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Cats Under The Stars—8            


Released: 1978

1) Rubin and Cherise 2) Love in the Afternoon 3) Palm Sunday 4) Cats Under the Stars 5) Rhapsody in Red 6) Rain 7) Down Home 8) Gomorrah


Since its release, Jerry Garcia has repeatedly claimed that “Cats Under The Stars” was his best ever album.  The record I worked hardest at and liked best was ‘Cats Under The Stars.’  That was kind of like my baby…[it] is my most successful record - even though it's my least successful record!  I've always loved it and it just never went anywhere.”  Strong praise, but not without merit as this album sounds better than any Garcia or Dead recording from a production standpoint, is much more diverse than “Reflections,” and features some truly excellent songs.  


This is the first album Garcia released using the band name The Jerry Garcia Band and most of these songs are new to this record, meaning they weren’t tried out on the road before they were recorded.  The first song on the album does not fit this description though, as it was something Jerry had been working on for almost a decade.  Rubin and Cherise” is a retelling of the legend of Orpheus, who traveled to Hell to bring back his lost love.  The song is very melodic and compelling with Robert Hunter writing captivating lyrics.  The melody sounds a little like Eric Clapton’s “Hello Old Friend,” but this song has enough happening in it to keep the listener entertained for the full five minutes.  Included in the lyric is the line ”The course of love must follow blind, without a look behind.”  Jerry has been quoted as claiming that this line represents the concept of the entire record--that you should never focus on regrets, and always concentrate on the present.     


Hunter teams with bassist John Kahn to pen “Love in the Afternoon” and it is a great song with sort of a “Cha-cha-cha” kind of feel--a little Latin aura to mellow you out.  Palm Sunday” is a two-minute harmonica heavy Old West hymn written by Garcia/Hunter and sung by Garcia and Donna Godchaux.  It’s nice enough, but too short to really be memorable.  The title track is next and is fantastic.  In the “Shakedown Street” mode, this song really soars.  Apparently about Deadheads dancing during concerts, Garcia really manages to sound blissful singing Hunter’s lyrics.  The “Time’s a stripper, doing it just for you” section is overwhelmingly ingenious.  Rhapsody in Red” is a great rock song, with Jerry virtually shouting the lyrics.  He should sing like this more often and his guitar fills and solo are excellent, making this much more rockin’ than almost the entire Dead catalog. 


Rain” was written and sung by Donna Godchaux and is the lowlight of the album.  It’s not terribly offensive with pretty good lyrics, and it is rare to hear an emotionally upbeat song about rain, but this tune is just dwarfed by its company.  Down Home,” written by John Kahn, is also sung by Godchaux.  For some reason, this song really gets to me.  It’s kind of a lesser man’s “The Great Gig In The Sky,” but I really think it’s beautiful, if too short.  Gomorrah” closes the album by retelling the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah story, including the mentioning of Lot and how his wife turned to salt because she disobeyed God’s command and looked behind at the two burning cities.  The last lines of the song are “Because she looked behind her,” (repeated six times) with the song and album ending abruptly right after.  This is supposedly to reiterate the concept that you should never look back.  The song is moody, rhythmic, and an underrated classic.   


All and all, this is an excellent album, close to being Jerry’s masterpiece, and no Dead fan should be without it.  The only complaint, and the reason it isn’t rated higher, is that the album is far too short, at just over a half hour long.  While Garcia’s debut is still his best album, “Cats Under The Stars” is better than every Grateful Dead studio album that follows it and really is an inspired effort worthy of Garcia’s high praise.

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