The Grateful Dead – Live/Dead (1970)

AllMusic Review: The Grateful Dead’s fourth title was likewise their first extended concert recording. Spread over two LPs, Live/Dead (1969) finally was able to relay the intrinsic sonic magnificence of a Dead show in real time. Additionally, it unleashed several key entries into their repertoire, including the sidelong epic and Deadhead anthem”Dark Star” as well as wailing and otherwise electrified acidic covers of the Rev. Gary Davis blues standard “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” and the R&B rave-up “(Turn on Your) Lovelight.” Finally, the conundrum of how to bring a lengthy performance experience to the listener has been solved. The album’s four sides provided the palette from which to replicate the natural ebb and flow of a typical Dead set circa early 1969. Tomes have been written about the profound impact of “Dark Star” on the Dead and their audience. It also became a cultural touchstone signifying that rock music was becoming increasingly experimental by casting aside the once-accepted demands of the short, self-contained pop song. This version was recorded on February 27, 1969, at the Fillmore West and is presented pretty much the way it went down at the show. The same is true of the seven remaining titles on Live/Dead. The rousing rendition of “St. Stephen” reinvents the Aoxomoxoa (1968) prototype with rip-roaring thunder and an extended ending which slams into an instrumental rhythmic excursion titled “The Eleven” after the jam’s tricky time signature. The second LP began with a marathon cover of “(Turn on Your) Lovelight,” which had significant success for both Bobby “Blue” Bland and Gene Chandler earlier in the decade. With Ron “Pigpen” McKernan at the throttle, the Dead barrel their way through the work, reproportioning and appointing it with fiery solos from Garcia and lead vocal raps courtesy of McKernan. “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” is a languid noir interpretation of Rev. Gary Davis’ distinct Piedmont blues. Garcia’s fretwork smolders as his solos sear through the melody. Likewise notable is the criminally underrated keyboard work of Tom Constanten, whose airy counterpoint rises like a departing spirit from within the soul of the song. The final pairing of “Feedback” — which is what is sounds like it might be — with the “lowering down” funeral dirge “And We Bid You Goodnight” is true to the way that the band concluded a majority of their performances circa 1968-1969. They all join in on an a cappella derivative of Joseph Spence and the Pinder Family’s traditional Bahamian distillation. Few recordings have ever represented the essence of an artist in performance as faithfully as Live/Dead. It has become an aural snapshot of this zenith in the Grateful Dead’s 30-year evolution and as such is highly recommended for all manner of enthusiasts. The 2001 remastered edition that was included in the Golden Road (1965-1973) (2001) box set tacks on the 45 rpm studio version of “Dark Star” as well as a vintage radio advert for the album. — Lindsay Planer

Track Listing

Side one
No. Title Recording date Length
1. “Dark Star” 27 February 1969, Fillmore West 23:18
Side two
No. Title Recording date Length
1. “St. Stephen” 27 February 1969, Fillmore West 6:31
2. “The Eleven” 26 January 1969, Avalon Ballroom 9:18
Side three
No. Title Recording date Length
1. “Turn On Your Love Light” 26 January 1969, Avalon Ballroom 15:05
Side four
No. Title Recording date Length
1. “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” 2 March 1969, Fillmore West 10:28
2. “Feedback” 2 March 1969, Fillmore West 7:49
3. “And We Bid You Goodnight” 2 March 1969, Fillmore West 0:35

 

 

Schill Score: 5.5/10

 

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The Grateful Dead – American Beauty (1970)

AllMusic Review: With 1970’s Workingman’s Dead, the Grateful Dead went through an overnight metamorphosis, turning abruptly from tripped-out free-form rock toward sublime acoustic folk and Americana. Taking notes on vocal harmonies from friends Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Dead used the softer statements of their fourth studio album as a subtle but moving reflection on the turmoil, heaviness, and hope America’s youth was facing as the idealistic ’60s ended. American Beauty was recorded just a few months after its predecessor, both expanding and improving on the bluegrass, folk, and psychedelic country explorations of Workingman’s Dead with some of the band’s most brilliant compositions. The songs here have a noticeably more relaxed and joyous feel. Having dived headfirst into this new sound with the previous album, the bandmembers found the summit of their collaborative powers here, with lyricist Robert Hunter penning some of his most poetic work, Jerry Garcia focusing more on gliding pedal steel than his regular electric lead guitar work, and standout lead vocal performances coming from Bob Weir (on the anthem to hippie love “Sugar Magnolia”), Ron “Pigpen” McKernan (on the husky blues of “Operator”), and Phil Lesh (on the near-perfect opening tune, “Box of Rain”). This album also marked the beginning of what would become a long musical friendship between Garcia and Dave Grisman, whose mandolin playing adds depth and flavor to tracks like the outlaw country-folk of “Friend of the Devil” and the gorgeously devotional “Ripple.” American Beauty eventually spawned the band’s highest charting single — “Truckin’,” the greasy blues-rock tribute to nomadic counterculture — but it also contained some of their most spiritual and open-hearted sentiments ever, their newfound love of intricate vocal arrangements finding pristine expression on the lamenting “Brokedown Palace” and the heavenly nostalgia and gratitude of “Attics of My Life.” While the Dead eventually amassed a following so devoted that following the band from city to city became the center of many people’s lives, the majority of the band’s magic came in the boundless heights it reached in its live sets but rarely managed to capture in the studio setting. American Beauty is a categorical exception to this, offering a look at the Dead transcending even their own exploratory heights and making some of their most powerful music by examining their most gentle and restrained impulses. It’s easily the masterwork of their studio output, and a strong contender for the best music the band ever made, even including the countless hours of live shows captured on tape in the decades that followed. — Fred Thomas

Track Listing:

Songs written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter except where otherwise noted. All lead vocals by Garcia except where noted.

Side one

  1. “Box of Rain” (Phil Lesh, Robert Hunter) – 5:18 (lead singer: Phil Lesh)
  2. “Friend of the Devil” (Garcia, John Dawson, Hunter) – 3:24
  3. “Sugar Magnolia” (Bob Weir, Hunter) – 3:19 (lead singer: Bob Weir)
  4. “Operator” (Ron McKernan) – 2:25 (lead singer: Ron “Pigpen” McKernan)
  5. “Candyman” – 6:14

Side two

  1. “Ripple” – 4:09
  2. “Brokedown Palace” – 4:09
  3. “Till the Morning Comes” – 3:08 (lead singers: Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh)
  4. “Attics of My Life” – 5:12 (lead singers: Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh)
  5. “Truckin'” (Garcia, Lesh, Weir, Hunter) – 5:03 (lead singer: Bob Weir)

 

 

Schill Score: 10/10

 

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