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).