Friday, June 5, 2009

Dark Hollow - Grateful Dead Song Review

This song is a catchy little bluesy acoustic tune that Bob Weir would sing. There is a nice harmony where Jerry would join in on the chorus.

Thinking of this song, I am reminded of Reckoning - that's probably the version that I'm most familiar with.

Dark Hollow has a classic and timeless feel to it. I am reminded of other songs like Been All Around this World, and Oh Babe, It Ain't No Lie that were classic standards that the Dead integrated into their sound. The Grateful Dead didn't really make Dark Hollow their own by any means - they did a pretty traditional arrangement and didn't stretch out the song with any jamming. Still, it is a nice little "train" song that harkens back to a time before airplanes.

Being sandwiched between It Must Have Been the Roses and China Doll on Reckoning underscores the fact that there are many other songs I'd rather listen to the Grateful Dead perform (and most have Jerry singing).

Dark Hollow
Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 5.4

Disclaimer: This is part of my review of every Grateful Dead song from A-Z. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion (and be sure to read my blog manifesto to understand a little more about where I'm coming from).

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Dancing in the Street - Grateful Dead Song Review

Dancin' Dancin'.... Dancin' in the Street!

Okay, I admit this song is legendary for its meaning and the time it represents. Dancing in the Streets is a song that I picture the Dead playing on the back of a flatbed truck in Golden Gate park circa 1968 (I think I've seen some video of an event like this).

Dancing in the Streets is a Motown song (I just found out Marvin Gaye had a hand in writing it) and the Dead would play it often early in their career. I think that this song became an anthem of sorts that symbolized the liberal movement of the civil rights era.

Dancing in the Streets has never "done it" for me. Maybe my subconscious was violated by the David Bowie and Mick Jagger video that I grew up watching on MTV. Although the song's tempo is upbeat it still seems like it just drags on because the various sections seem to unfold painfully slow. Also, I associate the song with Donna Godchaux as she had a strong presence in many versions I've heard (strike two). Finally, it seems that most of the versions I've heard are at least 10 minutes long - sometimes well over 10 minutes (strike three).

If I had been "dancin' in the streets" in the 60's and 70's and witnessed this song in concert, it would probably have a lot more sentimental memories. As much as I am proud of the history of California and the Summer of Love and Civil Rights era, I can't fast forward this song quickly enough when it comes on.

Dancing in the Streets Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 5.0

Disclaimer: This is part of my review of every Grateful Dead song from A-Z. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion (and be sure to read my blog manifesto to understand a little more about where I'm coming from).

Monday, June 1, 2009

Cumberland Blues - Grateful Dead Song Review

One of the best memories I have of the Grateful Dead is the first time I heard Europe '72.

As soon as Cumberland Blues started (the first track on Europe '72) I fell in love with that bouncy bassline and the "down home" way the band would jam that "I-V" Cumberland progression that sounds like a jug band meets a rolling train. I'm kind of not as big of a fan of bluegrass and American "roots" music as most Deadheads, but I really love Cumberland Blues.

This song is deceptively simple at first and is characterized by it's main simple motif. Cumberland Blues actually has some pretty interesting vocal harmonies and a few different sections. This song is definitely not a blues progression like the name might suggest. The band also would jam pretty hard throughout this song and step out a fair bit within the relatively simple chordal framework.

The song was played fairly regularly early in the band's career and then was put on a shelf from 1974 through 1981 (a 394 show hiatus - thanks Deadbase). The song was played sparingly through the rest of the band's career. In later years, Cumberland Blues was usually mixed into the first set and often combined with similar songs like Maggie's Farm, Big River, and sometimes followed Mexicali Blues.
The lyrics by Robert Hunter are a really interesting and abstract tale of a mine worker who labors in unjust circumstances at the Cumberland Mine. It is a snapshot of the time when large American firms capitalized off of the sweat of their laborers and didn't compensate them fairly and this is the situation that gave rise to the labor unions (which are referenced in Cumberland Blues as well). The lyric's hopeless tone is somewhat contradictory to the fun bouncy rhythm of the song, but the lyrics do fit in perfectly with other songs like Easy Wind and Dire Wolf on Workingman's Dead.

Some versions of Cumberland would get really hot thanks to the musicianship and group dynamics when the band would start really stepping out on the solo sections behind Jerry's leads. At the very least Cumberland is always a great song to hear because of the excellent lyrics and beautiful harmonies.

Cumberland Blues Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 9.3

Disclaimer: This is part of my review of every Grateful Dead song from A-Z. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion (and be sure to read my blog manifesto to understand a little more about where I'm coming from).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cubensis - Bringing the Dead Back to Life

A few weeks ago a few friends and I fell in for a routine Cubensis show at the Lighthouse Cafe in Hermosa Beach. It was "just another Saturday Night" in a way as we made the familiar drive, found a parking meter, and made our way inside the Lighthouse Cafe.

As we got some seats near the stage, there was a troupe of belly dancing ladies on the stage gyrating rhythmically. My friends and I ordered food and sodas as Cubensis loaded their two drum kits and numerous amps onto the cramped Lighthouse Cafe stage. We saw many familiar faces going back to the era of Grateful Dead tours (with Jerry). That is one of the nice things about going to a Cubensis show - I always run into someone that I never thought I'd see again...

Everything seemed just groovy as Cubensis started their show with a loose, free form jam (and belly dancers in tow). Things started to pick up steam as they played a few first set classics like Bertha and Operator. The bassist Larry Ryan was beginning to feel the groove and as he was rocking back and forth on the wooden stage his amp behind him was also thumping and swaying with the beat.

That Old Familiar Feeling

Midway through the first set, an old familiar feeling swept over me during the Cassidy jam. I was transported back to the magic and wonder of the Grateful Dead live experience - and all the adventures that surrounded the culture of being a Deadhead and going to the Dead shows. I was, in fact, experiencing such fond and forgotten memories spurred on by the swirling Cubensis jam that at the very moment that my friend Al turned to me and shouted "this is making me feel HIGH," I was choking back tears. I should mention that our group of friends have left our drinking and partying days long behind us so I assure you that Cubensis alone gets credit for my emotional retrospection and Al's elated state of mind.

Cubensis - The Best Grateful Dead Cover Band

I've seen a few Grateful Dead cover bands in my day and Cubensis is hands down the best.

Cubensis has been playing Grateful Dead music for over twenty years and I have been seeing them infrequently since my friends first took me to one of their shows at Looney's Tavern in Torrance in 1993. We were avid young Deadheads who just couldn't get enough of Jerry's music and the wait in between Grateful Dead tours seemed like an eternity. Cubensis shows were a godsend for us to go hear the music we loved and spend time with like minded souls. I used to go to "21 and Over" Cubensis shows before I was even 21 and just hang out in the parking lot, talking to other heads and listening to the strains of the music coming from inside the venue. These are great memories.

Through the years, Cubensis has evolved and added a key member to their lineup and now I would say they are absolutely in their prime. If you live in Southern California and like the Grateful Dead then you should rejoice because you can show up and experience Cubensis in person as they take you back in time and evoke the spirit of the Dead.

