Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Mandy Barnett: “Strange Conversation” (2018) CD Review

Vocalist Mandy Barnett, known primarily as a country music singer, dips into some other realms on her new album, Strange Conversation. Here she proves her voice is perfect for blues, soul and pop, as well as country. She covers a wide variety of artists, from Mable John to Sonny And Cher. Joining her on this release are Doug Lancio on guitar and banjo, Tom West on keys, Rudy Copeland on organ, Viktor Krauss on bass, and Marco Giovino on drums and vibraphone. There are also guest musicians and vocalists (including John Hiatt) on certain tracks.

She opens the album with “More Lovin’,”  a cool, sweet bluesy love song that was written by Andre Williams, Gino Parks and William Stevenson, and originally recorded by Mabel John. Arnold McCuller joins Mandy Barnett on vocals for this track. The vocals are so smooth, sliding right in and making themselves at home.  And hey, we all need some “hip-shaking, earth-quaking loving.” That’s followed by a cover of The Tams’ “It’s All Right (You’re Just In Love),” and Mandy’s version has that delicious classic sound, which is wonderful, taking us back to the early 1960s. Here she is joined on vocals by Ann McCrary, Regina McCrary and Brandon Young. “Every time I see someone/They just stop and stare/I guess they think I’m crazy/But I don’t really care/I don’t know where I’m going now/Or where in the world I’ve been.” Perhaps it’s best we don’t reveal the real source of the troubles, and instead say, “It’s all right, you’re just in love.” Sounds plausible.

Mandy then moves up a few decades to give us an excellent rendition of Greg Garing’s “Dream Too Real To Hold.” Here she delivers a fantastic, gorgeous vocal performance over a simple country rhythm, and the results are beautiful and moving, one of my favorite tracks. “The feeling that’s come over me, it scares me half to death/I face my dream although I am awake/And though I’m sure to wake and find a broken heart/I know this is a chance that I must take.” That’s followed by “Strange Conversation,” the album’s title track, written and originally recorded by Ted Hawkins (it was the lead track on his 1994 release, The Next Hundred Years). This is a smooth, cool song with a lot of soul, and this rendition features a horn section, helping to make it a rather lively take. Neal Pawley is on trombone, and John Isley is on saxophone.

Sometimes I forget just how good Sonny And Cher were, and how many seriously good songs Sonny Bono wrote. If you too need some reminding, you’ll get it on this disc from Mandy Barnett. John Hiatt joins Mandy for a fantastic cover of Sonny And Cher’s “A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done.” I love this one right from the moment it begins, with that great mean vibe taking you to another time, another world. This is one you can sink your teeth into, one that will sustain you as you’re out on this strange range. The horn section returns, and Frank Swart plays guitar, and John Deaderick plays tack piano on this track. Sam Phillips’ “All Night” also has a cool, dark edge and yet an undeniable beauty. This is another of the disc’s best tracks. I love this kind of music, and Mandy Barnett’s vocal performance is fantastic and playful, the way she hangs on certain words. Doug Lancio plays banjo on this track, and Kylie Harris is on keys.

Mandy Barnett then covers Neil Sedaka’s “My World Keeps Slipping Away,” her version mellower and prettier than the original. She’s taken a good song and made it much better, and this track features more wonderful and moving vocal work. “The world we knew is almost gone/But I keep holding on.” There is also some nice work on percussion. Billy Masters is on baritone guitar, and Sonny Barbato is on accordion. The album concludes with another excellent track, a rendition of Andre Williams’ “Put A Chain On It,” with that guitar immediately announcing this as some serious blues. The track turns out to be a whole lot of fun too. Ann McCrary and Regina McCrary provide the backing vocals, and Dennis Brennan is on harmonica. Peter Parcek plays guitar on this track. Strange Conversation is an excellent album from beginning to end.

