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Jefferson Airplane - Volunteers CD (album) cover

VOLUNTEERS

Jefferson Airplane

 

Proto-Prog

3.58 | 109 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars It's hard to classify 'Volunteers' as far as the dominant musical genre it represents. While the band clearly had at least developed a passing interest in the popular American country- rock wave of the latter sixties as evidenced by at least half the songs on 1968's 'Crown of Creation', they never quite lost their reputation as an acid-rock counter-culture band and at least with this album also adopted a strong protest-laden folk-rock vibe, albeit a pretty musically heavy one.

Much has been made of the smattering of four-letter words and biting anti-Vietnam, anti- administration themes spread liberally throughout 'Volunteers'. Most of this would be considered quite tame today, but in fact the band had faced censorship by their own label for less egregious lyrics on their first studio release less than four years prior. For the most part the lyrics made it into the final studio release though, and by all accounts youth across the country did not turn to pillars of salt upon hearing them.

The country-rock mood is as strong on this album as it was on 'Crown of Creation', perhaps even more so, and there are undeniable folk-rock leanings on several tracks including the anathematic "Turn my Life Down" and the immortal Crosy, Stills and Kantner composition "Wooden Ships" with its post-apocalyptic vision of horror and renewal of humanity. While the CSN&Y version is considerably more well-known, the Airplane rendition seems to do a better job of capturing the reflective mood of the words without becoming lost in morbid emotion as the CSN&Y version tends to do.

Beginning with their third release the band showed a tendency to utilize friends and studio musicians to augment their sound, sometimes even involving them in the songwriting process itself such as with "Wooden Ships" and Kantner composition "The Farm". With 'Volunteers' that trend expanded greatly with no fewer than ten guest musicians including Stills, long-time band friend Jerry Garcia on slide guitar, and the five-piece all- female folk vocal group Ace of Cups. The additional instruments and especially the broader range of vocals help give the album a depth that was lacking on prior efforts, and in particular the slide guitar and second piano player (Nicky Hopkins) on several songs are welcome additions.

While several tracks contain rather biting protest lyrics there are exceptions like the reflective "Song for all Seasons" and the popular Russian folk instrumental "Meadowlands", delivered here almost solely on organ by Slick herself.

By now the band seemed to accept that their two hit singles from 'Surrealistic Pillow' were aberrations, and they wouldn't have another major radio hit until their metamorphosis to Jefferson Starship some years later. There was only one single from this album, the brief and biting title track that never really took off and was in some respects overshadowed by its more restrained and uplifting b-side "We Can be Together". This would also be the last song Paul Kantner and Marty Balin would collaborate on thanks to the numerous lineup changes that would begin following the album's release.

This would be the last album with the classic lineup of the band, and by the time they released 'Bark' two years later they would both look and sound much different. Several side projects including Hot Tuna and Kantner's sci-fi epic that would arguably become the first Jefferson Starship record began to eat away at the fabric of the band, and they would quietly fade away less than three years later.

There's not much to dislike about 'Volunteers', unless you are a committed right-winger I suppose. That said there's not much here that's exceptional either, other than possibly "Wooden Ships" and the pleasant but rather pedestrian "Song for all Seasons". So three out of five stars seems like the right rating, although for anyone who is interested at all in Tet-era Vietnam protest music or the last vestiges of the sixties country-rock revival should definitely check this album out. If you're not familiar with the latter parts of the Jefferson Airplane discography this one might just surprise you.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |

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