Five Reasons to Love Cubensis

5. Nate LaPointe

I'm not sure when exactly they picked up Nate LaPointe, but I do know that a few years ago when I moved back down to Southern California from San Francisco, I went to a Cubensis show after a long hiatus and there was a younger guy on stage with them who intrigued me.

I noticed that Nate LaPointe is a great guitarist in his own right but nothing was to prepare me for the laughter and enjoyment that my friend Eric and I would experience when Nate LaPointe would do his Bobby Weir impression. Nate's voice is spot on and he honors Bobby's every signature falsetto yelp and it is extremely fun to hear Nate do so. Nate LaPointe also has been featured on an instructional DVD of how to play Grateful Dead Music.

4. They Play ALL of the Grateful Dead's Music

One night at a Cubensis show as I was listening to their Keyboardist Tom Ryan sing a great rendition of Tons of Steel (he does a great impression of Brent Mydland's voice) and I thought to myself "I love Cubensis for reminding me that this song exists!"

If you are a fan of the late era Grateful Dead then you will appreciate that Cubensis plays a lot of "unheralded" Grateful Dead songs - and plays them well. Cubensis will play the classics for sure but you will always get a revolving lineup of rare gems like Picasso Moon, My Brother Esau, and others. They also play songs from the JGB repertoire which is always a highlight for me.

In fact, in my younger years back in the 1990s when it wasn't so easy to amass tons of Grateful Dead music by sharing digital files, I was introduced to a lot of the Grateful Dead's music at Cubensis concerts before I was able to hear it on those infamous "tapes" that would circulate. The first introduction I had to some songs like Loser and Saint of Circumstance were at Cubensis shows. By the way, if this looks familiar to you then you remember the era that I'm talking about:

[Interesting note: at the very moment I am writing this blog entry, a friend just texted me to tell me that Cubensis played a Terrapin ->Let it Grow -> Terrapin yesterday at the same venue - sound intriguing? It does to me!]

3. Vince Welnick played with Cubensis

I write this blog because I love the Grateful Dead but above all I am a Jerry Garcia fan. Jerry liked playing with Vince. I have heard some disappointing things about the treatment that Vince received from the remaining members of the Dead after Jerry's passing and he was not included in any of the "post Jerry" permutations of the Dead.

Well, Vince played with Cubensis for a little bit and I am glad that I got to see him and meet him before his unfortunate passing. I am glad that Vince was able to be appreciated by Cubensis and their fans and I hope he had a great experience being a part of the Cubensis family before his untimely death.

Vince Welnick, R.I.P.

2. Cubensis is a Cool and Humble Group of Guys

Craig Marshall is the guitarist and de facto leader of Cubensis. He is very kind and approachable to chat with before and after shows. Craig sends out the Cubensis emails and he always responds if you give him a shout back. Cubensis' keyboardist and bassist are brothers (Tom and Larry) who are obviously devoted to delivering quality Dead. The drummers are also nice family guys who play Dead music for the love of Dead music.

A year or so ago, Craig sent out an email announcing the change of Cubensis' name to "High Five." This kind of rubbed me the wrong way but of course he sent out a follow up e-mail a day later to announce that it was an April Fool's Joke. Most rock bands wouldn't joke around with a topic as serious as changing the band name. That is just one example of Cubensis' sense of humor - they don't take themselves too seriously.

On that note, when I point out to Craig that I prefer seeing Cubensis to the current various "post Jerry" Dead projects, he always acts incredulous and sheepishly deflects the compliment. He tells me "you're entitled to think whatever you want."

1. Cubensis Fans

Not only are the guys who play the music nice, but there is a great scene of Deadheads that surrounds Cubensis. Every time I go to a Cubensis concert I remember something I had forgotten about the Grateful Dead experience. Maybe it will be the way that someone is dancing, or maybe it will be a scent in the air that takes me back.

The Cubensis fan base likes to party and dance and have fun. By the time Cubensis was done playing their gig at the Lighthouse Cafe that recent Saturday, they had the venue completely packed full of people all dancing to Sugar Magnolia. When the audience made it clear that Cubensis was not getting away without an encore, Cubensis came back on stage and played Loose Lucy. How cool of a choice is that for an encore?

I like the Cubensis crowd because there are some really fun loving party people who wear what they want and act the way they want to - regardless of what society deems appropriate or acceptable. In Orange County where I live and work it seems like the culture is becoming increasingly superficial, homogenous, and boring. During my daily grind, I feel like I am a long way from the Grateful Dead tours stops at Shoreline and Las Vegas that I remember very fondly. So it is really nice to show up to a Cubensis show and seem some lady wearing a crazy purple high school dance outfit and boogie around for several hours straight.

Cubensis - Even Better Than the Real Thing?

When I convince a Deadhead friend to come with me to a Cubensis concert, they are usually agreeing to go because I speak of the Cubensis experience in the highest terms. I feel like Cubensis is very effective at evoking the true spirit of the Grateful Dead when it was at its peak. I think Cubensis' devotion to the Dead music is unequaled and I think that nothing I have seen since Jerry's death has really "taken me there" like Cubensis does regularly.

I would include in this comparison the current Dead incarnation with Warren Haynes and the various projects like Phil Lesh and Friends, Rat Dog, etc. These projects just don't really "do it" for me (the one exception would be The Other Ones Concert on 2/24/1998 at Shoreline with Steve Kimock - that show was pure magic).

Most people who come with me to see Cubensis for the first time seem doubtful that Cubensis can live up to the hyperbole I used to describe them. However, I've noticed that every person is utterly blown away by Cubensis and they always want to go again to see Cubensis and hear what they'll play next. People will always talk about "the experience of seeing Cubensis" because it is more than just the music.

When it comes down to it - if I want to feel the spirit of Jerry and the Grateful Dead's music, there's only one place I can find it and it is at a Cubensis show.

Summer is coming and Cubensis has a lot of great shows coming up including some outdoor festivals which should be especially fun.Visit their website at to find out when to see them play. I've included a video below for you to see a sample of Cubensis in action.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Concert Review - The Dead at the Los Angeles Forum on May 9th, 2009

If you have read this blog much you will know that I am a really big fan of Jerry Garcia and those are some large shoes for Warren Haynes to fill. Still, I had a pretty enjoyable time at the Forum last Saturday and The Dead brought some surprising highlights and a few disappointments as well.

Viola Lee Blues>
Viola Lee Blues>
Viola Lee Blues
Black Peter
Cosmic Charlie

Shakedown Street
New Speedway Boogie
Scarlet Begonias
Fire on the Mountain
Drums >
Dark Star
Wharf Rat
Dark Star

One More Saturday Night

First Set
The Forum still seemed somewhat empty when the lights went down. The highlight for me of the first set was the crowd screaming in anticipation of the first song and seeing the beautiful lighting the band employed (reminiscent of Candace Brightman's beautiful landscapes from the Grateful Dead tours of yore).

So I guess if those were the highlights that means I was disappointed in the first set. It really seems like The Dead now is a background band for Warren Haynes. That's the way this concert felt. Of course I always thought the Grateful Dead was somewhat of a backing band for Jerry Garcia anyway. I am a bit surprised at the choice of Warren Haynes for lead guitar as I would prefer to hear any of the other players in the post Jerry era to Warren: Steve Kimock, Jimmy Herring, and even Trey Anastasio.

