Thursday, June 2, 2011

Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band: "Almost Acoustic" CD Review

Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia shows his roots with this excellent album of folk songs.

This is a live album, recorded in the fall of 1987. Obviously it's an acoustic record, which is interesting, because this was recorded at what was really the height of the Grateful Dead's fame. They had their first genuine hit, "Touch Of Grey" earlier that year.

But Jerry Garcia never really cared about hits, and always cared about good music. And that's what this CD is: good music.

Traditional Folk Songs

A lot of the songs on this album are traditional songs. Of course, what that really means is that either no one knows who wrote the songs, or that people don't care to find out. But Jerry had always been interested in folk music. He had a bluegrass band in the 1970s called Old & In The Way.

The album starts with "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." The first known recording of this song is from 1909, by the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

The second song is "Deep Elem Blues," another traditional song, but one that the Grateful Dead had done years earlier. This version is excellent.

The crowd is clearly ecstatic just to be there, to be witnessing this show. The musicians seem to be sharing their ecstasy, putting in some of their best performances.

Jerry Garcia Yodels

On Jimmie Rodgers' "Blue Yodel #9" Jerry even does a bit of yodeling. He does a pretty good job too.

"Oh, The Wind And Rain"

"Oh, The Wind And Rain" is also known as "Dreadful Wind And Rain" and "Wind And Rain." It is also similar to "Two Sisters," telling the same story about two sisters who love the same boy. And so one of the girls pushes the other into the river to drown her.

This song has been covered by many artists over the years.

Elizabeth Cotten

Jerry introduces "Oh, Babe, It Ain't No Lie" by saying, "I'd like to dedicate this song to the memory of Elizabeth Cotten." Elizabeth Cotten, who had written this song, died earlier in 1987. Elizabeth Cotten was self-taught on the guitar, and started writing songs when just a child - including "Freight Train," which was also covered by Jerry Garcia.

"Casey Jones"

The song "Casey Jones" on this album is not the Grateful Dead song of the same name. That one was written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, and released on 1970's Workingman's Dead. This "Casey Jones" was written by Mississippi John Hurt. Mississippi John Hurt also recorded a song called "Talkin' Casey Jones." There is yet another traditional song called "The Ballad Of Casey Jones," written in 1909.


The album ends with its only original Garcia/Hunter composition, the beautiful "Ripple." Originally released on the Grateful Dead record American Beauty (one of the best albums ever recorded) in 1970, this song also concluded the Grateful Dead's live acoustic record Reckoning (which was also released under the title For The Faithful).

Grateful Dead Fans And Anyone Who Appreciates Good Folk Music

One does not have to be a fan of the Grateful Dead to appreciate this album. In fact, only a few of the songs on this album were ever performed by the Dead, including "Deep Elem Blues," "I've Been All Around This World," "Oh, Babe, It Ain't No Lie" and of course "Ripple."

Most of the songs on this album are covers. But Jerry, when away from the Grateful Dead, always chose more cover songs than his own original compositions - even when the Jerry Garcia Band performed their more regular electric sets. In the electric shows, the material was more often by Bob Dylan or selections from Motown, rather than the folk songs on this album.

Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band

Jerry Garcia's band on this recording is Jerry Garcia on vocals and guitar; David Nelson on guitar and vocals; Sandy Rothman on mandolin, dobro and vocals; John Kahn on acoustic bass; Kenny Kosek on fiddle; and David Kempter on snare drum.

CD Track List

  1. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
  2. Deep Elem Blues
  3. Blue Yodel #9 (Standin' On The Corner)
  4. Spike Driver Blues
  5. I've Been All Around This World
  6. I'm Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail
  7. I'm Troubled
  8. Oh, The Wind And Rain
  9. The Girl At The Crossroads Bar
  10. Oh, Babe, It Ain't No Lie
  11. Casey Jones
  12. Diamond Joe
  13. Gone Home
  14. Ripple
(Note: I originally posted this review on February 25, 2010 on another site.)

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