CD Track List
  1. More Lovin’
  2. It’s All Right (You’re Just In Love)
  3. Dream Too Real To Hold
  4. Strange Conversation
  5. A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done
  6. Puttin’ On The Dog
  7. All Night
  8. My World Keeps Slipping Away
  9. The Fool
  10. Put A Chain On It
Strange Conversation was released on September 21, 2018.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Matt Campbell: “The Man With Everything” (2018) CD Review

Matt Campbell is a singer and songwriter originally from Colorado, and now based in Nashville (Nashville, Tennessee, that is – more on that in a bit). His new studio album, The Man With Everything, features mostly original material. However, many of these songs were previously included on live albums such as 2014’s Live At The Old Town School Of Folk Music and 2016’s For The People. Many musicians join him on this new release, including Mike Wolf on guitar, Jason Verstegen on guitar, Keenan Wade on mandolin, Brad Albin on bass, John England on bass, Andy Gibson on pedal steel, Christopher Bauer on pedal steel and dobro, Calvin Conway on harmonica and backing vocals, Mark Fredson on piano and organ, Robert Gay on trumpet, Christian Hayden on drums, and Asa Lane on drums.

The album opens with “The Night That I Found Jesus (Down At Robert’s Western World),” a good, playful country song that was previously included on For The People. This version has quite a different sound from that earlier rendition, what with the full band including pedal steel. This song includes some humorous lines about finding Jesus at the famous country bar (yeah, it’s an actual place). But the lines that really struck me the first time I listened to this song come near the end: “Keep coming home to nothing/It won’t matter where you’ve been.” Those are excellent lyrics. There are more religious references and imagery in the following track, “Pillar Of Fire,” an intriguing song that was included on both Live At The Old Town School Of Folk Music and For The People. The title itself, of course, is a religious reference, a pillar of fire being a manifestation of the presence of the deity. This new version is different from both of the earlier versions, those being more strongly in the folk realm, while this is a country rendition.

The first line of “Trading Teardrops” is delivered a cappella: “I don’t know that it’s over, but I’m leaving.” The band comes in toward the end of the line, almost like it’s catching up with him, which gives the song an honest and immediate vibe, like he’s just thought of this, like we (and the band) are catching him in a moment. This song has that glorious sad country sound that is somehow always appealing, his vocal delivery full of perfect heartbreak. This song was also included on For The People, as was the following song, “Christmas In Nashville.” Yes, Christmas is coming, whether we want it to or not. As far as the stores are concerned, it’s already here. And so are Christmas albums and songs. This holiday-related tune plays on the fact that there is another Nashville in Indiana (see, I told you I’d get back to that). And no, I didn’t realize there was a Nashville in Indiana, though I may have driven through there back in 1995. This song, like “The Night That I Found Jesus,” mentions actual venues, such as Mike’s Dance Barn. “And the band is spinning yarns/Down at Mike’s old Dance Barn/I’m waltzing with the redhead Suzanna/And them old Broadway lights/Shine just as bright/At Christmas in Nashville/Indiana.” There is something sweet in this song’s tone.

I immediately love the whole vibe of “Twice As Big,” with its soothing, cheerful island sound. It’s also a bit jazzy, even before the horn comes in. This is kind of a wonderful tune, and it gives the album its title in the line “The man with everything may yet be empty still.” Then you might ask, how does this country swing? Right now I wouldn’t even want to attempt to answer that question. But Matt Campbell gives it a stab in “That’s The Way.” “Take a punch/Learn to throw one too/That’s the way this country swings.” This song was also included on For The People (by the way, that album was recorded in the summer of 2015, more than a year before the country turned ugly). “It’s Ours” was also included on For The People. This one is more strongly situated in the folk realm, and has kind of a sweet feel. “Look at our living room chairs/They’re nothing alike, and somehow still a pair/Yeah, with you, babe, no bridge is too far/It ain’t much, but it’s ours.” I particularly love the line about the chairs, because you get the feeling that the line also describes the couple themselves.

The album’s only listed cover is Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist Of Fate,” a song from what I still consider Dylan’s best album, Blood On The Tracks. Matt Campbell gives us a good country rendition, perhaps not as soulful as, say, Jerry Garcia Band’s version, but good. That’s followed by “More Than Memories,” which begins with some delightful whistling. Yup, it has a cheerful vibe from the start, which I appreciate. “While the moments we remember may be fleeting/The spaces in between can seem so long.” Matt also included this song on For The People. It is the last song on that album, and is the last listed track on this one too. However, there is a tenth track that is not listed on the CD case – Roy Acuff’s “Back In The Country,” the album’s second and final cover. It’s a good, lively rendition.