Viola>Bertha>Viola>Caution>Viola sounds like it would be a dream come true on paper, but it was just a little... flat. They jammed the parts out a really long time and while extended jamming also sounds like a dream come true, it was just too much Warren Haynes' bluesy repetitive noodling. Bertha is a tune that I've written about on the blog and I've stated its a rocker live, but a bit repetitive to hear on a tape. Well, this live version was also a bit trying.

Caution had some real highlights where the band started to really swell and use dynamics well together. This was the musical highlight of the first set. Phil played a short repetitive jazzy bassline that drove the song and the entire band started to really get humming. The jam had some of the energy of the old "freak out" Caution acid rock jams of old, but with all the new sounds and sophistication of the modern Dead.

As amazing as that intertwined opener looks: Viola>Bertha>Viola>Caution>Viola, The Dead did not really interconnect the songs musically by jamming them into one another but rather would kind of fade out of one and one player would forcefully lead into another.

Since that opening medley took about 40 minutes the set ended with a nice Black Peter and an anemic Cosmic Charlie. The slide guitar on Black Peter by Warren was nice I guess. Cosmic Charlie suffered from a lack of low end or it just seemed like the band wanted to get off the stage.

So yes the first set was a bit of a disappointment. I was kind of shocked that The Dead played so many songs that a lot of the audience didn't know. However, some of the best Grateful Dead shows I've ever been to started with a first set that was a snore, so I tried to keep an open mind.

During the set break, I walked around in the most crowded hallway I've ever been in and while it took me about 30 minutes to get a pretzel and a water, it was nice to feel the energy of all the people - many of whom seemed to have been partying all day in anticipation for the concert.

Second Set

The 2nd set opened with a Shakedown Street including the "built in intro jam" that the "post Jerry" Phil projects seem to always do. This was pretty good and I could feel that the band was going to try and make up for the lackluster first set.

New Speedway Boogie was not very good. It lacked the main lick that Jerry would always play. The band was merely shuffling along in a blues motif (like it seemed that they had for most of the entire night) and then Bobby started singing the lines:

Please don't dominate the rap jack...

When I heard that, instead of being excited, I was kind of disappointed to know that I would be listening to that same bluesy shuffle for another 10 minutes as they would inevitably extend the jamming as they were doing in all the songs.

Finally, at what seemed to be a "make or break" moment in the show Bobby teased the intro to Scarlet Begonias for a minute and then the band joined him gradually. It was nice to hear a Scarlet, but the way that the band gradually joined in started the song off without any power and it was also kind of anemic (like Cosmic Charlie had been). I couldn't really feel the drums on this slow version of Scarlet.

Fire on the Mountain had all the pre-requisite guitar licks from the classic Jerry versions and Warren had just been using such a heavily effects laden sound I was getting tired of all the filters and wah sounds. I was glad to be hearing a classic Grateful Dead tune even though I was still not used to the way Warren Haynes would sing Jerry's parts with a lot of extra ornamentation at the end of the phrases.

The one truly awesome part of the concert was Mickey and Billy's drums section. They incorporated nature sounds, modern sounds, classic sounds, and of course The Beast made an appearance. There was a lot of world percussion that sounded indigenous that would be juxtaposed with sounds that were modern and futuristic. "Future Primitive" is a way that I would describe the Rhythm Devils section. I have a lot of respect and love for Mickey and his passion for music and also have always greatly respected Billy Kreutzmann who has been a key player in the Grateful Dead since the very beginning.

Phil started hinting at Dark Star and just like everything else on this night it took the band an achingly long time to finally get into it. Dark Star was great though, a nice mellow slow version with Phil, Bobby, and Warren all taking turns singing. This was the best part of the concert as they jammed Dark Star (I could have sworn I heard Bobby hint at Hell in a Bucket) and they wound down into Wharf Rat.

Wharf Rat used to be a song I loved to hear although there were many other Jerry ballads I would have preferred. This song tonight was a good rendition with the guys taking turns singing the verses.

The Satisfaction closer didn't do anything for me. Maybe they were trying to play a familiar tune to make up for not playing any songs like Truckin' or Casey Jones for the LA audience with their notoriously short attention span.

The One More Saturday Night encore was another highlight. It was great to see the same song that closed my very first Dead Show -16 years ago. We boogied to this great Bobby tune and afterward everyone who I went to the show with was raving about how much fun they had. That put a smile on my face.

I saw the setlist for the next night at Shoreline and while it looks amazing (on paper)... I have to wonder if the audience had to sit through endless jams at the beginning and closing of each song and hear Warren Haynes "over sing" Jerry's lines.

Something tells me this is the last time I'll see the Dead play together and it's probably not a matter of choice anyway considering that Phil is 69 years old and on his second liver. I would like to see the band tour with another choice of guitarist. I may be in the minority but I found Warren Haynes' singing and playing to be a letdown.

Also, I think the band did too much jamming (I can't believe I just said that). During the "Jerry Years" the jams are what I would live for, but they just don't seem to be explorative or interesting in this incarnation of the band.
Disclaimer: This is just one man's opinion on the Grateful Dead experience. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so please feel free to join the dialogue and leave a comment if you disagree (and be sure to read my blog manifesto to understand a little more about where I'm coming from).

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Aoxomoxoa - Grateful Dead Album Review

While it seems that American Beauty and Workingman's Dead seem to be considered the pinnacle of the Grateful Dead's studio output, as I listen to Aoxomoxoa again right now, I'm thinking I like this album even better than both of those.

Aoxomoxoa is such a "Grateful Dead" album - filled with great songs that are very original in their structures and chords. These songs run the gamut of lyrical content - from mystical psychedelia to Americana.

Also, I think Aoxomoxoa is a triumph of production. While many of the Dead's studio albums (like Workingman's Dead and American Beauty) are really traditional in their delivery of rock songs that fit into the existing realm of popular music at the time, Aoxomoxoa has tracks that are creatively recorded with unintelligible lyrics (like Rosemary) and sparse open arrangements (like What's Become of the Baby).

Obviously the opening track St. Stephen is one of the most beloved Grateful Dead songs of all time and this studio version is really fantastic. A favorite part of mine has always been the slow section:

Lady finger, dipped in moonlight...

This section has beautiful sounding chimes in it and an odd sounding bowed instrument in the background. These effects were forsaken live, so I always appreciate the studio version for these sounds.

Dupree's Diamond Blues, Doin' That Rag, and Cosmic Charlie are all interesting rock songs that have somewhat traditional "old timey" lyrics but the song structures are really pretty unique and untraditional. They are kind of a hodge podge of what the Grateful Dead were all about and therefore very unique and original tunes.

I have previously reviewed the song China Cat Sunflower and pointed out that the studio version has some elements to it that are really cool and make it stand apart from any of the live versions. Just like St. Stephen, I find myself often wanting to hear the studio version of China Cat Sunflower because of its excellent production and sound effects.

Mountains of the Moon is a very beloved Jerry acoustic song but in my opinion still totally underrated because I think the song has some magic in it that transports the listener to another dimension. The choice of harpsichord - an outdated archaic instrument - is surprisingly perfect in Mountains of the Moon. This is a great example of how Aoxomoxoa is "all over the place" but still works perfectly (just like the Dead which always bridged current and futuristic music with classic sounds).

