Although he certainly has a handful of cult devotees, Steve Mann has long been little more than an obscure footnote of the 1960s West Coast music scene. The guitarist did session work for Dr. John and Sonny and Cher here, a jam session with Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane there, but he never earned a national or even much of a regional audience. Not for a lack of chops - fans champion Mann as an acoustic guitar virtuoso and rightfully so. His quirky take on blues and folk on Live at the Ash Grove
explains why whispers of the legend of Steve Mann still blow in the Bay Area breeze.
The album captures an intimate live performance recorded at the storied Los Angeles folk club in 1967, reminiscent of similar vintage sets from Texas troubadour Townes Van Zandt. Aside from 2006’s Alive and Pickin’
– a collection of old recordings, including three Southern Comfort-fueled rough cuts from Joplin’s San Francisco apartment – there simply aren’t many of Mann’s recordings available for those not willing to drop big bucks on vinyl rarities. That alone makes Live at the Ash Grove
worth copping, not to mention it was among the last times Mann stepped on stage before falling off the musical map due in part to mental illness and drug use. In fact, rumors of his death (greatly exaggerated, of course) swirled at the end of 1960s and he’s hardly been heard from since.
As one might expect from a long lost live session, the audio is decidedly lo-fi, complete with constant background hiss. That doesn’t detract from Mann’s take on Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “99 Year Blues” or Robert Johnson’s “Walking Blues.” There’s not a self-penned tune in the bunch but Mann puts his stamp on all of them, including the devastating “Drown in My Own Tears,” classic “She Caught the Katy,” and rough and tumble “Buddy Brown’s Blues”. Read More | Comment »