Style: Hard Rock
Release Date: 21 Aug 2020
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I'm an old school fan of the Jeffersons, so much that, in the mid-eighties, I not only went backwards from Freedom at Point Zero to Jefferson Airplane and the Great Society but sideways to Hot Tuna, whose debut album is one of my top ten of all time, and various other solo efforts and side projects. I even went backwards from Hot Tuna to find Rev. Gary Davis, my favourite blues artist of all time. So I'm well versed in what they do and where it all came from.
And that's why I'm not remotely surprised to find that this new Jefferson Starship album, advertised as their first in twelve years, features only a single member of the Freedom at Point Zero line-up back in 1979. That's David Freiberg, still perhaps best known for Quicksilver Messenger Service, even if he wrote Jane. To be fair, Paul Kantner and Marty Balin are sadly no longer with us and neither is Papa John Creach. Actually, while Pete Sears isn't a member of the band at present, he does contribute bass to three songs, so there is a little continuity.
So what have the other folk here, with wildly varying histories with the band, got to contribute? Well, initially quite a lot, it seems.
The opener, It's About Time, features Cathy Richardson on vocals and she sounds pretty good to me, if very much in the expected Grace Slick vein. She's been with the Starship since 2008, give or take a year, and she fits this material well, possibly because she co-wrote five of these seven songs, including this one, which also has a credit for Slick. It's an energetic opener and she adds to its energy, while giving a more laid back feel to What are We Waiting For? until it evolves into another energetic song. I like her.
I presume that's Freiberg singing on Setting Sun and, while the song itself is decent, even if it sounds like it could have been recorded thirty years ago, I found myself focused more on the urgent guitar of Jude Gold than Freiberg's rough vocals. I also found myself drifting away a little until Runaway Again grabbed my attention. This is a much calmer song but Gold's delicate guitar is as magnetic as his urgent guitar on the previous song. And hey, Richardson shines in another style, that of soft rock ballad. I definitely like her. And Gold, who gets a neat liquid-sounding solo as the song ends.
What I don't like is that this seems to be advertised as an album, when it's really an EP with a couple of bonus tracks. There are only five original songs here, the fifth of them being a Freiberg-sung ballad called Don't Be Sad Anymore, credited to bass player Chris Smith and, posthumously, Marty Balin. It's easily the least of the five, but it would seem to have more reason to be here than a live rendition of Jorma Kaukonen's iconic Embryonic Journey, performed by Gold, and an extended version of What are We Waiting For? These feel very much like padding.
So this isn't really the first Jefferson Starship album in twelve years. It's perhaps half of one with two songs that should have shown up elsewhere, perhaps as a 12" single and a B-side. Given how much the original material, at least the Richardson sung original material, impressed, that's disappointing. It's not like they couldn't have taken a bit more time, after twelve years, and written the rest of an album that they could release with a lot more credibility than this.
As an album, this deserves a 5/10 for being cheap. As an EP, I'll give it a 6/10 for still being cheap but a little more appropriately. An album like the three original songs with Richardson singing would get a 7/10. I hope we get to see one and before another twelve years pass.
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