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Jefferson Airplane: Chapter 9.

Music Review: Jefferson Airplane – Long John Silver

Long John Silver was the last gasp from the Jefferson Airplane until their reunion album 17 years later. Marty Balin was now long gone, but the other members would soldier on. Grace and Paul had released the album Sunfighter and were transitioning toward what would become The Jefferson Starship. Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady were now committed to recording and touring as Hot Tuna.

Given all these distractions which would lead to the disintegration of the group, it is amazing that they could produce an album at all. While Long John Silver may not reach the creative level of their late sixties work, it was a more consistent effort than Bark.

This is not the psychedelic band of it roots. Long gone is the folk influence that played such an important part in the formation of their unique style. What is left is a hard rock band somewhat typical of the early seventies. The music is driven by the guitar riffing of Jorma Kaukonen and the pulsating bass of Jack Casady. The interesting component is the violin playing of Papa John Creach. His interactions with Kaukonen and Casady produced some unique and creative sounds.

It is not the music, but rather the songs themselves that keep the album in the average range. Many appear to be hurried affairs with simple lyrics. I can’t help but think that several were Hot Tuna throwaways as they feature the odd songwriting combinations of Grace and Jack or Grace and Jorma. She may have added the lyrics to these already formed instrumental tracks.

Grace Slick, for better or worse, dominates and provides the edge for the album. Marty Balin had always exerted somewhat of a restraining influence upon her but now he was gone. She was a recognized crown jewel in the rock pantheon at the time and here she treads that fine line between control and lack thereof.

She provides a smooth and strong vocal on “Milk Train” but for the first time appears a bit strained on such tracks as “Long John Silver” and “Aerie (Gang Of Eagles).” Her anti-Christian lyrics on "Easter?" are a tad self-righteous. On the other hand, “Aerie” is a well constructed and lyrically fine song.

Paul Kantner’s contributions never rise above average. “Twilight Double Leader,” “Alexander The Medium,” and “The Son Of Jesus” are competent but just have no surprises in them. He would produce some very good music in the future, but here he just fades into the background.

Jorma Kaukonen’s “Trail By Fire” may be the strongest track on the album as it has the feel of some of their late sixties work.

The album concludes with “Eat Starch Mom.” This Kaukonen/Slick creation with lyrics about proper eating finds her ranting as she sends the Jefferson Airplane into retirement.

Long John Silver finds the Jefferson Airplane far removed from their San Francisco roots. It may not be an album that will bear repeated playing but still it is an interesting listen from one of the more superior groups in American rock history.

About David Bowling

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