As mentioned before What's Become of the Baby and Rosemary are the songs that I find to be very creative and untraditional. This makes me like them all the more and I really think Rosemary is one of the prettiest songs the Dead ever recorded.

Aoxomoxoa is the perfect Dead album from their early years.

Album Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 10.0

Monday, May 4, 2009

Cryptical Envelopment - Grateful Dead Song Review

"Cryptical" is a cool song that I think someone told me was completely written by Garcia (words and lyrics) - interestingly the very last song reviewed (Cream Puff War) is the only other GD song that I know of that falls into this category. Here is the memorable opening line:

The other day they waited, the sky was dark and faded,
Solemnly they stated, "He has to die, you know he has to die."

Cryptical Envelopment is probably thought by most people to be part of The Other One - and it most definitely is, but of all the various parts of The Other One that were listed on the original track listing for Anthem of the Sun, Cryptical Envelopment is the only one I consider to really stand on it's own (as opposed to sections like Quadliblet for Tender Feet which were merely named as separate tracks as part of a ploy to increase royalties).

Cryptical has a circular feel to it and otherworldly lyrics. It is a really cool song fragment and I think it could have been a song that stood on its own although it does provide a great intro to The Other One. The song was played well over a hundred tunes between 1967 and 1972 and then dropped from the repertoire until it made a reappearance in 1985 for several shows.

Also don't forget that when they finish the other one it returns to the Cryptical theme:

And when the day had ended, with rainbow colors blended,
Their minds remained unbended,
He had to die, oh, you know he had to die.

Then Jerry goes off and wails: "You know he had to dieeeeeeeee....." This is one of the earliest examples of him taking a phrase and repeating it several times with more and more emphasis, so I always enjoy hearing it.

Envelopment Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 7.5

Disclaimer: This is part of my review of every Grateful Dead song from A-Z. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion (and be sure to read my blog manifesto to understand a little more about where I'm coming from).

Friday, May 1, 2009

Garcia: An American Life Book Review

Blair Jackson is probably my favorite Grateful Dead historian because he is so knowledgeable, thoroughly published, writes about the music with nice detail, and was credited for the book
Grateful Dead Gear: The Band's Instruments, Sound Systems, and Recording Sessions from 1965 to 1995 (review coming soon). That book is truly encyclopedic in it's scope and so is Garcia: An American Life.

This book is a godsend for Jerry Garcia and Grateful Dead fanatics. I would couple it with the (more controversial and tabloid-ish Living with the Dead - review coming soon) as mandatory reading for someone who wants to understand what life was like inside the Dead organization while they were creating the monstrous cultural movement that we were all affected by.

The detail is staggering, and the insights into Jerry Garcia and his demons are numerous. this book lays it out and provides a much needed expose into Jerry's life - even chronicling his drug use and his checkered love life.

Blair Jackson has provides great insight into the music itself (better than the the other notable Grateful Dead authors), take for example Blair Jackson's take on Days Between's structure:

The song did not have a conventional pop structure. There was no chorus, no bridge; just four long verses that started with spare and simple accompaniment and then built in intensity as the instruments played increasingly grand ornamental fills. Vince Welnick described it nicely: "It would go from this poignant but intense space to this big, majestic thing that would just pour out. That song and 'So Many Roads' really meant a lot to Jerry, you could tell." In it's early versions, the song had no solo break between the verses, but it had a moody and unusual open-ended instrumental coda that wasn't tied to the melody of the song, but rather spilled off in other more musically abstract directions.

In another excerpt Blair Jackson talks about the lyrics and then gets a great quote from Steve Silberman that gives insight into the climate of serious Deadheads' opinions about the music when Days Between came about and how it was received:

... Days Between is painted in an emotional chiaroscuro, at once fond and foreboding, filled with promise and dread. In one verse, "Summer flies and August dies / The world grwos dark and mean." But in another "a hopeful candle flickers / in the land of lullabies." One part of the final verse has "Hearts of summer held in trust / still tender young and green," then immediately offsets that with "left on shelves collecting dust / not knowing what they mean."

" 'Days Between' joined the Grateful Dead oeuvre right at the time - 1993 - when old-time Deadheads were asking themselves if Garcia and Hunter were still capable of creating art that had a primordial, frightening intensity: the beauty at the edge of terror that Rilke described," comments Steve Silberman. "As the other songs written roughtly in the same period seemed to mine well-worn images and attitudes - almost reveling in their seasoned facility to created and archetypal mood, like 'Lazy river Road' - 'Days Between slipped between your clothes and your skin like a chill wind out of a grave. I think it's the most uncompromisingly adult lyric Hunter ever wrote."
So that's the kind of stuff that I live to read, and passages like that kept me glued to this book when it first came out in 1999. I re-purchased it recently and re-read it, happily having forgotten enough of the incredible amount of information to make it very informative to read again.

There is information about every album Jerry made, every musical endeavor, and every tour the Dead went on. The book describes the "ups and downs" of maintaining the world's most successful touring rock band and the pressures that come with it (for instance - the Grateful Dead wanted New Years Eve off to spend R&R time with their families but for many years played the concerts out of a sense of obligation).

There is a ton of other great info in the book about Jerry's musical and non musical relationships, activities, and personality traits. There is information in this book that you will not find anywhere else (like for instance, insight into John Kahn's life - a subject rarely written about buut of great interest to me).

I highly recommend Garcia: An American Life to anyone who likes the Grateful Dead enough to read this blog. The book will not disappoint and you will feel like you understand the life of Jerry Garcia more than you previously did. You may find yourself feeling sympathy for him because of his drug addiction and pressures of being the leader of the Grateful Dead. During other parts of the book you may experience anger at the irresponsible and insensitive actions of the man who's unhealthy lifestyle caused him to die prematurely at age 53.

I once e-mailed Blair Jackson about something and he emailed back too, which was really cool.

Garcia: An American Life Book Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 10.0

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cream Puff War - Grateful Dead Song Review

This song is a fun old school song that sounds like the very early Grateful Dead trying to emulate the British Invasion. I kind of can't take it seriously for some reason. It was released on the eponymous debut album which I think the Grateful Dead were still trying to find their identity in the studio (they were already a powerhouse live of course). The fact that Cream Puff War ends with a fade out gives you an idea that it is a bit of a filler song.

Don't get me wrong though, Cream Puff War is a pretty good tune. It comes complete with a time signature change to 3/4 (pretty nicely integrated actually) and a ripping bluesy Jerry solo.
It is notable because music and lyrics written by Garcia (one of only a couple Dead songs that I know of that Garcia wrote both music and lyrics*)

Those lyrics are ... interesting. Here is the first and most memorable line:

No, no, she can't take your mind and leave
I know it's just another trick she's got up her sleeve

It sounds like Jerry is singing to a friend who's gotten himself involved with a bad woman. Here are the final lines:

Well, can't you see that you're killing each other's soul
You're both out in the streets and you got no place to go
Your constant battles are getting to be a bore
So go somewhere else and continue your cream puff war

You know I'm a Jerry fanatic but since this review comes on the heels of Crazy Fingers, I just have to kind of smile as I listen to this one.

Cream Puff War
Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 7.5

*what are the other songs (if any) with lyrics and music by Garcia alone? Did someone once tell me Cryptical Envelopment falls in this category?

