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Fans Album Reviews For:

THE Grateful Dead
(3 reviews sent in so far)

American Beauty

By Zack Taylor
October1, 2004
Rating: 10.0

Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter recalls that he couldn’t believe his good fortune at the group’s musical transition in 1969. “Suddenly, this machine eating psychedelic monster was singing songs”. Early studio fiascos had taught the Dead that to survive, they had to make cutting records a much cheaper proposition. For inspiration, they needed only to observe Bay-area cronies Crosby Stills, and Nash pulling in pots of money with just acoustic guitars and three-part harmonies. Giddy at the new tranquil settings for his Americana-seeped tales of fugitive desperados and dicey card games, Hunter, went on a roll, composing “Ripple,” “Brokedown Palace and “To Lay Me Down” in a single evening. The latter put aside, the others became key tracks of American Beauty, the second of two “acoustic” Dead albums that mark their most fertile period.

As inspiration struck, so did tragedy. Bob Weir lost both adoptive parents; then Jerry Garcia’s mother was fatally injured in a car crash. Phil Lesh too lost his father. Sharing his grief with Hunter, Lesh strummed some changes and hummed a melody, and got back solace: “Maybe you’ll find direction, around some corner, where it’s been waiting to meet you.” The end result was “Box of Rain,” about the most poignant Dead song among many. “Friend of Devil” was catchy ditty about a guy on the run from a girl and the law who got no help from the big guy downstairs. Hunter shared the bounty with Weir too, collaborating on the sunny “Sugar Magnolia. ” With principal partner Garcia, Hunter maintained the tone and quality of his imagery through the elegiac campfire ballad “Candyman” featuring pedal steel guitar, “Ripple” with some nimble finger work by Jerry, the stately “Brokedown Palace,” and harmony tour-de-force “Attics of My Life.” Proceedings came to a close with “Truckin’,” the Dead’s signature story-of-our-lives tune. American Beauty contains much of the group’s most enduring material, tinged with a wistfulness conveyed through Hunter’s empathy with the grieving musicians. He’s the real the star of this show, the zenith of the Grateful Dead.

To listen to some soundclips from American Beauty or to purchase it click on: American Beauty CD w/ Bonus Tracks icon

Anthem of the Sun

By Zack Taylor
October 22, 2007
Rating: 9.0

Bob Weir has referred to the second Grateful Dead second album Anthem of the Sun as a “monument to itself.” Indeed, there is no other record like it, where layers of live performances are mixed in and out of studio recordings. In 1968, new harmonic and structural vistas blossomed in the band’s collective mind under the influence of LSD, creating a new powerful psychedelic sound around Jerry Garcia’s spiky lead guitar, Phil Lesh’s improvisational bass playing, and Weir’s staccato rhythms. Legend has it that Warner Brothers engineer Dave Hassinger fled the studio after the latter requested “thick air” be part of a backing track.

Left to their own devices, the Dead pieced together a collage called “That’s it for the Other One,” which in various incarnations would be played more than any other number in the band’s 30-year career. These strange proceedings get even weirder as they yield to some John Cage-inspired prepared piano by Tom Constanten, Lesh’s music school buddy recruited to add keyboards to the aural assault the musically-limited Ron "Pigpen" McKernan couldn’t handle as a prelude to “New Potato Caboose,” a great Lesh number soon banished from live performance – like many of his compositions – for its extreme complexity.

Side 2 kicks off with the Pigpen-led jam “Alligator,” which features the first lyrical contribution to the Dead oeuvre by Robert Hunter and showcases the band’s dueling drummers. The wryly-titled “Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks)” has actual railway origins: Lesh and drummer Billy Kreutzmann were on a train tripping out as usual hearing the clack-clack of the wheels on the track. “Hey man, we can play that!” said one to the other, begetting a new rhythm, over which Pigpen rap-sung his trademark ad-libs about a meeting a gypsy woman looking for a “touch of mojo hand.”

While this fantastic, original piece of psychedelia is absolutely product of collective psychic exploration, none of it would have been possible without the band’s musical and spiritual leader Garcia, whose virtuoso guitar defined the group’s sound and fertile mind its vision. However unwittingly, the Dead became guardians of the psychedelic flame for a generation.

To listen to some soundclips from Anthem of the Sun or to purchase it, click on: Anthem of the Sun


By Zack Taylor
September 10, 2004
Rating: 9.0

“We play better to people than to machines, man,” Jerry Garcia once famously said, attempting to explain why the Grateful Dead could never muster a definitive studio album. Goodness knows what Jerry was on at the time, but he was right. For most Dead fans, their defining Moment came at a live show, a bootleg, or one of the eight live officially released live albums. But only the first of those, 1969’s Live/Dead, is a masterpiece. An accidental masterpiece, though, devoid of any overdubs or meticulous post-production--they couldn’t afford any of that stuff at the time. The Dead’s first album was cut in two days, and sounded nothing like they ever would again; the second and third albums found the Dead assaulting the studio on their own terms, and failing, earning them little but massive debt. On the ropes, the band’s only hope was an attempt to capture the incendiary energy of their live shows on vinyl. From the opening track, it was clearly a bold gambit. Around a single riff and two vocal snippets lying around called “Dark Star,” the band improvised jazz-tinged improvisational odyssey at that slows to a crawl then builds slowly to a dizzying climax over 23 minutes. Myriad subsequent versions of this song have since been recorded, but none touches the magic of this—finally-definitive performance. Next, they rescue the great “Saint Stephen” from the obscurity Aoxamoxa, and couple it with “The Eleven” (so named for its unusual 11/4 time signature), a raging beast of a number by bassist Phil Lesh. Side three is all Pigpen, the group’s blues conscience, who ad-libs through “Turn on Your Lovelight” as the band jams tirelessly behind him. Dark blues follows, with Garcia delivering an intense “Death Don’t Have No Mercy, which is followed by some designer feedback, and signature signoff “And We Bid You Goodnight.” This album is among the great live albums ever. It defines the Grateful Dead of that era as Ya Ya’s defined the Stones, and Leeds defined the Who. It’s that good, man.

To listen to some soundclips from Live/Dead or to purchase it, click on: Live/Dead

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