Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Review of Paul Kantner and Grace Slick's "Sunfighter"

One of the things I like about the Sputnik Music site is it gives me a chance to review some albums (old or otherwise), to expose them to some people who may never have heard them.

The first review I wrote for the site was for Paul Kantner and Grace Slick's 1971 album Sunfighter. I'm copying it for you here:

Sunfighter was released in 1971 by Paul Kantner and Grace Slick, a year before the dissolution of Jefferson Airplane and 3 years before the start of Jefferson Starship. For my money, it's stronger than anything they ever recorded with either of those two bands, a true unknown jewel of an album.

It starts right off with a bang with "Silver Spoon," Grace's ode to cannibalism, and how great is that? With lyrics like "Your mama told you never /To eat your friends up with your fingers and hands/But I say you ought to eat what you will/Shove it in your mouth any way that you can," this song grabs you right from the start and never lets go. I'd always assumed the song was a tongue-in-cheek critique of man's (or in this case, woman's) cruelty to man, but it turns out that Slick wrote this as a slap in the face to militant vegetarians. Regardless, the combination of a really superior Slick vocal, a piano line that holds the song together, and sprinklings of Papa John Creach's electric violin, makes this one of the two strongest tracks on the album.

The other is "When I Was a Boy I Watched the Wolves," Kantner's nod to the feral life, wherein he imagines himself running through the hills at night with his pack while Gracie taunts him (and us) "I suppose you could yell at your dog/He'd be barking his face right back at you!" This song has a great slow guitar intro, then picks up the pace as the wolfpack launches into action.

There is also plenty of hippie chic and San Francisco psychedelia throughout the album, in songs like the title track "Sunfighter", a number that laments the destruction of the environment, and the beautiful rolling piano of "Million", a song about people coming together.

The album cover depicts two hands rising up out of the ocean and holding up a naked baby, who, in fact, was Kantner and Slick's daughter China Kantner. And although I think that their ode to her, "China" is actually one of the weaker tracks on the album, it's notable for the unfortunate first line"She'll suck on anything you give her," a lyric I'm sure the child really appreciated when she reached middle school. (Thanks a lot, Mom and Dad!)

"China" excepted, though, the album is generally first-rate, featuring most of the members of Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship playing on various tracks, plus guest musicians and vocalists like Jerry Garcia, David Crosby and Graham Nash. Even the two shortest numbers, "Diana" and "Diana 2" pack an impact, as they are both not only worthwhile odes to the Roman hunter goddess, but also social commentaries.

Paul Kantner passed away this past January, but Sunfighter is great example of some of his, and Grace Slick's, finest work. It's an album that captures the spirit of the early seventies and it's also just a great deal of musical fun. I recommend it to all listener's open to the sixties/seventies San Francisco sound.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars