Saturday, January 17, 2009

Black Muddy River - Grateful Dead Song Review

Black Muddy River, from the album In the Dark is a slow emotional dirge that has an excellent fingerpicked feel, a sad melody, and Robert Hunter's inimicable mysterious lyrics:

"the hot sun chills me to the bone..."

and how about this verse:

"When it seems like the night will last forever
And there's nothing left to do but count the years
When the strings of my heart start to sever
And stones fall from my eyes instead of tears"

That's some really inspired, well written lyrics that give a strong sense of reminiscing, nostalgia, and acceptance.

I don't think I've ever had someone walk up to me and say "you've got to hear this killer Black Muddy River" or "my favorite Dead song is Black Muddy River" but it is definitely a solid tune. If nothing else it just has Jerry and Robert's fingerprints over the whole song- every note. It sounds like a Jerry Garcia/Grateful Dead tune (even without any "jam section") - you know what I mean.

I think that in the last few years of Jerry's life he was gravitating towards writing and playing slow emotional dirges like Black Muddy River. I always enjoyed the Jerry ballads most at the shows I saw, and I enjoyed the JGB shows with their numerous "slow jams" mixed in the set list (like Shining Star!).

Many times I've read about this being the last Grateful Dead "Jerry encore" (then Phil played Box of Rain - also I suppose with some lyrical significance). This train of thought reminds me of when my friends used to point out that the last "vocal lead line" Brent sang was "I've got to go but my friends can stick around..." in The Weight (I've never verified this). While finding significance in these occurrences seems morbid and kind of rubs me the wrong way, I am looking at my Deadbase X and Black Muddy River was not played for almost four years and then brought back and played 3 times in the last month of Dead shows (all within 60 days of Jerry dying).

Anyway, I think it's a great song and always takes me to a sad nostalgic place...

Black Muddy River Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 8.3

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).

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