CD Track List
  1. The Night That I Found Jesus
  2. Pillar Of Fire
  3. Trading Teardrops
  4. Christmas In Nashville
  5. Twice As Big
  6. That’s The Way
  7. It’s Ours
  8. Simple Twist Of Fate
  9. More Than Memories
  10. Back In The Country
The Man With Everything is scheduled to be released on November 9, 2018.

Old Riley & The Water: “Biting Through” (2018) CD Review

Old Riley & The Water is the trio of Sean Riley on guitar and vocals, Ray Micarelli on drums, and Andrew Landry on bass. Based in New Orleans, this group creates original blues music with some classic sounds. Biting Through, the group’s debut EP, features mostly original material written by Sean Riley and Joshua Cook. Joining them on this release are Joshua Cook on guitar, vocals and tambourine; and Scott Craver on harmonica on several tracks.

The disc opens with its only cover, a fun, cool rendition of “Howlin’ For My Darlin’,” a tune written by Chester Burnett (Howlin’ Wolf) and Willie Dixon. Right away this band establishes that great, classic rhythm, this version being one to get you moving. The rhythm is tight, and yet the song also has a loose feel, particularly because of the vocal delivery. This song has also been covered by Tab Benoit, Stevie Ray Vaughan and George Thorogood And The Destroyers, among others. Then we get into the original material, but that doesn’t mean we lose those classic vibes. Not at all. “Blues Walking” has a delicious timeless back porch blues sound, which I totally dig. “Up jumped the devil/Tried to buy my soul/And leave me hanging from the gallows pole/I woke up this morning/Blues walking around like a man.” I like the backing vocals echoing the last line.

Then “Kind-Hearted Woman” has a heavier vibe, with more of a rock element, and yet is a love song of sorts. It’s interesting that the guitar sometimes comes through more clearly than the vocals; the vocals on this album have something of a rough quality, in the delivery, but also in the presentation, which reminds me of some late 1960s recordings. But it is the guitar on this track that makes this one of my favorite tracks, along with the harmonica. There is something seriously catchy about it. “She’s a kind-hearted woman/Telling me to hurry home/She’s a kind-hearted woman/Calling me back where I belong.” I was into this tune from the first time I put on the disc, and the more I listen to it, the more I love it. That’s followed by “Try And Understand” (the CD case has the songs listed slightly out of order, flipping this track and the next one). “Try And Understand” features some wonderful work on harmonica over that classic, somewhat easygoing rhythm. “Gotta slip away when the morning brings the light/Because if I stay I’ll be sure to cause a fight/Oh baby, baby, try and understand/I just want to be your lover/Don’t want to be your old man.”

“Biting Through” comes on strong, with some heavy fuzz, the guitar nearly overpowering the vocals at times. This track has more than enough raw power. It is blues rock, with equal emphasis on both, and demands some volume. “Moving up, feeling down.” Then “Trouble” is fun from its very start, with that familiar, delightful rhythm, a sound that makes me smile immediately. The first lines are “Talking about trouble/Trouble always comes my way.” These days, it feels like trouble is coming everyone’s way. There is plenty of good work on guitar, and I like that strange rumbling sound toward the end over the rhythm, like an alien craft hovering overhead or something. Oh, that might mean trouble indeed! The disc then concludes with “Power To Change,” which has a surprisingly funky groove, as well as a positive, optimistic, empowering message. “You’ve got the power to change/It’s up to you to use it/You’ve got the power to change/And you’re never going to lose it/You’ve got the power to change/Tell me what you’re going to do with it.” This turns out to be one of my favorite tracks, and I think it’s going to hold an appeal for a lot of folks. It’s also an excellent way to end the disc.

CD Track List
  1. Howlin’ For My Darlin’
  2. Blues Walking
  3. Kind-Hearted Woman
  4. Try And Understand
  5. Biting Through
  6. Trouble
  7. Power To Change 
Biting Through is scheduled to be released on CD on November 1, 2018. It was made available digitally at the end of July.