: This is part of my review of every Grateful Dead song from A-Z. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion (and be sure to read my blog manifesto to understand a little more about where I'm coming from).

Monday, April 27, 2009

DeadBase X Book Review

This is the granddaddy of all Grateful Dead books and a must have for any tape trader or Dead fanatic. It's subtitle is The Complete Guide to Grateful Dead Song Lists. The key words in the title are that it is a complete guide to the song lists - much more than just the song lists themselves.

This reference book contains such an interesting and thorough breakdown of Grateful Dead set list information that I don't even know where to begin describing it.

While I have never read DeadBase from one page to the next (that's not the idea), I have referenced the book frequently during the writing of this blog for information such as the following:
  • when a song started being played
  • when a song stopped being played
  • how often the song was played
  • what set was the song played in usually (and all exceptions)
  • what songs frequently came before and after

All of that type of information is available at a glance for any song the Grateful Dead played. And that is just the beginning. You can see breakdowns of the timings for tapes after tape that shows how long each song is (and transcribes every spoken word between songs). What is the longest known version of Eyes of the World on tape, you ask? Well it was June 1th, 1963 clocking in at 21:05 (took me less than a minute to get that info).

There are also counts of how many times each song was played year in year out and a ton of Deadhead demographic information that the Deadbase X team collected through surveys of Dead tapers and fans.

The most enjoyable part of Deadbase is the show reviews in which a variety of reviewers gives a summary of the concert. I've read reviews of mainly later Dead shows and I think that every review is fromm someone who attended the show. There are over 400 concert reviews in Deadbase.

When I bought Deadbase X a few years ago, I had to buy it directly from the authors as it is now out of print. I was able to get included several of the annual "DeadBase Yearbooks" from 1989 through 1992. These yearbooks have pictures from many shows, show reviews from every show in the given year, ticket stubs and venue seating charts from every show.

The guys from Deadbase really know how to capture the Grateful Dead experience because they chronicle things like "what people were talking about in the parking lot" for each show too. If you have great memories of Dead shows, I guarantee you the DeadBase books will unearth memories you have long forgotten and this can be a very sweet (and bittersweet) proposition.

As an aside, I had the pleasure of a brief e-mail exchange with one of the authors of DeadBase when I purchased the books and I mentioned off handedly how surpised I was that it had already been 10 years since the Grateful Dead ceased to be (due to Garcia's death). He wrote back a note and we briefly discussed how it had been too painful to even listen to the music for a long time after Jerry's death.

At the time when I ordered DeadBase X, (it must have been 2005) I had just started listening again and it was very emotional for me - but also very positive. My renewed interest in the Grateful Dead experience and music led to me re-collecting all the music, buying all of the books again, and ultimately the creation of this blog. It was nice to hear from the author himself about his experience, and I've enjoyed DeadBase X ever since.

DeadBase X Book Rating on a Scale of 1-10: X.0 (10.0)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Table of Contents - Book Reviews

Book reviews will be completed periodically in this order:

Deadbase X by J. Scott, S. Nixon, and M. Dolgushkin
Garcia: An American Life by Blair Jackson
Tiger in a Trance by Max Luddington
Growing up Dead - The Hallucinated Confessions of a Teenage Deadhead by Peter Conners
Sunshine Daydream - One Girl's Tale of Life on the Bus by Talia Rose
Relix: The Book compiled by Toni Brown
The Deadhead's Taping Compendium by M. Getz and J. Dwork
Grateful Dead: The Illustrated Trip: R. Hunter, S. Peters C. Wills, and D. McNally
Grateful Dead Gear by Blair Jackson
Living with the Dead by R. Scully and D. Dalton
A Long Strange Trip by D. McNally
Searching for the Sound by Phil Lesh
....more to come

Friday, April 24, 2009

All Along the Watchtower - Grateful Dead Song Review

I have to retroactively go back and add this one to the "A's" (it got skipped because it is listed as "Watchtower" in Deadbase which is the book I refer to for my list of all GD songs).

All Along the Watchtower was a smokin' 2nd set tune that seems like it was usually played when the band was having a good show. Watchtower would usually come out of drums or a late 2nd set post drums tune and really take the show to the next level.

Bobby sings Watchtower well, and Jerry always ripped on this song. I think its simple structure made it very easy for Jerry to sit back in A minor and play really fast. The song has some great lines that gave the crowd a chance to really cheer:

Two riders were approaching
And the wind, began to howl!

The song itself has a great legacy being a Bob Dylan tune from John Wesley Harding that Jimi Hendrix covered almost simultaneously on his Electric Ladyland album in 1968. Bob Dylan prefers the Jimi Hendrix arrangement (as do most people) and has stated that he feels like he is playing a tribute to Jimi everytime he performs the song.

The Grateful Dead used the song to great effect in elevating the energy of the 2nd set. I can't say they really put too much of their own "stamp" on the song but it is a great rock song and was very consisent in its delivery. Watchtower never disappoints when it I hear it on a tape.

All Along the Watchtower
Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 8.3

: This is part of my review of every Grateful Dead song from A-Z. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion (and be sure to read my blog manifesto to understand a little more about where I'm coming from).

Monday, April 20, 2009

Crazy Fingers - Grateful Dead Song Review

My favorite Grateful Dead song. I've contemplated making a list and it would definitely evolve over time but this one would always be number 1. It actually is so great I've been stalling on writing about it because, I just don't know if you can do the song justice. But I try....

First of all, Crazy Fingers wasn't my favorite song at first. It took years to really appreciate it. I did see it at my first show on May 15th, 1993 (Sam Boyd Silver Bowl, Las Vegas - Saturday night show) and the melody of the verse really was great and memorable, but the song requires a fine appreciation for the Dead to really absorb how unique and original it is.

Crazy Fingers is a slow, middling tune that was pretty inconsistent in it's delivery over the years. The studio version from Blues for Allah is extremely tight and well executed and just creates an aura of a really good mellow, mature, psychedelic reggae song (psychedelic reggae - not a genre you often hear about and maybe still not that accurate for this song but that shows how original this song really is).

The early live versions of this song held pretty true to the form on Blues for Allah (most notably from One for the Vault) including the guitar flanger effect. Naturally, I prefer the song the way it evolved into the nineties - but probably not the very last couple of years because I really like my Crazy Fingers to be crisply delivered and it did get really loose in the last couple of years. An absolutely phenomenal version of the song is on youtube from Dean Smith Center, North Carolina in 1993. That version has such a great solo on it with just the right amount of sparkling reverb and delay and Jerry taking the lyrical soaring leads seemingly in slow motion. The solo in Crazy Fingers is always a highlight for me, and is always delivered with just the right amount of effects. While it outlines the verse melody, it is still always thoughtfully and lyrically delivered in a unique and improvisational way - no two Crazy Fingers solos are the same (after the first few bars).

Before I even get into the words I must point out that Crazy Fingers is SO UNIQUE in its composition. From the slow haunting intro Jerry would play to the almost dissonant bridge section Life may be sweeter for this, I don't know.... to the bass heavy jam outro it is just like nothing else out there (and please do tell if there is other music you know of similar to this I would love to hear it).

