2) Bird Song 3) Sugaree 4) Loser 5)
Late For Supper 6) Spidergawd 7) Eep Hour 8) To Lay Me Down 9) An Odd Little Place 10) The
This is the first solo album
released by the lead singer/guitarist/songwriter of the Grateful Dead. It came
at a time when the band was in the middle of massive touring and maybe some writer’s block, as their last studio album
(“American Beauty”) was released two years before this, and their next studio album (“Wake of
the Flood”) wasn’t released for another year and a half. During
this time, Garcia was in dire need of some money in order to put a $20,000 down payment on an ocean-view house in California. Recorded and mixed in three weeks, Garcia claimed that his first solo effort was not
done just for money, but as an attempt to get grounded. “[The record] was
about me being respectable…that’s why it ends with ‘Wheel’ and starts with ‘Deal’—it’s
wheeling and dealing to get a house.” Garcia plays every instrument on
the album save for drums (which are handled by the Dead’s drummer Bill Kreutzmann), while Robert Hunter (Garcia’s
normal word man) tackles all the lyrics.
This is a strange
album to say the least. It possess five Garcia/Hunter classics, one boring, but
emotional piano ballad, and 12 minutes of “insect fear craziness” as then manager Rock Scully put it. Without a doubt, Garcia’s voice is in top form and his guitar playing, as always, is excellent. Each of the 5 classics here became favorites at Dead concerts and deservedly so, as
they represent five of the best songs Garcia ever wrote.
The album gets off to a country,
hillbilly start with the card playing story song, “Deal.” It
has a perfect guitar solo, amusing lyrics and is fun, upbeat and catchy. The
best bit is when Jerry really lets go and shouts out the vocals at the end; he rarely ever shouts like that and it works really
well here. The elegant “Bird Song” follows. This is Hunter’s lyrical tribute to Janis Joplin and it really rules in a “Workingman’s
Dead” way. Subdued and melodic, this tune is given very low-key vocals
by Garcia, emotional and well done. “Sugaree” comes next and
it is typical Jerry. Slow, drifting bluegrass rock, with a nice chorus. If you like the Dead’s style on “Europe ’72,” then
you will love this. Next up is the album’s highlight, “Loser,”
which holds the distinction of being the only truly memorable riff Garcia ever wrote.
A great song, with cool organ fills in the background, this is another card playing story-song of a lost gambler, but
is much more tuneful than the normal Garcia/Hunter format—in fact, most of the songs here are more tuneful than the
traditional Garcia/Hunter format.
“Late For Supper,”
Spidergawd,” and “An Odd Little Place” are all instrumentals, but with no chords, finger picking,
or anything remotely resembling a song. This is illustrative of the “space”
portions of concerts that the Dead did, and they are cool and spooky in a “Revolution #9” way, but…well
I don’t know. As individual songs (or noises, to be more accurate) they
are crap, but put into the context of the entire album, they ALMOST work. Not
quite, but strange enough where I wouldn’t want them off the album. “Eep
Hour” is something entirely different. It is an instrumental, but it
actually has chords! It is in fact an album highlight and sounds a lot like Pink
Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” Picture someone in
the background saying “I am not frightened of dying” and you could plug it right into the classic Floyd album
without missing a beat. It displays weird sounds, soulful guitar playing, and
an attractive piano.
Lay Me Down” is slow and boring in an “Attics of My Life” way.
It crushes “Attics” in terms of singing and emotion, but it maintains the latter’s dreadful
slow pace. This was the first tune Garcia ever wrote on piano, but he should
have stuck to composing on the guitar where he could have injected some interesting fills.
“The Wheel,” which closes the album, starts off with a neat little walking bass/guitar interplay
before transforming into an excellent country song with Hunter’s best lyrics on the album: “Small wheel turning by the fire and rod, Big wheel turning by the grace of God, You can't go back
and you can't stand still, If the thunder don't get you then the lightning will.”
Some nice closure to an entertaining album.
Overall, this is great. I’ve always wondered how the rest of the Dead felt when they heard this album. Quite obviously, Jerry didn’t need them (save for a drummer) to write and record music, and in fact
I like this record far more than every Grateful Dead album after 1973 (though “Terrapin Station” is more
impressive). It even charted quite high (35) and had the single “Suagree”
(backed by “Eep Hour”) crack the Top 100, something not many Dead albums can claim. If you are even remotely a fan of the Grateful Dead, then you must have this album…and if you are
a fan of good music in general, then you should locate this fine effort.
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