John Stewart “California Bloodlines”

This may be John Stewart’s finest achievement although some fans might argue in favor of the great Willard from 1970.  California Bloodlines was John Stewart’s first true solo disc.  Recorded and released in 1969, Stewart used many of the same musicians as Dylan did for Nashville Skyline.  As expected this disc is much more rustic and country influenced than his work with either Buffy Ford or the Kingston Trio.  Regardless, this is a “must own” for fans of authentic American music.

It took me several spins and a few hours in deep thought to finally come to terms with this classic. John Stewart’s quivering, thin Johnny Cash-like vocals threw me off at first but now I see why many rate California Bloodlines as one of the premier Americana albums.  It’s stacked from top to bottom with great songs and intelligent songwriting.  The opener is one of Stewart’s classics, and while the studio side is excellent in it’s own way,  I prefer the full, live arrangement from October of 69 (Chris Darrow plays fiddle/mandolin on the live version).  Stewart’s songwriting is best heard on gems “Lonesome Picker,” “Missouri Birds,” and “The Pirates of Stone Country Road.”   These cuts are loaded with images of people and places from a bygone era.  He occasionally takes the historical viewpoint a la Robbie Robertson but his songwriting is certainly one of the album’s strengths.  If you’re a fan of Gene Clark or Mickey Newbury I’m sure you’ll be able to appreciate the awesome “Lonesome Picker.”  This track is a spellbinding masterpiece with haunting imagery and lyrics that still cut deep today. My favorite song from the album, “Never Goin’ Back,”  is another standout track that features plenty of buzzing fuzz guitar similar to the Burritos’ classic “Devil In Disguise.”  The rest of California Bloodlines is fleshed out with accomplished country-rockers and pretty country-folk ballads that have great melodies and tight arrangements.

If you can get a hold of an original or the BGO twofer (with Willard) by all means do so!

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“Lonesome Picker”

:D 2fer w/ Willard | 2001 | BGO | at amzn ]
:) Orig Vinyl | 1969 | Capitol | at ebay ]

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  • Nick

    man, this sounds fantastic! I’ve seen this record cheap countless times in the local bins but always passed it up cause of the kingston trio connections, figured it would be pretty pale ale. I can certainly hear some gene clark in here, gotta grab this next time…

  • Stewart

    Omaha Rainbow is my fave off the album, it even spurned a mag of that name on the UK.

  • Len Liechti

    I guess that should be “spawned”, Stewart? Forget the Kingston Trio, that was a false start. John Stewart’s first guitar teacher was Frank Zappa. Does that sound better? For a fine introduction to JS, get the Raven anthology Earth Rider which offers 24 songs covering his 14 years from the Trio (only one track, mercifully) to 1979’s Bombs Away Dream Babies, including four from California Bloodlines and three from Willard, plus one of the best insert booklets I’ve ever read by the fine rock journo Glenn A. Baker. I saw JS live, solo and acoustic in Bristol about twenty years ago and he held the room spellbound for almost two hours. One of the GREAT songwriters.

  • Tim-a-lim

    Whats with all the Kingston Trio hate?

  • glen

    never heard of him – brilliant!

  • clarkie

    Love ‘The Raven’. Anyone who knows how to get hold of it?

  • Mark

    Don’t understand the negative comments about the Kingston Trio, they were great, they started it all for a lot of people. No Dylan, without the KT, no Lindsey Buckingham, they influenced many many people. John Stewart was just the best of the trio members. Give a listen to his “Phoenix Concerts” if you haven’t already.

  • Razorback Man

    Razorback Woman is an amazing song.
    I still remember the first time I heard it, almost forty years later.
    I was into the Dead and the Airplane. I didn’t have time for
    this folkie crap. Or so I thought… Then I heard this album.
    I don’t know if it was the lyrics, or the way he sang them.
    John just painted this vivid image in your mind with his music.
    And, to see him do it live, well, it was just an amazing gift. Lucky me…
    And the Razorback woman is calling me home and she cries,
    Oh my God, how she cries…

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