The first hundred or so times I heard Crazy Fingers I think the melody on the bridge section (ie where they sing Gone are the days... we stopped to decide...) might have just rubbed my ears the wrong way, but now I can really appreciate the harmonic quality of the change and know that it is non traditional and therefore unfamiliar. It pushes the boundaries of the beautiful harmony that is established in the verses and is congruent with the dual nature of the lyrics that are joyous and beautiful but also about sadness and loss. The bridge really works with the song and breaks it up perfectly because while the verse melody is extremely pretty, it is a bit simple.

Now I have to talk about the words. I just can't do these lyrics justice. I've read them described as a haiku before (I think even by Robert Hunter's own description) but they are not the kind of (5-7-5) Haiku that I remember learning to create in elementary school.

The entire song is just perfect but a couple of favorite sections:

Cloud hands, reaching from a rainbow,
tapping at your window
touch your hair

So swift and bright,
strange figures of light
float in air

So this is just psychedelia at its finest. This sounds like the best LSD experience of all time. Those lines always make me picture the most beautiful imagery and fill me with a sense of wonder at what beauty exists in nature that we may not comprehend until a moment when we are "opened up" to the beauty surrounding us.

Hang your heart on a laughing willow
stray down to the water
deep sea of love...

Beneath the sweet calm face of the sea
swift undertow

Deep stuff. This reminds me of the uneasy feeling that comes along with tripping when you contemplate that loving others and having relationships with them carries with it a risk of being disappointed in a way that can wound you more than any physical injury. Also, how could this line not require a mention of the fact that Jerry Garcia's father drowned when Jerry was just a young boy.

This song is mostly joyous but there is also a dark duality to it that reminds of the temporal fleeting nature of this life which is endlessly slipping by.

Finally, the best line of all:

Midnight on a carousel ride
reaching for the gold ring down inside

Never couldd reach it...
just slips away...
but I try...

So you take the man Jerry Garcia (and include his writing partner Robert Hunter) and you have artists who continually evolved and kept pushing the envelope for almost thirty years - never playing it safe or going for the easy home run but continually searching for another hidden musical gem, another magical combination of songs, another performance to bring audience and performer to a higher level of consciousness. In my opinion this is the highest calling someone can hope to fulfill in this life and Jerry and Robert were able to inspire people with their music and words for decades to the point that I am still chronicling it fourteen years after it came to an end in August 1995 (keep in mind I only really knew the Dead for two years at that point and consider what an impact it must have made on me).

So they never reached the gold ring? Maybe. But they helped inspired us to reach for ours within ourselves- it is the greatest gift you can give. I think that this is the effect that the wizards, shamans, and holy men who've been chronicled throughout the ages have had on people. This is the true magic, and this song is a spell.

Crazy Fingers
Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 10.0

: This is part of my review of every Grateful Dead song from A-Z. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion (and be sure to read my blog manifesto to understand a little more about where I'm coming from).

Friday, April 3, 2009

Corinna - Grateful Dead Song Review

My affection for the late era Grateful Dead has given me a bias for Corinna and I would say it is an "okay" song. I really don't mind it. I remember seeing the Velveeta logo "Corinna" shirts around Dead shows. Cheese it up Bobby.. indeed.

The thing about Corinna is that it has a good beat. It reminds me somewhat of electronica. There are some good changes in the tune and that chorus is really memorable:

Corinnaaaaaaaaaaa-aaaaaah Shake it up now

Looking up the lyrics just now (which I never paid attention to before) I see that they are written by Robert Hunter and the pairing of Robert Hunter and Bob Weir is pretty rare. The lyrics are vague and clever but hard to glean much of a story from them. Also, per the Annotated Grateful Dead lyrics site, Mickey Hart is the other contributor to the musical portion.

I think the song is pretty original and an interesting "late era" Grateful Dead song. It was primarily a second set song and Jerry would play an interesting solo on it. I would definitely prefer Corinna over other new Dead songs like Way to Go Home and Eternity and even over a tired 2nd set song like Need a Miracle.

Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 6.7

: This is part of my review of every Grateful Dead song from A-Z. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion (and be sure to read my blog manifesto to understand a little more about where I'm coming from).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Comes a Time - Grateful Dead Song Review

Well, if you've read my blog manifesto you already know that I am a huge Jerry Garcia fanatic and Jerry ballads are the pinnacle of the Dead experience for me. I recently reviewed China Doll, and eventually when I eventually review songs like Morning Dew and So Many Roads
it will be obvious that my favorite part of the show was the Jerry ballad slot.

That being said, Comes a Time does not really do much for me.  I feel like stating this is somewhat blasphemous.  I mean, the song is slow, soulful and deep.  This is what I look for in music.  I assure you that I'm definitely someone who has been down and out.  Songs like Mission in the Rain are songs that get me through.  I still occasionally go through low depressive periods during which I love slow sad songs.  Still, Comes a Time just doesn't really do it for me.

It is on Reflections which is probably my favorite Jerry Garcia solo album.   I will at some point review Reflections but I must take a moment here to say this album is a totally underrated gem.  I honestly think that track for track it is more consistently good than almost any Grateful Dead album.  However, Comes a Time is my least favorite song (or tied for last with Tore Up Over You).

To me the song is slow, plodding, and uninteresting.  The first line is definitely a memorable one:

Comes a time
When the blind man
Takes your hand and says 
Can't you See? 

But the rest is just kind of vague and unmemorable for me personally.  I always associate this song with To Lay Me Down for some reason.  Probably because it is also a Jerry Garcia solo song that was played with the Dead.  I actually like To Lay Me Down even less, but that's another review.

Comes a Time Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 7.0

: This is part of my review of every Grateful Dead song from A-Z. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion (and be sure to read my blog manifesto to understand a little more about where I'm coming from).

Monday, March 30, 2009

Cold Rain and Snow - Grateful Dead Song Review

This is a Grateful Dead song that was played throughout the band's entire career and one that I enjoy in every incarnation.

The later the version of this song that you hear, the slower it will be. I really like the late era slow versions where Jerry "grinds out" the main riff painstakingly note by note. Whatever the year this song was played, you'll hear Jerry played the to same original guitar solo from the studio version. There's little or no soloing from Jerry other than this predetermined segment. I think the Dead needed a song like this which after the first hundred times or so probably played itself.

I wonder if this song was an opener because of the simplicity and familiarity of the parts? The lyrics seem like they would be very easy to remember (the three "verses" are two lines each). It would seem to be a great warmup tune for these reasons.

The lyrics for Cold Rain and Snow have a little bit of that sly hubris of Jerry singing the part of the husband who has had it with his "troublesome" wife. Is it really that she's cold or perhaps our protagonist is looking for an excuse to have a wandering eye?

Well she's comin' down the stairs, combing back her yellow hair
And I'm going where those chilly winds don't blow

I'm reminded of Shady Grove which has a similar theme of the man who's had it with his wife (and wants to explore other options).

This song is credited to the Grateful Dead on Wikipedia but I always assumed it was a traditional song that they were covering. On the great site of "Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics" it credits McGanahan Skjellyfetti - which is no doubt some sort of silly alias the band created.

