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Jefferson Airplane - Volunteers CD (album) cover

VOLUNTEERS

Jefferson Airplane

 

Proto-Prog

3.58 | 99 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars End of an era

"All your private property is target for your enemy. And your enemy is we."

Great line Paul though it does make me wonder what your bank balance is these days.

After the letdown that was "Crown of Creation" the Airplane came back with their last truly great album "Volunteers." Things had changed so fast in just a few years. Musically the band were perhaps influenced by their friends in the Dead, who had also moved from hallucinogenic explorations to a cross of harder rock tempered by a healthy dose of country-flavored hayride music. But while the Dead were happy to keep the lyrical themes mostly wide-eyed and road-ramblin', Kantner was getting angry and serving up plenty of good lefty rhetoric as noted at the top. Whatever currents were tossing them about in the chaos of this period, and it was very chaotic in the band, they managed to deliver what might be their finest work. It's certainly arguable: the Airplane's first five albums are all amazing in their own way and you can easily find people who will champion each of them as the best Airplane album. While "Volunteers" may lack the naive beauty of "Surrealistic Pillow" or the enjoyable insanity of "Baxters", it delivers some of their finest songs.

"Your worst enemy is yourself. There is no us and them. It's all us. We were very naive." -Grace

Recorded in the spring of 1969 and feeling very much like a last gasp, the album is bookended by Kantner's anthemic observations on the counterculture, "We Can Be Together" and "Volunteers" (co-written by Marty) which are very much sister tracks. They are equal parts anger and lament, trying to marshal the kids to stick together while at the same time calling for revolt. (He claims the band was not political and only commenting on what it saw.) The first is particularly effective in capturing the turbulence of what youth felt like at the time. The contrast of joy and anger is represented, musically and vocally, brilliantly by the melody and Marty and Grace's vocal. Oh my what a start! Side one then heads for Marin county for an afternoon in the country with "Good Shephard" and "The Farm." It wraps up with one of those fantastic mind-bending Grace tracks called "Hey Fredrick" with poetic lyrics and a sensual feel. Grace says the song is about doing what thou wilt when someone is saying you can't or you shouldn't. Not surprisingly Grace raises her finger again to the naysayers. Kaukonen lays some very hearty leads over the middle section. Yet again it is Slick who provides the band's most creative material.

"Turn My Life Down" was something of a quaint return to the sound of Surrealistic Pillow, the band coming full circle. The next track "Wooden Ships" is one of the best songs of the 60s, co-written by Stephen Stills, David Crosby, and Kantner. The Airplane version is far more powerful and dramatic than the earlier CSN version, which is more dreamy and laid back. Both are excellent. "Eskimo Blue Day" is another very strong tracks with superb arrangements, Grace is so powerful here belting out the vocal which deals with change in our lives. If they didn't know the classic line-up was splitting after this album then it was pure luck that had them sounding so dramatic and road wise. You can feel the "end of the road" throughout this album, lyrically and musically. Just before the climactic title track is a short instrumental interlude where Grace plays a theme song of the Soviet Army on organ. Crazy as it sounds it work perfectly. No matter how serious the world was getting this band was not going to forget to have fun. It's one reason they are remembered so fondly after so many decades.

If someone wanted to get just one Airplane album I'd still push them toward Surrealistic Pillow or Baxters. But in reality all of their 60s albums are pretty much essential to a deep rock collection--a stunningly good run for an amazing American band. You can't go wrong with albums like "Volunteers." Dryden would be gone after this album, Balin next, and the Airplane would fold not long after.

"All in all, a good time was had by all who attended."

Finnforest | 4/5 |

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