The answer is you take a creative chance and move in a different direction. The folk/rock leanings were left behind, as the group put the guitars out front and embraced a harder edged psychedelic sound.

After Bathing At Baxter’s is immediately noticeable for the fact that Marty Balin, who wrote the majority of the songs on the group’s first two releases is only credited with being the co-author of one track. Paul Kantner with six tracks, and Grace Slick with two, would move to the forefront in determining the Airplane’s musical vision and destiny.

The creative approach was unique as the album was divided into five suites of two and three songs each. The music was deeply textured, and lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady would step forward and become recognized as one of the best combinations of the 1960’s.

“The Ballad Of You & Me & Pooneil” was unlike most everything that was being produced in the late sixties. I’m not even sure what the song was about, but that seemed fine at the time. Paul Kantner had a vision that only he and possibly the other members of the group could see. I was amazed that they released this track as a single. That Kantner could write this song and the beautiful “Martha” on one album is remarkable. Wonderful poetry is enhanced by the voices of the group. Grace Slick’s vocal, in a back-up role, is one of the best of her career.

Grace Slick would write two tracks for which she provided the lead vocals. “Two Heads” finds her cracking up her powerful vocal instrument but it is “rejoice” (with a small r in the title), that is one of the best creations of her career. Based on James Joyce’s Ulysses, it would feature some fuzz guitar by Casady. Just play this track and “White Rabbit” from Surrealistic Pillow back to back and you have a working definition of psychedelic music.

Marty Balin’s “Young Girl Sunday Blues” is the only close to normal song on the album. His superb tenor voice carries the song along and would increasingly make one wish that he would have been more active in the studio.

The group attacks to the very end. “Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon” combines an early use of guitar feedback and harmonies by the group. Slick, Balin, and Kantner have always been underrated in their ability to weave their voices together into an intricate sound.

After Bathing At Baxter’s is a unique album as it will take you on a trip of the ear and mind. No matter what state of mind you may be in or out of; it still remains an interesting listen over four decades later.  

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About David Bowling

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    You write:
    Marty Balin’s “Young Girl Sunday Blues” is the only close to normal song on the album.

    I’m not sure what you would call “normal” in the mid to late sixties, but what’s clear is that, like a lot of groups back then, the Airplane were interested in experimenting with their sound, and moving past the hits of Surrealistic Pillow.

    While parts of Baxters work, and others clearly didn’t, I think the record holds up quite well as a great example of Bay Area psychedelia. I’m particularly surprised you make no mention of the instrumental track, “Spare Chaynge,” which contains some great feedback laden guitar and bass interplay between Kaukonen and Casady (who for my money is still one of the best rock bassists of all time — and Jorma’s no slouch on guitar either).

    By the time of their next record, Crown Of Creation, the experimental jamming of Jorma and Jack on songs like “Spare Chaynge” would coalesce nicely into a more solid mix with the four and five minute songs of Balin, Kantner, and Slick, giving way to songs like “Greasy Heart” and “Lather.”

    But I’m sure you’ll tell us all about that, right?

    -Glen

  • http://www.songplanet.net/members/3332/blog.php JC Mosquito

    If you ignore the filler jam on side two, Baxter’s is JA’s finest hour.