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 The choice of harpsichord - an outdated archaic instrument - is surprisingly perfect in Mountains of the Moon.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


Unknown said...

Check out the original Aoxomoxoa vinyl mix, only available commercially through 1971.

GDmike said...

Ken - that's cool!