Blues and Haikus is American novelist and poet Jack Kerouac’s second album, originally released in 1959 and long out-of-print on vinyl. The album largely consists of Kerouac’s spoken-word poetry, with Zoot Sims and Al Cohn providing a backdrop of sax and piano as a call and response to the words. While definitely not as strong as his previous work, Poetry for the Beat Generation, Blues and Haikus offers an intimate glimpse of Kerouac in his element, performing with two of his favorite musicians and without any expectation or critical regard.
The album opens with “American Haikus,” the clear highlight. Kerouac delivers a strong vocal performance, giving space for Sims and Cohn to jump in between each poem. Some are funny, some are surreal, but each leave you waiting to hear what he’ll say next. After a bit of studio banter, they launch into “Hard Hearted Old Farmer,” a straight blues number with Cohn on piano. While Kerouac doesn’t really have much of a singing voice, his determination to see it through gives it just enough structure to work.
Side 2 is “Poems from the Unpublished Book of Blues,” featuring Sims and Cohn playing sax directly behind Kerouac’s voice. While his free verse can be a bit jarring to the uninitiated, you can easily tune him out and just listen to the music, which is delightful on its own. Listening to them combined, it’s easy to see that Kerouac was trying to direct their playing with his vocal inflections, and when it works, you can really appreciate the rhythmic nature of beat poetry and free verse.
While the vinyl color is beautiful, the swirl seems to have added some unnecessary surface noise (generally speaking, we at MV adhere to Gotta Groove’s scale of noise). There are lots of quiet parts on this record, and even after a few cleanings, I was still getting some hard pops and snaps. It’s not enough to ruin the listening experience, but it’s something to keep in mind.
The packaging is minimal, with a light cardboard sleeve. From what I can tell, it faithfully matches the original pressing with only the record label and color changed. The vinyl color is what the label calls a “Blues and Yellow Starburst” throughout the wax. Side A of my copy had some label adhesion issues, with the label almost lifted completely off of the wax.
Blues and Haikus is available on vinyl at Real Gone Music.