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Terrapin Station—8       

 

Released: 1977

1) Estimated Prophet 2) Dancin’ in the Streets 3) Passenger 4) Samson & Delilah  5) Sunrise 6) Terrapin Station Part 1

 

Another album, another change of pace.  Terrapin Station” carries the experimentations of “Blues For Allah” to a new level.  While “Blues For Allah” had instrumentals and lengthy jams, the Dead get back to structured songs on this album including the centerpiece closer “Terrapin Station Part 1.”  Be weary though, as these songs are very peculiar and take their fan base even further from their roots.    

 

Estimated Prophet” opens the album and is the best song Bob Weir ever wrote.  It has a raunchy, rough kind of feel and really is bizarre (but in a good way).  The chorus of “California” really sounds blissful, lightening the mood of the verses.  Weir’s voice also sounds better on this track than ever.  Excellent song.  A cover, “Dancin’ in the Streets” follows.  It’s upbeat and has horns and bongos, features Jerry playing cool James Brown fills, but it’s God-awful compared to a ton of other covers of this classic song.  The Dead’s interpretation is so different from the original that you can’t help but feel they ruin it.  However, if you had never heard the song before and assumed the Dead wrote it, you might actually enjoy it (as my little brother does).  It gets a lot of criticism, and although somewhat deserved, this really would be a pleasant sounding Dead song if they had written it (a weak argument, but an argument nonetheless).

 

Phil Lesh’s “Passenger” is a very good effort from the bassist.  It is short and really has a harder feel than most Dead songs adding to the oddness of the album.  The vocals are helped by Donna Godchaux’s harmonies, and it really is an underrated, very strong song.  The traditional folk tune “Samson & Delilah” gets the “progressive country” treatment from the Dead with an impressive solo from Jerry.  It sounds like gospel music, but is not offensive and further enhances the off-the-wall stylistic changes of the album.

 

Donna Godchaux wrote the words, the music and sings lead on the beautiful “Sunrise.”  It might not be a true highlight, but for being the first tune Godchaux ever wrote, it is lovely.  It adds a different dimension to the Dead and is so utterly unanticipated that it also adds to the general strangeness of the album as a whole.  Unexpectedly, “Sunrise” has some of the same melody lines as “Terrain Station” and actually acts as an intro to the long suite.  The last stanza seems to also be a lyrical bridge into the closing number: “Like I told you, I’ll sing to them this story, and know why…”

 

Terrapin Station Part 1” might just be the Dead’s greatest song.  It is as radical a departure from their roots as the title track from “Blues For Allah,” but is much more focused and rhythmic.  This sounds like progressive rock and to my ears shares many musical ideas with Pink Floyd’s “When You’re In” off of “Obscured By The Clouds” and even portions of “Atom Heart Mother.”  The Dead expand this sound and incorporate it with their unique approach to music, weaving in orchestration to ultimately create their masterpiece.  Sometimes sounding like 70s progressive rock, sometimes classical, sometimes sounding like jazz, sometimes surf music, and still at other times sounding like it was from the Middle Ages, this opus is mesmerizing.  You might not like it, you might think it is overlong and pretentious—but it certainly is impressive.  To me, for the Dead to be able to write such an unforgettable epic justifies all their previous boring misses and raises this album to rank with their all time best. 

 

Even the lyrics are strangely resonant.  In fact, they are superb.  They describe, in poetic terms, the importance of a storyteller’s place in society—whether they tell happy or sad tales—storytellers are needed to fill the void we all share.  Perhaps Hunter’s tackling of such a mysterious and forgotten subject lyrically, inspired Garcia to write the Middle Ages sounding portions of the music.  I especially love the lines: “The storyteller makes no choice, soon you will not hear his voice, his job is to shed light and not to master.  Since the end is never told, we pay the teller off in gold in hopes he will come back.” 

 

Overall, this is the Dead’s most revolutionary work.  It is unique in their catalog, and is simply well done.  This should not be your first purchase though.  One of the things that makes the album stand out is how far removed it is from “Workingmen’s Dead” and the other country/folk albums.  But when you do get around to buying it, you will undoubtedly respect the Grateful Dead a little more.       

 

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