Cold Rain and Snow is one of my favorite opening songs. Again, I have to mention that very few songs were great throughout the Dead's entire career and actually got better with time. In comparison, I have a hard time enjoying older (70's) versions of Eyes of the World and Bird Song because they were so rushed and didn't have the maturity of later versions. Cold Rain and Snow hits the spot every time - no matter what show and what year. Very consistent tune.

Cold Rain and Snow Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 9.1

Disclaimer: This is part of my review of every Grateful Dead song from A-Z. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion (and be sure to read my blog manifesto to understand a little more about where I'm coming from).

Friday, March 27, 2009

Cold Jordan - Grateful Dead Song Review

I don't have much to say about this song other than I love it. I've only ever heard it from various Grateful Dead acoustic sets but it really caught my attention when Jerry Garcia sang it in the film Festival Express.

This song is a really beautiful traditional song that was probably a gospel song originally. It is always a little strange to hear the Dead or Jerry sing a song with blatant religious overtones but I kind of like it for some reason. There are a few great songs from the GD repertoire that fall into this category like And We Bid You Goodnight and My Sisters and Brothers. The Dead and Jerry were always pretty "non denominational" but hey they were also lovers of great songs and no doubt some good songs came from various religious traditions.

This song struck a chord with me when I saw Festival Express, and then it did again when I rented the DVD and fast forwarded straight to that scene and watched it about 15 times in a row. I still love this tune and the next time I am feeling down or hopeless I hope I can remember to play Cold Jordan because I know it will cheer me up and give me hope.

Cold Jordan Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 8.5

: This is part of my review of every Grateful Dead song from A-Z. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion (and be sure to read my blog manifesto to understand a little more about where I'm coming from).

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Chinatown Shuffle - Grateful Dead Song Review

"Take it... you can have it..."

Ahh, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan. The original frontman of the Grateful Dead and a character who seems almost mythical from what I've learned in studying the history of The Dead. First of all, he died at 27 and looked like he was 50. I'm 33 and I feel like a kid (and look way younger than Pigpen ever did) and believe me - I've been no angel in this life. 27 is so young for somebody to die, it is very sad but apparently he was a heavy drinker and his liver failed.

Unless I'm reading this entry from Wikipedia incorrectly it gives Pigpen writing credits for Chinatown Shuffle. That's cool, I never would have guessed- it sounds like an old traditional song. Certainly Wikipedia can be fallible though. If indeed it was written by Pigpen, I wonder if Chinatown Shuffle was inspired by Chinatown in San Francisco? It is pretty hard to tell by the lyrics which are pretty vague.

The song itself is pretty unfamiliar to me; I actually had to go to to really remember how it went and luckily found a good version from the 1972 tour to Europe.

This is a bluesy New Orleans shuffle with an intro phrase that reminds me of U.S. Blues (or Wave that Flag). The song is upbeat and a lot more enjoyable to me than some of the slower bluesy songs that Pigpen sang (like Hurts Me Too or King Bee). Jerry plays a nice solo and this song is a fun and engaging tune.

Chinatown Shuffle doesn't really stand out as a signature Grateful Dead tune whatsoever. As I watch them play it in Europe on it almost seems as if they are being ambassadors for "American Music" and are playing a "sample blues shuffle." It seems like any other rock band from Americal could have produced a comparable version of Chinatown Shuffle. There isn't anything wrong with having fun upbeat traditional rockers in the set though, and Chinatown Shuffle does earn extra points for being an original GD tune.

Chinatown Shuffle Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 5.2

: This is part of my review of every Grateful Dead song from A-Z. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion (and be sure to read my blog manifesto to understand a little more about where I'm coming from).

Monday, March 23, 2009

Anthem of the Sun - Grateful Dead Album Review

Anthem of the Sun - NOW we're talking....

After a pretty tame and commercial debut record (reviewed here) the Grateful Dead emerged from the studio with a hodge podge of sound effects, live tracks, and studio sessions called Anthem of the Sun (and often referred to as merely Anthem)

You can tell as soon as you compare the difference in the album cover artwork between the two that The Dead were going to bring a more authentic and experimental offering to the table. Indeed Anthem was far from "playing it safe" like the debut and seems like it would be borderline inaccessible to the average music listener. There are long periods of dissonance, feedback, sound effects, and the like.

Side one is dominated by The Other One and it starts out with the gorgeous Cryptical Envelopment section sung by Jerry (is this another "song" written in complete by Garcia - words and lyrics?). I am a huge fan of Cryptical and I love hearing it on bootlegs to get the full effect of The Other One. This studio version does not disappoint with some great effects on Garcia's voice and beautiful overdubbed instruments.

Then it launches into The Other One, and as the studio recorded portion blends in with the live concert recordings there is a bit of cumbersome murkiness to the album which has not stood the test of time all that well. The Other One is a prolific Grateful Dead tune that would be played hundreds of time throughout their almost thirty year run. I will not discuss the numerous "sub tracks" that are listed for The Other One on the Anthem liner notes, I've never liked these names and if I remember correctly I read they were really created to get more royalties from the record company (to give the appearance that more tracks were on the album).

The Other One fades out with some gorgeously terrifying sound effects including prepared piano courtesy of Tom Constanten and then New Potato Caboose begins. This song has a great mellow vibe to it and I am surprised it wasn't more of a favorite for me in the past as I listen to it now. There is some nice harpsichord and the very recognizable Bobby Weir opening line:

Last Leaf Fallen...

New Potato Caboose rolls on for a little while and sounds like it becomes a live concert recording (like The Other One before it) and there is a little bit more of lo-fi sounding music but definitely a small price to pay for a creative blend of music.

I've reviewed Born Cross Eyed on the blog before and frankly this song is interesting with it's fairly complex structure and numerous surprising punches, twists, and turns but not a real standout (is that mariachi trumpet I hear at the 1:20 mark?).

The second side features the absolutely fantastic medley of: Alligator and Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks). I've reviewed both of these songs on the blog but will say again that this acid rock at its finest. I have no idea what is recorded in the studio and what is from a concert recording in this track but it doesn't matter to me, I just like to crank it up and enjoy the Good ol' Grateful Dead at their finest. Some of the piano that is overdubbed is so beautiful during Alligator, it has almost the feel of a montuno and then the drums section definitely also has some afro-cuban overtones with a clave beat among other things.

Anthem of the Sun is a masterpiece. Every time I listen to this album I hear something new. How often can you say that about an album?

Anthem of the Sun
Album Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 9.4

: This is part of my blog that reviews all things Grateful Dead for fun. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion (and be sure to read my blog manifesto to understand a little more about where I'm coming from).

Friday, March 20, 2009

China Doll - Grateful Dead Song Review

In my opinion, here's what makes a "great" China Doll:

-Jerry nails all of the words
-the band makes the changes together
  - the background vocals are on key

...but if you are lucky enough to get he above, then you hope for this to make a "perfect China Doll":

-cool transition into China Doll from another song
-soulful well executed guitar solo

... and there are definitely some "perfect" China Dolls out there.

China Doll is a moody ballad with one of the most beautiful transitions from minor to major in rock music that I've ever heard. This song was originally released on the From the Mars Hotel album in 1974 and featured harpsichord.

China Doll
is very much revered but is still underrated. China Doll should be an even more high profile Grateful Dead classic than it currently is. I am sure the song is virtually unknown outside of Deadheads so it earns the distinction of being For Deadheads Only.

