Jorma Kaukonen and Blue Country

Conventional American pop music history has it that the tunes of rural Southern blacks and whites never converged until Elvis came along. Actually, it had been going on for decades -- Elvis was just one of the first and prettiest people to do it on TV. Bob Wills had Elvis beat by 20 years, and Jimmie Rodgers predated Wills by about a decade. In fact, Rodgers takes us back to some of the earliest days of recorded sound, or at least the earliest days of record labels recording the sounds of common people in addition to classical musicians. Oddly, the country music of the Jim Crow days was a lot less segregated than that of today. When was the last time you heard a new mainstream country act described as "soulful" and it meant something beyond "they know how to pout on camera"?

Nobody knows this better than founding Jefferson Airplane member and current Hot Tuna guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, whose Blue Country Heart, an exploration of the blues-country interminglings of the 1930s and '40s, is up for a Grammy in the Traditional Folk category. With a crack Nashville band -- Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and occasionally Bela Fleck -- in tow, Kaukonen wends his deceptively easygoing way through the works of people like Rodgers, the Delmore Brothers and Jimmie Davis, the singing governor from Louisiana who found time to both run a state and pen "You Are My Sunshine." No overdubs were allowed during the recording -- and with pickers of Kaukonen, Bush and Douglas's caliber on hand, the whole thing feels like a jam session on the front porch of heaven.

Though that band won't be here for this show, Kaukonen has enrolled Asleep at the Wheel Dobroist Cindy Cashdollar and acclaimed mandolinist Barry Mitterhoff to back him up, so the drop-off shouldn't be all that noticeable. And while nobody ever called UH-Downtown the front porch of heaven, it does command a lovely view of the skyline, the downtown prison complex, and that stinky ol' bayou the Chronicle keeps trying to liken to the Seine.

Jokes aside, Kaukonen's fused Blue Country music is the perfect soundtrack for this building -- once at the heart of Houston's cotton port, pretty much Houston's reason for being in the pre-Ship Channel era. Cotton was white, the earth that nourished it was black, and the hands that picked it were of both shades, and without all of that, Houston wouldn't exist. Something similar could be said for the music of the South, and the music of the world.

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax