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Records

Records image
Parent Issue
Day
6
Month
September
Year
1974
OCR Text

The Grateful Dead has been with us for close toa decade now, putting out a distinctive style of music which they pretty much single-handedly crafted in the middle Sixties. In the Seventies, with the Jefferson Airplane down for the count, the Dead is really the last surviving San Francisco band from the past ten years. After a bizarre (though pleasing) first album, the Grateful Dead forged ahead into the music with which they were to become identified: "acid rock." The term is totally undescriptive; acid rock was in fact an extended, free-form jam style involving shifting textures and time signatures (the band had two drummers at the time, and they worked together beautifully). A typical Dead tune in concert would take off into uncharted regions which could last for hours after the initial vocal part of the song was dealt with. And the concerts themselves in the late Sixties would last, incredibly, from six to ten hours, leaving the band and its fanatic cultish following totally drained at the end. Playing six to ten hours a night over a long period of time molded the Grateful Dead into a" band that could play together, and from this impressive vantage point, the group decided (in 1969) that it was time to get concise, to start writing real tunes rather than launching vehicles. The result was two studio LP's, "Workingman's Dead" and "American Beauty," both of which accentuated the group's folk and country roots to a great extent. The tunes were compact, the lyrics (by Robert Hunter) pithy, and the band had never sounded tighter. The major problem was that the new approach brought the Dead's vocals to the foreground, and they were poor. There followed a double-album, and then a triple-album, of live material, some of it new. none of it very exciting. The band's last two offerings have been on their own label, Grateful Dead Records, which, besides distribution, is a completely self-determined outfit. On this .subject, it should be noted that the artwork is excellent, the quality of vinyl first-rate, and the dust-sleeves of the more expensive variety. The music, on the other hand, has never been limper. The songs are skeletal, the lyrics increasingly vague and unfocused, and the vocals sub-standard. No tunes on the new album, "From The Mars Hotel," stand out; in fact, nothing really protrudes any more in the band except Garcia's voice, of which he seems very proud at this time, unfortunately. The Dead, striving for a mellowed-out acid sound, comes off tired and at times downright lazy. The only really rocking tune on the album, Bob Weir's "Money Money," just doesn't have enough steam to put it over the hill. The band is tight but totally unadventurous, victimized by Garcia's sleepy ambience. Garcia's solo album does not feature the Grateful Dead, nor, surprisingly, does it feature any García origináis. It is, seemingly, a record of his favorite tunes (by Dr. John, Van Morrison, Chuck Berry, Smokey Robinson, Irving Berlin, etc); one wishes he could have just put together a list rather than venturing to sing these excellent songs. This LP is really a piece of tasteless and unjustified impudence by a man resting on some wilted laurels. And Robert Hunter's album is bad enough to make Garcia sound like Caruso. One can say very little about a record so totally devoid of musical valué by a man whose favorite singers seem to be Lou Reed and . . . yes, Jerry Garcia. For a healthy shot in the arm, settle back with "Anthem Of The Sun," the Dead's second album, or their first effort, previously mentioned, and leave this current batch on the racks. The Dead are not oíd so much as tired and caught between two generations of sound; we should still be hearing from this once-inspirational band in the years to come. Grateful Dead: "From the Mars Hotel, " Gratefui Dead Records GD 102 Jerry García: "García, " Round Records RX 102 Robert Hunter: "Tales of the Great Rum Runners," RX 101