1) Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo 2) Let Me Sing Your Blues Away 3) Row Jimmy 4) Stella Blue 5) Here
Comes Sunshine 6) Eyes of the World 7) Weather Report Suite
This is the studio album
that starts to define the Dead sound, which is strange because it comes after what are generally considered
their two best albums. Usually, albums that define how a band sounds should be
a prelude to their best albums—they shouldn’t come after them. This
just doesn’t make scene. But what happened to the Dead was that they somewhat
abandoned their country/folksy approach and entered a time of searching for an identity.
They hardly ever strayed too far from their original style, but they constantly tried to push forward and expand their
sound. Since the recording of “American Beauty,” Phil Lesh’s
and Pigpen’s fathers died, followed by both Bob Wier’s parents. Jerry’s
mother passed away in an automobile accident. Their manager, Mickey Hart’s
father, took $70,000 and split, which caused Mickey to leave for a few years. Fan
favorite Pigpen then died, and their keyboardist, Tom Constanton, quit. Obviously,
this would leave any band searching.
What the Dead
came up with was “Wake of the Flood.” Everything about this
album is polished. The cover is one of the most fetching in the Dead’s
career and the jacket features the lyrics for the first time. Trumpets, violins,
saxophones, trombones, and female vocals adorn this album and add to the musical transformation. It seems the Dead were not satisfied to continue playing their version of traditional country/folk music…they
wanted to branch off and create a new style—and “progressive country” is what they came up with on “Wake
of the Flood.”
In that vein, “Mississippi
Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo” starts the album. This song reminds me of
the Beatles’ “Rocky Raccoon.” It has a similar feel
and atmosphere and is really enhanced by an Old West sounding fiddle and piano. Without
a doubt, this is a true gem and even though it is a tad too long, it is simply great!
“Let Me Sing Your Blues Away” features some excellent saxophone soloing, and coasts along at a relaxing
pace. It really does manage to put you in a good mood and goes beyond just being
well crafted. It is the typical “progressive country” sound that
the Dead seem to have established.
Jimmy” drags a bit, but has a bouncy backing guitar riff (extremely similar to The Band’s “Up on
Cripple Creek”). As many Dead tunes, it is too long and a little boring,
but again pushes the reader into relaxation. This certainly isn’t the band
you want to listen to when you are in a bad mood and feel like breaking stuff. “Stella
Blue” takes relaxation to the next step, and has been known to put a few Deadheads to sleep with its gentle melody
and dreamy environment. It is simply beautiful though—absolutely the most
downright gorgeous song the Dead ever wrote. But this isn’t to say you
will like it, as it is an undeniably boring, sappy lullaby.
Comes Sunshine” follows and is another “progressive country” song in the “Let Me Sing Your
Blues Away” mold. It benefits a great deal, as the entire album does,
from its excellent production with horns and violins and continues the leisurely temperament of the Dead’s new “wall
of sound” country music. It has excellent harmonies and the bass is particularly
strong towards the end. “Eyes of the World” cooks relative
to its company. It is a classic Dead song with amazing guitar by Jerry and sounds
almost like jazz. Jerry’s fills are so perfect and the song is so professionally
done, this is the best track here.
Report Suite” ends the album. It starts off promising with flamenco
guitar picking that reminds me of Jethro Tull. Unfortunately after the first
minute and a half the song slides into a tiresome Bob Weir epic. It is the only
song here, save for “Stella Blues,” that is truly boring—but it shouldn’t be. It has a lot going on towards the second half of it and some might actually like this tune. To me, however, it is just too random and overlong. Coming
at the end of such a slothful album, it attempts to wake you up before you go, but feels out of place.
“Wake of the Flood” is mellow to say the least, it is perfect music to smoke to—which is probably
what inspired its creation. Since the Dead’s entire audience was probably
high when listening to this album, it is easy to understand why the Dead would appeal so much to the 60s/70s counterculture. Drop the rating down to a 7 if you cannot tolerate 30 minutes of pure mellow music,
but for those of you who are in the proper frame of mind and are up for some relaxation, this is an excellent, underrated
album which introduces the Dead’s signature sound.