Back in 2002, Kaukonen sojourned to Nashville to record a collection of traditional acoustic blues numbers, with assistance from Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Béla Fleck, and Byron House. While Blue Country Heart was chock full of virtuoso musicianship, Kaukonen’s heartfelt affinity for the material is ultimately what distinguished it—and the same may be said for the songs on Stars. Also recorded in Music City, the disc casts a wider stylistic net, and is more overtly religious (for better or worse). For example, there are straight-up gospel numbers such as “There’s a Table Sitting in Heaven,” the reggae spiritual “By the Rivers of Babylon,” and Johnny Cash’s apocalyptic “The Man Comes Around.” But there’s also a Lightnin’ Hopkins blues, some rootsy instrumentals, and several originals, including the gorgeous opener “Heart Temporary.” In turns confessional, humorous, testimonial, and introspective, all of the songs boast effective arrangements and soulful performances by Kaukonen and a stellar cast that includes Barry Mitterhoff, Rob Ickes, Greg Leisz, Sally Van Meter, and Shawn Lane, to name just a few.
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