Glen Boldman & The Philadephia 5: “Glen Boldman & The Philadelphia 5” (2018) CD Review

Glen Boldman is an accomplished drummer and educator who has a wide variety of influences, and thus also variety in the styles he plays. You can hear that on the self-titled release of Glen Boldman & The Philadelphia 5. The band for this release is made up of Ben Goldman on drums, Sam Nobles on bass, Kevin Cross on guitar, Blayne Salerni on trumpet, Andrew Bedell on tenor saxophone, and Ian Kurlan on vibraphone. All tracks are originals, composed and arranged by Ben Goldman.

The disc gets off to a great start with “The Slizzard.” I am digging this music from the moment it begins with that groovy, delicious bass line and excellent drumming. Give me some good drumming, and I am a happy boy. There is something playful about this track, and it goes through some interesting changes, like we’re traveling through different sections of a city, meeting different characters, with each of the musicians getting moments to shine. At one point, the trumpet takes charge, leading us all to some exciting heights. The entire thing has a sort of bright energy. Now if someone could just explain what the hell a “slizzard” is, everything will be fine. “The Slizzard” is followed by “December 2017,” which begins as a mellower, slower tune, dripping with cool vibes. Ah, that saxophone makes me want to settle into a night-long embrace with the most beautiful woman in the universe (good thing I happen to be dating her; otherwise that sort of action might lead to trouble). This track takes us on a nighttime journey. The vibraphone has a kind of magical quality here, doesn’t it? And the guitar has its own romantic bent, becoming rather eager at one point. But again, that sax!

“The Hip Dip” is kind of fun, like some elegant dinner party has been subverted suddenly by the band who decided to take over the proceedings and get things moving. I like the way the guitar supports the horn and then the vibraphone, before taking a really good lead. There is also some seriously cool work on bass, even before that great section of just bass and drums, which might be my favorite part of the entire disc. The CD then concludes with “Klezmerica.” Just judging from the title, I figured I would dig this piece, and I was right. As you might guess, it mixes klezmer and jazz. This track features some seriously good work on guitar. There is a surprising excitement to this tune, like halfway through, when the trumpet takes over. And the vibraphone, an instrument I don’t usually consider exciting, follows that intensity, which is wonderful. This track has joy from beginning to end.

CD Track List
  1. The Slizzard
  2. December 2017
  3. The Hip Dip
  4. Klezmerica
Glen Boldman & The Philadelphia 5 was released on July 8, 2018.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Paul Kelly: “Nature” (2018) CD Review

I look forward to each new release from Paul Kelly. Somehow this guy manages to put out phenomenal albums year after year, and his new release, Nature, is no exception. With mostly original material, this disc features songs that you’ll love immediately. Joining Paul Kelly on this release are Dan Kelly on various guitars, Ashley Naylor on electric guitar, Bill McDonald on bass, Peter Luscombe on drums and percussion, Cameron Bruce on keys, as well as some special guests on vocals and strings.

The album opens with “And Death Shall Have No Dominion,” which has a positive sound and vibe, something I think a lot of folks will appreciate, particularly as this country seems to be sinking into fascism. This track builds wonderfully. There is joy and excitement, and the song is pulsing with Life, you know? “Though they go mad they shall be sane/Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again/Though lovers be lost, love shall not.” The lyrics are from a poem written by Dylan Thomas. This, of course, isn’t the first time Paul Kelly has set a poem to music. He did it just year on Life Is Fine, the album’s title track being a Langston Hughes poem. And, as you might already be aware, he set some of Shakespeare’s sonnets to music on 2016’s Seven Sonnets & A Song. Vika Bull and Linda Bull provide harmony vocals on this track. This is a beautiful and strong way to start the album. It is not the album’s only track to feature the words of a famous poet. “With Animals,” one of my personal favorites, features lyrics adapted from a section of Walt Whitman’s “Song Of Myself.”  In this song, Paul Kelly sings “I think I could turn and live with animals,” a line that makes a lot of sense in our dark political and social climate. A few days ago I watched a video about a woman who was saved from a possible shark attack by a humpback whale, and I thought, “Wow, animals are more human than humans.” Anyway, the behavior of many people these days makes the idea of living with animals quite appealing. “They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins/They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God/Not one is dissatisfied/Not one is demented with the mania of owning things.” Maddy Kelly and Memphis Kelly provide backing vocals on this one.

