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|Grateful Dead||Primary Artist|
|Jerry Garcia||Guitar, Vocals, Group Member|
|Bob Weir||Guitar, Vocals, Group Member|
|Donna Jean Godchaux||Background Vocals, Group Member|
|Keith Godchaux||Harpsichord, Keyboards, Group Member|
|Bill Kreutzmann||Drums, Group Member|
|Phil Lesh||Vocals, Group Member|
|John McFee||Pedal Steel Guitar|
|James Austin||Reissue Producer|
|John Perry Barlow||Composer|
|Joel Selvin||Liner Notes|
|Mary Ann Mayer||Artwork|
|Reggie Collins||Discographical Annotation|
|Cameron Sears||Producer, Executive Producer|
|David Lemieux||Reissue Producer|
Posted October 1, 2010
So, in 1974 the Dead found themselves having to pay for the monstrously expensive, but acoustically perfect Wall of Sound, a large coterie of employees, and themselves. They needed a hit album, badly. What they delivered could very well have been one, had it had the marketing muscle of Warner Brothers or Arista behind it. This album, like their best (and the other two studio albums released on Grateful Dead Records) comes across as a seamless whole, with the one exception of Bob Weir's "Money Money". I still cannot figure out if he's being quite facetious or if he's really that angry at some unnamed woman. The album's opener, "U.S. Blues", is yet another distillation of the Dead's patented psychedelic rock'n'roll boogie, this time with lyrics equally as contemptuous of the Nixon presidency's spectacular downfall as Stevie Wonder's "You Haven't Done Nothin'" or "He's Misstra Know-It-All". The songs "Loose Lucy", "Scarlet Begonias" and the Lesh-composed "Pride of Cucamonga" all hearken back to the loping country-blues of Workingman's Dead or American Beauty. Not that the Dead were looking backwards; these songs just fit in that particualar vein of their music. On the other hand, "China Doll" is a murder ballad framed by Garcia's delicate guitar and vocals and Keith Godchaux's amazing harpsichord playing. "Ship of Fools" is a slow, sad bluesy number, enlivened by Godchaux's organ and piano. The psychedelic heart of the album is Lesh's "Unbroken Chain", which proceeds from a fairly standard Dead sound into something that, in 1974, was absoultely stunning electronically and sonically. It says something that, despite repeated requests to play "Unbroken Chain" live, the band never felt ready to until 1995.
The standout players here, if one can ever really say that about a Grateful Dead album, are Keith and Donna Jean Godchaux. Keith here quashes forever the opinion that he was merely a jazzy piano player brought in to dep for Pigpen when necessary, as his coloring touches on harpsichord, organ and synthesizer, coupled with his prowess at throwing out both jazz and barrelhouse blues piano, prove him the equal of his predecessors and successors in the band. Donna Jean, on the other hand, revealed her ability to add the right pinch of sugar (or salt) to push a song over the top. So, hats off to the late Keith Godchaux, and here's to the next unannounced appearance Donna Jean makes with what is now called "The Dead" (or any of its offspring). As for the album, get it if you're a casual fan or a true DeadHead. It's that good, and, twenty years after I first heard it, I've yet to get tired of hearing the moment in which one player yelps in joy when the whole band takes off during "Unbroken Chain".
Posted April 28, 2009
No text was provided for this review.