Monday, December 5, 2011

Jerry Jams For Rex II (2011) CD Review

Last year saw the release of a wonderful compilation of Jerry Garcia tunes covered by a range of bands in the jam band scene. That disc, titled Jerry Jams For Rex, benefited the Rex Foundation, a non-profit charitable organization founded in 1983 by members of the Grateful Dead and their friends. Now, a little more than a year later, a second compilation has been released, suitably titled Jerry Jams For Rex II.

Some bands from the first compilation are also represented on this second volume, such as Railroad Earth, Widespread Panic, The String Cheese Incident and Yonder Mountain String Band. And this time they are joined by bands like Sound Tribe Sector 9 and Umphrey's McGee. All of the tracks are live concert recordings, many of them from this year.

Sound Tribe Sector 9

Jerry Jams For Rex II opens with Sound Tribe Sector 9's rendition of "Shakedown Street," recorded at a show the band did in June of this year. Sound Tribe Sector 9 is an instrumental band, so we're missing Robert Hunter's lyrics (though you can still hear the audience sing out the "Wooo" at the appropriate points).

Originally released by the Grateful Dead in 1978, this song is as close as the band got to disco. And Sound Tribe Sector 9 really plays up the disco elements, mixing those well with more contemporary electronica and trance elements. It works, but I do miss the lyrics. I saw Sound Tribe Sector 9 in concert only once, and after an hour or two I was eager to hear some vocals.

Railroad Earth

Railroad Earth appeared on the first Jerry Jams For Rex compilation, performing "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo." For the second volume they chose a nice long version of "The Wheel." The Grateful Dead often performed this song directly out of "Space," and the beginning of Railroad Earth's rendition has a bit of a spacey thing happening. The beginning is also prettier and mellower than the Grateful Dead performed it toward the end, being more reminiscent of versions of "The Wheel" from the 1970s.

One thing that is interesting about Railroad Earth's version is its length. This is a song that the Dead didn't often jam that long on. And it's a total treat to hear a good long take on it. This recording is from the band's New Year's Eve performance last year in Denver. I always loved this song, and Railroad Earth does an excellent job with it. I got completely caught up in the jam toward the end.

Widespread Panic

Widespread Panic's rendition of "Fire On The Mountain" is fairly faithful to the Grateful Dead's original. At least for the first two verses. And then it gets interesting. They sing the third and fourth verses (without a chorus in between), which Robert Hunter wrote but which the Grateful Dead never performed. And they do it in a rap style.

Back in the 1980s I heard a tape of a strange rap version of this song, sung by Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart (who co-wrote the song with Robert Hunter), and that version actually predates the Shakedown Street version by a few years (my memory is that it was from 1974 or 1975, also making it a truly early rap song). Clearly, the guys of Widespread Panic heard that same tape. (If anyone has a recording of it, please send it my way.)

"Fire On The Mountain" is the only song on this compilation for which Jerry Garcia did not have a songwriting credit (apart from Bruce Hornsby's "Halcyon Days," that is).

New Monsoon

"Mission In The Rain," New Monsoon's contribution to this compilation, was performed by the Grateful Dead only five times, all in June of 1976. It's is a gorgeous song that originally appeared on Jerry Garcia's Reflections (1976). This version by New Monsoon with Steve Kimock and Tim Carbone was recorded at a show they did on May 13, 2006 in San Francisco. And so the line "There's some satisfaction in the San Francisco rain" gets a cheer from the audience.

Umphrey's McGee

Umphrey's McGee does a strange, stripped-down acoustic version of "Crazy Fingers." Actually, the strangest thing is that it is less than two minutes long. On a compilation of jam bands, a song that short is certainly an oddity. For there is no jamming whatsoever. This rendition was recorded in Boulder on September 1, 2008.

Yonder Mountain String Band

On the first volume of Jerry Jams For Rex, Yonder Mountain String Band did a beautiful cover of "Reuben And Cherise." For the second volume they chose another of Jerry's pretty tunes, this time "Althea," which was originally on the Grateful Dead's 1980 release, Go To Heaven. "Althea" is one of those songs that really struck a chord with Deadheads. I remember meeting several people who had named their pets and even their children after this song. And if you're a big Shakespeare fan, you'll be happy to know this song has references to Hamlet.

Yonder Mountain String Band does a wonderful job on this song, capturing its beauty and also giving it a vibrant energy toward the end. It's one of the compilation's best tracks. This recording is the most recent of the album, being from a show Yonder Mountain did in July of this year. This recording features Darol Anger on fiddle.

Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers

Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers kicked off the first Jerry Jams For Rex with a version of "Lady With A Fan." Bruce Hornsby's contribution this time around is an excellent, heartfelt rendition of "Standing On The Moon." "Standing On The Moon" was originally released on the Grateful Dead's final studio album, Built To Last, and was a song that Jerry often sang toward the end of the second set. I saw the Grateful Dead do an insanely beautiful version of it in Eugene, Oregon - it was one of those magical moments that Dead fans hope for.

And of course Bruce Hornsby was a member of the Grateful Dead in the early 1990s, following the death of Brent Mydland. So it's always a pleasure to hear him play these songs. He lets "Standing On The Moon" slowly build until it reaches these gorgeous heights that would certainly make Jerry smile.

"Standing On The Moon" then leads into "Halcyon Days," a song written by Bruce Hornsby. It's a good song, but it does seem a bit out of place on this compilation. This recording is from a show Bruce Hornsby did in Richmond, Virginia in November of 2009.

CD Track List

  1. Shakedown Street - Sound Tribe Sector 9
  2. The Wheel - Railroad Earth
  3. Brown-Eyed Women - Chris Robinson Brotherhood
  4. Fire On The Mountain - Widespread Panic
  5. Mission In The Rain - New Monsoon with Steve Kimock and Tim Carbone
  6. Crazy Fingers - Umphrey’s McGee
  7. Althea - Yonder Mountain String Band
  8. Deal - The String Cheese Incident
  9. Standing On The Moon > Halcyon Days - Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers
  10. St. Stephen - Dark Star Orchestra
  11. They Love Each Other - ALO

Jerry Jams For Rex II was made available for download on November 29, 2011 It is also available on CD; however, the CD does not contain the last track, "They Love Each Other." The first volume was released on August 10, 2010.

The Rex Foundation was named after Rex Jackson, a Grateful Dead roadie and later road manager who died in 1976.

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