Sound — 9
The album, a collection of blues and country acoustic songs, has a distinctive and new sound, considering the time it was released: 1974. The production is crisp and clear, and Kaukonen's blues picking is spot on: a seamless conversion from the somewhat noisy electric lead guitar playing in Jefferson Airplane. With help from colleage Tom Hobson (on vocals on "Blue Prelude" and "Sweet Hawaiian Sunshine", and making further contributions throughout), Kaukonen created a much overlooked blues/country masterpiece. The album starts with Kaukonen's most well known solo song, the beautiful "Genesis", with it's simple but effective melody and it's impressive acoustic fingerwork. Although the overall album contains many similar songs, and is somewhat repetetive (often stripped totally down to acoustic guitar and vocals), in the blues style, and some instrumentals, Kaukonen does not limit himself solely to the genre. Other efforts, such as "Song For The North Star" showcases his ability to craft a catchy pop song, whilst still maintaining his unique picking style.
Lyrics — 6
With blues, the lyrics are often the least important part of the song; it is the overall gritty sound that gets the message of the blues across, and many of the songs on the album certainly convey this. The lyrics of many of the songs, if taken on their own, could be described as banal and unimaginative; unoriginal stories of love lost and gained are common here. However, anyone who criticizes the lyrics of blues songs has missed the point; it is not about the lyrics at all. Three of the tracks are instrumentals, so possess no lyrics. This said, "Song For The North Star" is a story about breaking free from the trappings of life, and "Genesis" is a touching tale of a man and his lover, wishing to stop and start again in their relationship. In these two songs at least, the lyrics deftly tell their stories. But after all, kaukonen is primarily a guitarist, not a lyricist.
Overall Impression — 9
Quah is a unique and much overlooked album, a highly original acoustic album, and vital to anybody wishing to learn fingerpicking blues guitar, for sheer inspiration: it inspired me to pick up the guitar in the first place. At the time, there were few purist blues artists producing albums anything like this (the mid-'70s was a time of Led Zeppelin and progressive rock), so it stands up as being one of the most original and seminal albums of the '70s. "Genesis" is a lovely song, and is "Song For The North Star", but there are more jokey, light hearted songs on the album: take "Sweet Haiwaiian Sunshine" for example. Despite it's lyrical shortcomings, it stands tall as a beacon of impressive musicianship and composition. That said, it is somewhat of an aquired taste: I would advise those who are not familiar with the true blues to start with bands such as Allman Brothers and Bluesbreakers before moving on to this stuff: it is purist blues and so not immediately accessible.