in performance: jorma kaukonen/lowell levinger

jorma kaukonen.

jorma kaukonen.

Sitting side by side last night at the Lyric Theatre for the first 2015 taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour, Jorma Kaukonen and Lowell Levinger couldn’t help but be viewed as contemporaries of each other. Kaukonen was the folk-blues guitarist that helped light the psychedelic fuse of the Jefferson Airplane 50 years ago. Clevinger (“Banana” to his fans) was the bluegrass reared artist that served as lead guitarist for folk-rock favorites The Youngbloods up until their demise in 1973 (the same year the Airplane was grounded).

Both artists, however, returned to their primarily acoustic roots long ago. Last night, armed with only one instrument each and (save for one tune we will discuss in a moment) no accompanists, their well-schooled Americana pedigrees warmed up an otherwise blustery winter evening. Each had new recordings to promote that are still a month away from release, but their performances nonetheless possessed a welcome familiarity.

Kaukonen pulled four of his five tunes from his forthcoming Ain’t In No Hurry. While the set was novel only in the conspicuous absence of songs by one of the guitarist’s most frequented inspirations, the Rev. Gary Davis, the gospel-folk-blues measure of Kaukonen’s acoustic playing sounded largely unchanged since the ’70s.

The blues staples Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out and Brother Can You Spare a Dime possessed the leisurely sway of Hesitation Blues (another standard Kaukonen has essentially made his own over the decades). On the other hand, In My Dreams and Ain’t in No Hurry’s title tune (both new originals), quietly opted for an almost romantic glimpse of folkish fancy that recalled Kaukonen’s 1974 solo debut album, Quah.

The guitarist also stepped back in time for an encore version of Blind Blake’s Never Happen No More that retained all the lyrically hapless and musically greasy charm Hot Tuna draped the song in 45 years ago.

Levinger split his four songs between blues-reared reflections from the recent Down to the Roots album (Married to the Blues, Love is a Five Letter Word) and retooled favorites from an upcoming record of Youngbloods tunes (Get Together, Darkness Darkness). WoodSongs seemed a little overly determined to pump up Get Together as a reborn peace anthem by making it a collaborative performance that included Kaukonen, host Michael Johnathon and a small entourage of singers and instrumentalists. Well intended as the summit was, the end result smothered the tune’s inherent and enduring simplicity.

Far more appealing was Levinger’s playing on a 5 string tenor guitar shaped like a mandolin (and largely tuned like one). The resonating sound he conjured – a rustic mix of steel guitar and banjo – was wondrously rootsy indeed.

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