Jorma Kaukonen – guitar, vocals Jack Casady – bass Pete Sears – keyboards Michael Falzarano – guitar Harvey Sorgen – drums
As a whole, Hot Tuna largely draws from America’s rich blue and folk heritage. Yet, the band approaches this music from two diametrically different vantage points, so much so that it can, at times, test an audience’s patience. The group is just as likely to deliver a subdued acoustic-tinged selection à la Mississippi John Hurt as it is to launch full-bore into the fray à la Jimi Hendrix. On occasion, the ensemble will lean too far to one side or the other, losing focus on the bigger picture. At its best, however, Hot Tuna takes these two divergent paths and melds them together into a widespread portrait of American roots rock.
On its latest disc And Furthurmore..., Hot Tuna captures the best of both worlds by presenting the highlights from its 1998 tour with the Furthur Festival. The band allows its softer side to flutter to the surface, particularly on the early half of their album — a similar pattern utilized in the construction of its set lists. True Religion drifts over a traditional blues groove as Jorma Kaukonen’s vocals infuse a hint of gospel spirituality into the song; the group delivers a joyously upbeat rendition of Rev. Gary Davis’s I Am the Light of This World complete with wafts of organ that float over the lustrous melody; and Third Week in Chelsea sinks into a sublime dream-state, accentuated by Kaukonen’s exquisite finger-picking prowess. The latter song has long been a Hot Tuna staple, and it still radiates with the sunshine and brighter days that Kaukonen saw for himself upon leaving Jefferson Airplane to pursue his own interests nearly 30 years ago.
Nevertheless, And Furthurmore... highlights the electric version of Hot Tuna, with all of the raw energy and power that goes with it, and as such, the group is prone to delve into the more bombastic side of its music. Witness the furious assault the band unleashes on the final four songs on this disc. Just My Way, the best of these, pushes hard over grinding guitar and Jack Casady’s thunderously exuberant bass — catapulting like a speeding freight train, driving just a little faster with each corner it turns, and threatening to derail at any moment. Yet listen to the piano wizardry of Pete Sears as the band locks into a groove. It’s the calm before the storm — a gentle flurry of notes that gradually builds into a good old honky-tonk keyboard pounding before the ensemble tears through the song’s chorus one final time.
While And Furthurmore... isn’t quite as solid as Kaukonen’s solo effort Too Many Years, which was also released last year, it does provide a more comprehensive look into the music of Hot Tuna. It also happens to rank right up with the very best that the band has to offer.