Getaway 2) Far From Me 3) Althea 4) Feel Like A Stranger 5) Lost
Sailor 6) Saint of Circumstance 7) Antwerp’s Placebo (The Plumber) 8) Easy To Love You 9) Don’t Ease Me In
Call this “Shakedown
Street Part II.” The filler songs on this album are better than on the
previous, but the classic songs on “Shakedown Street” are just a little more classy than “Go To
Heaven’s” classics (Got that?). Anyway, that’s why each
album receives the same rating. Don’t agree? Well too bad, I’m the reviewer here.
Since the previous album,
occasional songwriter and excellent background singer Donna Godchaux left the group as did her husband, keyboardist Keith
Godchaux (or maybe he was her brother—who knows, maybe both—I’m not a Deadhead). Anyway in their place, the Dead hired Brent Mydland. He plays
the keys very well, but at least on this album, his voice is just too tender sounding.
It simply lacks any bite. Maybe it was a cost-cutting move on the Dead’s
part (to get someone who could play the piano and sing), but it would have been nice to hear Donna’s backing vocals
on some of the tunes here.
of this really matters on the Garcia/Hunter “Alabama Getaway,” which gets this album off to a swinging
start. This song is among the Dead’s greatest work, with some amazingly
expressive guitar playing and a catchy chorus—country/rock at its best. Mydland
wrote and takes lead vocals on the following track, “Far From Me.”
His voice is annoying here, but the song isn’t bad (It does have a nice Beatlish part in the middle, which is
cool). In fact, this song is actually pretty good, but like “France”
on the previous album, it will take a while to grow on you.
Damn, this group is hard
to review. If you were only to listen to any Dead album once, you’d think
they were utterly overrated. The problem though, is every time you hear an album,
you like it more than the previous time. That is probably their biggest virtue
as a band, and why their fans have stayed with them so long, but when trying to review them, it just sucks.
Sorry about that—back
to the music. “Althea” is next and again, this is a classic
Garcia/Hunter song. It is long, at 7 minutes, but it just packs so much mood
and atmosphere into the seemingly simple chord patterns that it is difficult not to like.
It is similar in style to “Warf Rat” or “Row Jimmy” but adds even more feeling. Weir’s funky “Feel Like A Stranger” comes next. It’s got a great beat, catchy guitar fills, a good chorus and is danceable. If it wasn’t for the HORRIBLE backing vocals, this would be a definite highlight. I never thought something like a backing vocal could ruin a song, but just give this tune a listen! If only Donna Godchaux’s voice was in the background instead. (Man, I’ve mentioned her so many times in these reviews you’d think I was related!)
Weir also is the author of
the next two songs, “Lost Sailor” and “Saint of Circumstance.” Each has no chorus or really any hook at all, but both get by on their excellent playing and perfect singing. Weir and Garcia, when you get right down to it, write the same type of songs. Each relies on the mood to carry you through instead of choruses and hooks. But while Jerry writes country/folk songs, Bob is much more likely to add musical experimentation. Obviously, sometimes they fail, but on songs like “Lost Sailor”
and “Saint of Circumstance” Weir can mange to keep you interested.
I’m not saying either is a highlight, but they do have their charms (especially “Lost Sailor”
which has more musical bite).
Placebo” is not even a song. It is 39 seconds of nothingness—harmless,
but pointless too. Mydland’s “Easy To Love You” is similar
to his other song on the album. It isn’t spectacular, but it is catchy
and he sings it better than “Far From Me.” Again, it’s
actually sort of good, and it is nice to hear a more conventional sounding song after Weir’s 3 lengthy pieces. “Don’t Ease Me In” is a rearranged traditional. It is cheerful and pleasant enough, with great organ and guitar solos.
Overall, it is a nice, upbeat way to end the album.
There you have it.
Not essential listening, by any means, but far from a wasted listening experience.
Imagine though, if the Dead combined this album with “Shakedown Street.” Now that would be a truly great album: “Alabama Getaway,”
“France,” “Shakedown Street,” “Feel Like A Stranger,” “Fire on the Mountain,”
“Althea,” “Lost Sailor,” and “I Need A Miracle.” We’ll call it “Shakedown on Heaven Street.” It’d
be their best album since “American Beauty.” Unfortunately
though, in the real world, you have to wade through some minor to major misses on each album to hear the gems. Still though, “Go To Heaven” has some of Jerry’s best guitar playing and should
not be passed over.