“With The One I Love” is more of a rock tune, and an unusual kind of love song. “I might be wronged by the one I love/But I don’t care what’s bad or good/Or what I shouldn’t or what I should/I’m gonna go with the one I love.” Dan Kelly and Cameron Bruce provide the backing vocals on this track. Sometimes you just need to say the hell with everything, I’m going to be with the person I love. After all, as Paul sings in this song, “Pretty soon we’ll all be dust.” Then “A Bastard Like Me” begins more in the folk realm, then builds from there, drawing a vivid and sharp character, a character of defiance. It has something of a strong, dark vibe, and again, good use of backing vocals from Dan Kelly and Cameron Bruce. “Little Wolf,” which seems to emerge from the end of “A Bastard Like Me,” also begins in darker folk territory and features moving touches on violin by Xani Kolac. “A bitter winter wind’s been at me all day/Oh, I got the blues more than I can say.” Vika Bull and Linda Bull provide harmony vocals. This is a strange and effective track.

“Bound To Follow (Aisling Song)” is another of the album’s strongest, most compelling tracks, tapping into an ageless magic realm or sense. This one features Kate Miller-Heidke joining Paul Kelly on vocals; she provides the voice of the siren. The entire band helps to create a strong impression of this dream-like landscape. “All night long I trailed, following her shape/My one and only wish – to look upon her face/Though I seemed to be the hunter/I was much more like the prey/And I was bound to follow.” That’s followed by “Seagulls Of Seattle,” which has a gentle, sweet folk sound that I love. Paul’s vocals have a friendly tone. “And looking west I raised you up/All sleepy from your bed/You were putting on the coffee pot/Brushing bad dreams from your head.” Then “Morning Storm” has a more serious folk vibe, with some of its lines referring to other literary work. For example, the clause “Stop all the clocks” in the line “Stop all the clocks and burrow down low” is from an incredibly depressing poem from W.H. Auden (you might remember John Hannah giving a great reading of it in Four Weddings And A Funeral). There is also a reference to Hamlet in the line “Bound by you, I’m a king of infinite space” (Hamlet tells Rosencrantz and Guidenstern, “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space”). Maddy Kelly and Memphis Kelly provide the beautiful humming on this track. This is another of my favorites.

“Mushrooms” has a sweet, intimate, friendly vibe. It is also another poem set to music, this one written by Sylvia Plath. The poem/song is – on its surface – about mushrooms, but is really about women, and women’s rights. I love the last line, “Our foot’s in the door,” which Paul repeats. Then, as the song fades out, he repeats the earlier line, “So many of us!” That’s followed by “The River Song,” which has probably my favorite vocal performance on the album. Plus, this beautiful song benefits from the presence of a string quartet. Lisa Stewart and Myee Clohessy are on violin, Stefan Duwe is viola, and Anna Martin-Scrase is on cello. The image of the cello (an instrument I love) also finds its way into the song’s lyrics: “She’s tossed off our sheet in the night/I’m sleepless but feeling fine and mellow/Watching her in yellow light/Her back a lovely, breathing cello.” What a wonderful song. Then “God’s Grandeur” has a kind of happy, jaunty vibe from the start. This track is also a poem set to music, the poem written by Gerard Manley Hopkins. “And for all this, nature is never spent.” Ah, now that is an optimistic thought I want to hold onto as our current administration seems bent on destroying the environment. This track features pretty backing vocals by Vika Bull and Linda Bull. The album then concludes with another poem set to music: Philip Larkin’s “The Trees,” with Alice Keath joining on harmony vocals. There is an optimism here too, with images of renewal and rebirth, even as the subject is also mortality.

