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Dylan and the Dead—6

 

Released: 1989

1) Slow Train Coming 2) I Want You 3) Gotta Serve Somebody 4) Queen Jane Approximately

5) Joey 6) All Along The Watchtower 7) Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

 

This isn’t a Grateful Dead album—it’s a Bob Dylan live album.  Dylan uses the Dead (much like the Band earlier in his career) as his backing band on seven of his songs.  So don’t be fooled into thinking you are going to hear Dylan and Garcia singing harmony together on “Althea” or something, because this album doesn’t even contain one Dead tune.  For a pure Dylan fan this album is unessential (I’d give it a 6), for a pure Dead fan this album is utterly useless (I’d give it a 4), but for a fan of both, this album is fairly interesting (which is why it gets a 6).  Not earth shattering, but a decent listening experience.        

 

Unfortunately, the history of how this album came to be is more interesting than the music itself:  Dylan joined the Dead on a short stadium tour in the summer of ’87.  From the beginning, Bob’s playing was not up to par, and the Dead actually thought twice about whether or not having him there was a good idea (Dylan’s publicist claimed that Bob was suffering from back pain, and blamed this for his poor showing).  On this album, Dylan does frequently forget lyrics and on “Joey” and “Queen Jane Approximately” particularly, he just mumbles through most of the tune.  At the end of the tour, the Dead chose a show from Giants Stadium as the best of the lot and wanted to release it, but Dylan vetoed it because the show contained many of the same tracks as his last live album “Real Live” in 1984.  Consequently, “Dylan and the Dead” is not apparently the cream of the crop of the tour.  Nonetheless, Bob had such a great time on the tour, and on a similar one two years later, that he told the Dead he wanted to join the band in 1989.  The Dead voted, but Phil Lesh apparently did not think Dylan was up for it and would not allow it.  Bob Weir has been quoted as saying that if Lesh had been more open to the idea, the Dead would have picked up Dylan as a “sort of temporary band member.”  Ahhh, what might have been…  Anyway, on to the music:

 

Slow Train Coming” is excellent here.  It has a little more bite than the studio version with great backing vocals and Mydland’s charismatic keyboards.  Dylan’s voice is in fine form and adds to the musical sting.  I Want You” follows and is a highlight with a tremendous Jerry guitar solo.  Dylan sings with some passion, but it is hard to understand him in many of the verses.  Gotta Serve Somebody” is also very well done.  Jerry takes Mark Knopfler’s already tremendous guitar fills from the studio version and expands them into his typical style.  The band hits a good grove and this actually does sound a lot like the Dead (specifically “Shakedown Street” and “Feel Like A Stranger”).

 

Queen Jane Approximately” and “Joey” are next and both are too long, suffer from incomprehensible vocals, and are just too slow to be effective.  Neither is bad, but they don’t even come close to matching their studio versions.  All Along the Watchtower” is the best song here.  The Dead play tight and really move, with Lesh shinning.  Jerry’s guitar work on this track tough is the reason to buy the album.  The ending solo is among his best ever.  Damn, the guy truly was amazing and hardly ever gets the credit he deserves from the rock world.  Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” closes the album and is fine—another version of one of the best ballads of all time.  Well played and well sung.

 

All together, this album isn’t bad.  It’s too short and should be better than it is, but there is nothing offending about it and The Dead prove they can be a very effective backing band.  Again, this is an almost pointless purchase for a Dead fan, save for hearing Jerry’s outstanding guitar playing, and should probably only be bought to finish out your collection.                                                 

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