Thursday, February 11, 2016

Jefferson Airplane Takes Off

With the recent deaths of Paul and Signe (original female singer on this album), I have been revisiting my JA collection - such as it is - and this debut, while including Signe and not Grace, shows the band essentially fully formed, with their trademark sound pretty much intact. Yes, they sound younger and more innocent, but the 12-string jangles and intricate harmonies abound and some of these songs stayed with them for their entire career and are among their best.

"Blues From An Airplane" is  a good example of this - slow-to-mid tempo, an excellent, catchy melody, with an emphasis on dynamics and vocals, it shows the band truly ready to "take off". Jorma and Jack (lead and bass) get to show off a bit more in the drivin' "Let Me In", a proclamation of desire and anger at a woman, followed by "Bringing Me Down" - seems like someone was having woman troubles at this point! Still, the classic sounds continue and "It's No Secret" is one of their best - the 12 string(s) carry the rhythm, and the incredibly memorable melody is augmented by more terrific harmonies. Their take on "Tobacco Road" changes it up fairly dramatically, taking it from the garage-rock stomper of their contemporaries into their own folk-rock number.

It seems that many men in the 60's scene were fascinated by under-age girls and here Balin and Kantner give their own beautiful paean to a lovely minor that they at least had the decently to walk away from in "Come Up the Years". The finger-picking that opens up "Run Around" and the inclusion of the Kingston Trio's (also a hit by the Youngbloods) "Let's Get Together" really show off their folkie roots - and gives Signe a bit more of a spotlight, though shared with Kantner and Balin. Jorma's guitar gets a bit more attention in the gorgeous "Don't Slip Away" and Signe gets front'n'center with her lead on Memphis Minnie's "Chauffeur Blues", that also includes some cool guitar licks. The record closed with a folk/blues number, "And I Like It" - nice, but not nearly as memorable as the rest of the album.

Still, what a debut! Signe doesn't stand out as much as Grace later did - I can only assume that Grace had a more powerful personality - but she does have a fine voice and her harmonies are spot on. Great record!