CD Track List
  1. And Death Shall Have No Dominion
  2. With The One I Love
  3. A Bastard Like Me
  4. Little Wolf
  5. With Animals
  6. Bound To Follow (Aisling Song)
  7. Seagulls Of Seattle
  8. Morning Storm
  9. Mushrooms
  10. The River Song
  11. God’s Grandeur
  12. The Trees
Nature was released on October 12, 2018.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Grateful Dead: “Pacific Northwest ’73 – ’74: The Complete Recordings” (2018) CD Review Part 2

Pacific Northwest ’73 – ’74: The Complete Recordings, the latest Grateful Dead box set, contains six complete concerts from two of the band’s best years, 1973 and 1974. I broke my review into two parts, with Part 1 covering the three 1973 concerts from Vancouver, Portland and Seattle. The next year, the Grateful Dead hit the same cities in the same order, trying to tap into the magic once again. The band had some new material, songs that would be included on From The Mars Hotel, including “Money Money,” which was played only three times. And guess what? The three 1974 shows included in this box set are those three shows.


The band begins the Vancouver show with Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” and there are sound problems galore, with the sound completely cutting out at times. Basically, the sound is terrible. They follow that with “Deal” and then “The Race Is On,” the latter having a kind of sweet sound, in part because of Donna’s harmonies. It’s a good, cheerful rendition, and Jerry then leads the band in a version of “Ramble On Rose” that has a good vibe about it, if perhaps just a bit messy. The positive, easygoing feel continues with “Jack Straw.” More tuning then leads into a gentle, slightly slow version of “Dire Wolf.” “Relax, folks, everything is going to be all right,” we’re told before the band launches into a fun “Beat It On Down The Line” (six beats to start it), with some cool work by Keith on keys. Things get even more fun with “Loose Lucy.” Jerry forgets the lyrics for a moment, but it’s a damn good version with a groove to get you to boogie around your home, for me one of the first set highlights. A breezy “Big River” follows, turning into a high-energy rockin’ number. Jerry then delivers a pretty rendition of “It Must Have Been The Roses,” his voice sounding so good. Bob then gets things moving again with “Mexicali Blues,” and the disc concludes with “Row Jimmy.”

The twelfth disc of the box set opens with the last song of the first set, “Playing In The Band.” And it’s a good one. The energy is high right from the start, and listen to Donna’s scream early on. But of course it’s the jam that makes this rendition one of the show’s highlights. The band seems completely on, and things flow really well. I love the jazzy feel, the great groove. Then it takes a turn toward the strange, and that’s, of course, when it gets interesting, and darker. At one point, there is a rumble that I can feel throughout my body. This “Playing” goes into some new territory. The second set then gets off to a fun start with “U.S. Blues,” which was sort of new at the time, having recently been reworked from an earlier version titled “Wave That Flag.” They follow that with “Me And My Uncle” and then “Ship Of Fools,” which has some moments of real beauty toward the end. We then get the first “Money Money,” a song the band played only three times. Sure, it’s far from the best Dead song, but it’s cool to have these recordings. The Dead follow that with a crowd favorite, “China Cat Sunflower.” And this is a seriously good version, with a perfect transition into “I Know You Rider.”

The next disc picks up with “Greatest Story Ever Told” and then “Sugaree,” with Jerry’s voice sounding so smooth at times. It’s a decent version, nothing outstanding. But then “Truckin’” really gets things going. There is an issue with Bob’s microphone early on. Or did he really forget that many lines? No matter, really, as this version is still a lot of fun, and it features a good jam at the end, which leads seamlessly into “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” From there, “Eyes Of The World” emerges, approaching like a good friend from the distance. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but this song never fails to make me happy and it never fails to get me dancing. I love the way Jerry’s guitar dances at times in this version. And after the last verse, Phil’s groovy bass line is prominent. The jam here makes this a fantastic rendition, and it does include that cool section near the end. I’m wondering now just when the band dropped it. It was sometime in 1974, right? Anyway, “Eyes” is for me the highlight of the disc, and as it ends, “China Doll” quietly begins. This is an interesting and pretty version of “China Doll,” and the harmony vocals are quite moving. The second set then ends with “Sugar Magnolia,” and actually that’s the end of the show. No encore? Apparently not.