This song is so deep, eerie, and mysterious it disappoints me that more people aren't exposed to it. It is a very slow melancholy dirge and another thing that might detract from it's popularity amongst Deadheads and the public at large is that the lyrics are very vague. I am not even sure what the plot of the song is or if the dialogue is a one person monologue or between two people, etc. The opening lines are vague:

A pistol shot at 5 o'clock
The bells of heaven ring
"Tell me what you done it for"
"No I won't tell you a thing"
It has been written in the books that (per Robert Hunter) the opening shot refers to a suicide but without that 3rd party information I wouldn't have known that. This fact of the vague lyrics does not bother me at all because I love China Doll so much but I am just conjecturing that the unclear storyline and lack of identifiable characters (ie no "Black Peter" in this one) might have caused the song not to receive the fanfare I think it deserves.

The song goes on with cryptic lyrics until the unbelievable tension release before the final lines:

Take up your china doll
it's only fractured
just a little nervous from the fall

This transition from minor to major is chillingly effective and really a compositional triumph on Jerry's part. This part gives me goosebumps pretty much every time I hear it. Also I must mention that Jerry always played an anguished, minimal, and soulful solo on China Doll in a "slowhand" style with lots of bent notes that was not his typical style.

I can honestly say that when I'm listening to a Dead show recording or a podcast and the 2nd set Drums/Space section is winding down the song I honestly want to hear most is always China Doll. I love this song a lot and always listen to see if I can hear Jerry start to outline the Dm chord that starts China Doll. This song just transports me to a dark (but comfortable) place and then delivers me to a wistful state of mind by the final refrain "La la la la la la laaaaa." I love Jerry ballads above all else so it should come as no surprise that I am hoping for a China Doll in every show I hear.

In my relatively few Dead shows I attended (17) it was not meant to be for me to hear a China Doll. Really, the vast majority of Deadheads probably didn't get to hear China Doll - it was played pretty intermittently throughout the Dead's career. The most frequency the song had was in the mid 80s - especially 1984 and 1985. It's been a while since I really analyzed the timeline of Jerry's drug use and physical decline in the 80s but I am going to go out on a limb and say that this song was played quite frequently during this period and he probably was in a lot of pain too. Maybe it was therapeutic for him to sing this song of loss and wail on the soulful solo...

China Doll
Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 9.3

: This is part of my review of every Grateful Dead song from A-Z. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion (and be sure to read my blog manifesto to understand a little more about where I'm coming from).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

China Cat Sunflower - Grateful Dead Song Review

Chinal Cat Sunflower originally released on the Dead's third studio album Aoxomoxoa is a real "one of a kind" rock song. The opening "fat" rhythm guitar figure and the beautiful lead contrapuntal melody (played by Bobby!) set the tone for the song as a combination of rock and "mystical" eastern themes. This happy melody should've inspired an entire genre of music to develop but never have I heard anything else remotely like China Cat Sunflower.

I mean, really, this song is a psychedelic gem that is so creative in melody and lyric that it is a total masterpiece.

The two versions that are really the most familiar to me are the Europe '72 and the Without a Net versions - both live. That isn't to write off the Aoxomoxoa studio version which is phenomenal too (and perhaps a little more psychedelic as a result of heavy studio effects).

Look, for a while at the China Cat
Proud walking jingle in the midnight sun

The rest of the lyrics are pure fantasy much like the opening stanza. This song sounds like the result of talented musicians taking the world's best acid and having the perfect trip. No wonder nothing else quite like it is out there.

The song is totally well played almost every time and leads into I Know You Rider (hence the designation China Rider on tapes and setlist transcriptions). I can't think of any time I've heard China Cat and it was weak. Some great Dead songs really suffer from being inconsistent (Help on the Way comes to mind for some reason) but China Cat Sunflower -> I Know You Rider was always a winner.

For a medley with so much jamming the structure of China Cat Sunflower remained pretty rigidly the same for decades - even down to Jerry's scripted lead. Of course there was a lot of noodling in the transition into I Know You Rider but that was always a really consistent surge of energy as the tempo and dynamics of the song increased. The rock soloing in between the two songs always remained in the keys of D and G so wasn't harmonically explorative but extremely effective.

China Cat Sunflower is one of the first "real" dead live songs I fell in love with. What I mean is that while I enjoyed my cassete copies of Skeletons From the Closet and parts of American Beauty and most of Workingman's Dead, I had some very epiphanous moments while listening to China Rider (on both Without a Net and Europe '72) during which I started to understand what the Grateful Dead were really about. I can't put into words what the Grateful Dead concert experience was like but I could partially describe it as a joyous collaborative musical improvisation that incorporated the energy of the audience. China Rider is a good example of this at its best because it "worked" almost every time.

I am really glad I got to see a China Rider live (12-9-1993 at Los Angeles Sports Arena). It wasn't the rarest song but I only saw it once in the 17 Grateful Dead shows I went to. I will never get tired of these songs and when it comes on I will always stop what I am doing and listen carefully to the jam that connects the two songs.

China Cat Sunflower Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 9.9

Disclaimer: This is part of my review of every Grateful Dead song from A-Z. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion (and be sure to read my blog manifesto to understand a little more about where I'm coming from).

Monday, March 16, 2009

Childhood's End - Grateful Dead Song Review

This is a rare Phil song, so I had to refer to to refresh my memory. It was only played about eleven times - almost exclusively in 1994 and almost exclusively in the 1st set.

I like the version of this on "Phil and Friend's" acoustic show in Berkeley in 1994 (NOT the post Jerry band Phil and Friends but the 1994 Dead lineup - without drummers).

I kind of associate this song with Wave to the Wind and If the Shoe Fits as songs that were new and popping up at Dead shows during the era that I was seeing them (ie '93-'95). These songs were not very well received and I remember not really seeking them out on tapes very much so I really barely know them.

Childhood's End is not a bad song, it is just a soft rock Phil song that never gained much traction in the boys' repertoire.

The song is pretty harmonically ambitious with lots of jazzy chords and not a very predictable progression. For some reason the verses reminds me somewhat of Unbroken Chain and the vocal melody definitely has some similarities to Mr. Tambourine Man by Bob Dylan.

I've listened to a couple of versions today and the song being not a typical rock song with evolving lyrics makes the recordings sounds honestly like the band didn't practice it a whole lot and were still "learning it on stage" (without a net so to speak).

Childhood's End has pretty nice lyrics that apparently Phil wrote including the memorable refrain that the band would join in on:

River run deep
River run slow

and this refrain changes over the course of the song:

River run cold
River run clear

and so on. The entry for this song on the Annotated Grateful Dead lyrics doesn't have the lyrics but they are definitely out there on the internet and they are really cool lyrics. Kind of wistful, nostalgic, with lots of references to nature and some of the good ol' Grateful Dead mysical content like:

Reach behind the wind
Search beyond the stars
We're the life on Mars

So Childhood's End isn't going to pop up on any "best of" Grateful Dead compilations but is still interesting for those of us who love the Dead and just want to hear rare songs like this one.

Childhood's End Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 6.5

Disclaimer: This is part of my review of every Grateful Dead song from A-Z. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion (and be sure to read my blog manifesto to understand a little more about where I'm coming from).