Hot Tuna – Steady As She Goes

“You either like this kind of music or you don’t,” says Hot Tuna’s Jorma Kaukonen. For the many who do like Hot Tuna’s kind of music, there is finally more to like. Steady As She Goes, their first album in over 20 years and their second since 1976, would pick up where Tuna left off, if in fact they had ever left. Guitarist Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady’s 42-year-old project, started while they were still soaring with Jefferson Airplane, has never been affected by trends and therefore Steady As She Goes sounds like Hot Tuna always has. So it would be wrong to say that this isn’t your dad’s Hot Tuna…it is. More accurately it’s probably your son’s Hot Tuna too.

The interplay between Jorma and Jack is the same as it ever was and leadoff track “Angel of Darkness,” with a strong Jorma guitar solo, fits nicely within their oeuvre. Some unusual features appear right away on Steady As She Goes; there are songs that haven’t been road tested, a lot of background vocals and prominent mandolin. There hasn’t been strong female vocal on a Tuna album before and it works quite well. Any comparisons to Grace Slick are stretched…she’s really the only woman Jorma’s ever sung with before.

Other rockers include “If This Is Love,” and “A Little Faster.” Both hit the note with Jack bubbling up the bottom and Jorma adding his signature vibrato and sustain on top. Casady’s solo in “A Little Faster” was a first take which speaks to the looseness that envelops the album. As has been his penchant for the last 15+ years Jorma reprises an old original song, and “Easy Now” from 1973 gets a crisp re-working here.

Hot Tuna is really two different personalities, electric and acoustic. Jorma is arguably the premier fingerpicker in the land and a pedal steel guitar and mandolin both help highlight his dexterity on the slow “Things That Might Have Been” and “Second Chances.”

As should be expected from any Hot Tuna album, the de rigueur blues, rags and Rev. Gary Davis tunes are included. A fiddle helps Davis’ “Mama Let Me Lay It On You” circle around and a heavily distorted acoustic guitar adds a dirge like quality to the noir of “Children of Zion.” “Vicksburg Stomp” wraps things up on a high note with everyone pickin’ n’ grinnin’ as everybody gets a solo on this requisite instrumental rag. Perhaps bluegrass Hot Tuna isn’t your dad’s Hot Tuna but then again, you either like this kind of music or you don’t. For those who like it, Steady As She Goes is the way to go.

Hot Tuna
Steady As She Goes
[Red House]