1) Let It Rock 2) When
The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game 3) That’s What Love Will Make You Do 4) Russian Lullaby
5) Turn On The Bright Lights 6) He Ain’t Give You None 7) What Goes Around 8) Let’s
Spend The Night Together 9) Mississippi Moon 10) Midnight Town
Jerry Garcia’s second
solo album is so far removed from his first it is a little offsetting. While
he played every instrument but drums on his first solo album, this record has over 30 guest musicians. While his first solo effort had undeniably well written originals, this album is entirely covers—not
one Garcia composition on the whole album. While his first record was an artistic
statement with “spacey” jazz inspired instrumentals, this album is well, covers!
By far the worst aspect of the Grateful’s Dead long recording career was when they tried to cover good rock and
roll songs. Listen to their versions of “Good Loving” or “Dancing
in the Streets” or “Johnny B. Goode” or “Me and Bobby McGee” and you’ll
see how terrible these songs could actually be. But despite all of these things
going against him, Garcia manages to make this album into a lot of fun and certainly enjoyable.
The reason why
this compilation sounds so peculiar is that Jerry’s friend and bassist on the record, John Kahn, picked almost every
song on the album for Jerry to cover (many of which Garcia had never even heard before) to showcase Jerry’s abilities
as a singer in various musical styles. His selections are curious and different
from what Jerry usually associates himself with, which is what makes this album sound so intriguing. It has an Old World feel to it (like when The Doors did “Alabama Song”)—sort of
a 1940s atmosphere with all the horns and violins. Long time fans of the Grateful
Dead’s style will probably not like this, but…well, this isn’t the Dead.
“Let It Rock” starts the album and sounds exactly like “Johnny B. Goode.” You can actually sing the lines of “Johnny B. Goode” over the top of this song and it fits
perfectly. Anyway, this is supposed to represent Jerry as a rock and roll singer
and guitarist. He does a fine job on both, but it’s too slow. He needs to pick it up a little and really let rip. “When
The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game” is all Motown. Written by Smokey
Robinson, this tune cooks and Garcia does an excellent job, a lot of fun, and well done.
“That’s What Love Will Make You Do” is straight R’n’B and again Jerry does a great
job putting his emotional voice behind this tune.
The only song
on the album that Jerry suggested was Irvin Berlin’s “Russian Lullaby.” This is a fantastic ragtime, Tin Pan Alley kind of song that features classical guitar picking from Garcia
and really demonstrates the Old World flavor perfectly—a great tune and the album highlight. “Turn On The Bright Lights” is all Chicago Blues and Jerry handles himself very well. His voice is perfect, but the thing that is truly cool, is to hear Garcia solo on
a blues song ala Clapton. You never hear him do this with the Dead, and Garcia
more than demonstrates his prowess on guitar in a style more people associate with being great. A Van Morrison song, “He Ain’t Give You None,” comes next and represents Garcia
as an emotional gospel singer, complete with female background vocals. This song
is similar to “To Lay Me Down” from his first record, but moodier and more funky, with lines like: “I’ve
done more for you than your Daddy’s ever done.” The piano boogie,
“What Goes Around” follows and it has that ragtime feel again. I
love this sound and especially the clarinet solo in the middle and the trombone fills throughout.
The one song
everyone knows on the album, the Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together” is given a pop background
and is obviously terrible compared to the original. Thank God, or Buddha, or
whatever, that Kahn didn’t put more classic rock and roll songs on here; it just isn’t Garcia’s style. His version doesn’t suck, it’d be a real struggle to make such a song
be bad, but it is just lacking. “Mississippi Moon” is strange
but haunting. It is slow, orchestrated, classical bluegrass with howling wolves
in the background that somehow makes for an interesting listen. Robert Hunter
teams with bassist John Kahn to pen the last song “Midnight Town.”
It’s the worst tune here—too slow, too dull—I guess trying to show Garcia as a balladeer.
Overall, this is hard to
rate. Garcia’s voice is amazing throughout the entire record, he records
some songs the Dead wouldn’t dream of doing, and he seems to be having a good time.
All the songs offer something enjoyable and none sound the same. Taken
as a harmless side project, this album is a lot of fun, but when compared to his first solo album, this pales in artistic
merit. I’m just not sure what to rate it.
It’s definitely not as good as his first album but it is more enjoyable, overall, than a lot of the Dead’s
output. I guess 7½ sounds about right.