Jorma Kaukonenís transition from psychedelic guitar innovator (with Jefferson Airplane) to acoustic folk-blues virtuoso seems complete with this solo album, which returns the veteran musician to a major label. Heís plumbed the Delta and lost mountain towns for material in the past, both with Hot Tunaís various incarnations and on his own, but these 13 numbers have a relaxed back-porch-jam kind of charm. Itís not just the tunes, which range from early-century pop hits like "Just Because" to Jimmie Rodgersís "Waiting for a Train" to the perversely blithe "Iím Free from the Chain Gang Now." Kaukonenís voice is a ticket to the rural past, his relaxed phrases making the most of an expressive, tight range and dust-coated tone.
The arrangements are also a gas. Acoustic guitar, slide resonate guitar, mandolin, and banjo drive everything. The way mandolin and slide take the fore in the Rodgers tune puts Kaukonenís own stamp over the Singing Brakemanís signature. Banjo, slide, and mandolin flip with acrobatic precision during the lengthy solo break of "Just Because," which gets revamped as a jug-band tune. And when fiddle enters the mix for "Iím Free from the Chain Gang Now," it adds a beautiful new element to the numberís sing-song melody, which is further decorated by flourishes of overtones popped from the slide guitarís sweet spots. As with every good album, repeated playing just makes it all sound better.
(Jorma Kaukonen plays the House of Blues this Monday, June 17. Call 617-491-BLUE.)