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Jorma Kaukonen

River of Time – 2009 (Red House)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Jorma Kaukonen

The one constant in Jorma Kaukonen's long and storied career has been the fact that he's never been classifiable within any style that he has played and mastered. When he played rock guitar with Jefferson Airplane, he never quite synced up with the accepted rock standards of the time. When he played blues with Hot Tuna, his version of the blues existed outside of the recognized parameters of the blues. And throughout his solo career, Kaukonen has illuminated the unexplored edges of folk, gospel, country and rock, all in a quietly jawdropping fingerstyle that he has perfected and passes along at his Fur Peace Ranch Guitar Camp.

On Kaukonen's latest solo album, the master guitarist revisits the soaring folk/blues spirit of his debut solo album, 1974's "Quah," and effortlessly recaptures its soul-lifting essence. As ever, he remains one of the foremost contemporary translators of Delta blues giants like Mississippi John Hurt and Reverend Gary Davis, here offering magnificent takes on Preachin' on the Old Camp Ground and There's a Bright Side Somewhere, respectively. And while Kaukonen's genius for inhabiting the songs of others and shapeshifting them into his inimitable style is on full display (the Delmore Brothers' Nashville Blues, the Grateful Dead's Operator), his own songwriting has never been sharper and more powerful, from the soulful blues scrapbook of Cracks in the Finish to the jaunty country blues of the title track to the breathtakingly gorgeous instrumental Izze's Lullabye. Produced by Larry Campbell and featuring occasional drums by the legendary Levon Helm, "River of Time "may stand as one of the finest gems in Jorma Kaukonen's already dazzling catalog.