The first set of the Portland show begins with a nice rendition of “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.” The Grateful Dead usually played good shows in Oregon, for whatever reason (I saw my final Grateful Dead show in Portland), and this one is off to an excellent start. The only thing marring this version is that Bill’s kick drum seems a bit too prominent in the mix on the “Across the lazy river” part near the end. That’s followed by “Mexicali Blues.” Then you can hear folks shouting out requests, which of course are ignored. Jerry chooses “Big Railroad Blues,” and this version moves along, with a classic rock and roll element at times. And Jerry delivers an excited and exciting vocal performance. Bob then relaxes things a bit with a strong rendition of “Black-Throated Wind.” “I’m going back home, that’s what I’m going to do.” That’s followed by the always-enjoyable “Scarlet Begonias.” The song was still new at this point, but the band feels totally in command of the magic of the song. And holy moly, Donna really goes all out as the band gets into the jam. The jam, however, is the briefest I think I’ve ever heard for this song. “Beat It On Down The Line” (five beats to start it) is a lot of fun, with some nice work on keys. It feels like the band is pumping a whole lot of energy and joy into this version. That’s followed by an excellent “Tennessee Jed.” “Drink all day and rock all night.” And there is something about the way Jerry delivers the lines about the dog, right? There is also some wonderful stuff on guitar. This is a fantastic version from beginning to end, one of the first set highlights for me. Then we get a sweet, mellow “Me And Bobby McGee” and a nice “Sugaree.” Jerry’s vocals seem to disappear from the mix toward the end. The vocals are low in the mix for “Jack Straw” too, and for “It Must Have Been The Roses” and “El Paso.” What gives? It’s seriously annoying. Well, if you’re looking basically for an instrumental rendition of “El Paso,” here it is. The vocals must have been in the house, because the crowd is enthusiastic. The book that is included with this box set makes no mention of this problem. If this were a volume of Dick’s Picks or Dave’s Picks, there would be a caveat. Well, the vocals are back for “Loose Lucy.” The disc then concludes with “Money Money,” the second and penultimate time it was played.

The fifteenth disc begins with the last couple of songs from the first set – “China Cat Sunflower” into “I Know You Rider.” This is an interesting, if somewhat relaxed “China Cat.” The jam certainly picks up some energy, and there is some wonderful play between Jerry and Bob. Then the song flows easily into “I Know You Rider,” which develops an energy of its own. A nice ending to the first set. The second set then gets underway with Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” Bob delivering a good version of this classic rock and roll tune. It leads directly into “Bertha,” to keep folks grooving. That has a strong finish, then the band blasts into “Greatest Story Ever Told.” Yeah, the beginning of the second set is all about rocking tunes, and Bob is nearly shouting some of the lines of this song. Donna’s shout a little later catches me by surprise, but this version is fiery and wonderful. There is a pause then before the band begins “Ship Of Fools,” slowing things down a bit. This is an effective, compelling rendition. Bob follows that with the complete “Weather Report Suite,” which begins gently, prettily, lovingly, as if to take us in its arms and assure us things will be okay. Then the “Let It Grow” section builds into something powerful, and the jam that follows has a good jazzy groove. It then ends gently, easing into “Wharf Rat,” a song that always works for me. This version is particularly excellent, with perfect peaks. Wonderful stuff here. And the band gives us a little pause then before starting a bouncy “Big River,” which really rocks during the jam. The disc then concludes with a sweet version of “Peggy-O.” I absolutely love this rendition. It is so gentle, almost delicate at times, the way Jerry sings it. After some playful tuning, Bob tells the crowd they’re having some technical difficulties, and that’s how the disc ends.

The sixteenth disc kicks off with a rousing rendition of “Truckin’,” with the jam continuing to rock. Interestingly, as the jam takes a turn, it becomes a separate track, simply labeled “Jam.” And what a jam! The band is on, completely on the same page, working by intuition or magic or whatever it is these guys were able to tap into. Certainly this section is one of the highlights of the show, and the jam contains some cool, unexpected changes and turns. And eventually “Not Fade Away” emerges. The transition from “Not Fade Away” to “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad” is really smooth, and this song has such a happy vibe about it. It’s a good, fun version. The second set then concludes with “One More Saturday Night.” The encore is “U.S. Blues.” Oh yes, we all have the United States blues these days, but this rockin’ version must have left the crowd that night happy.


The Seattle show is known for its epic version of “Playing In The Band,” and in fact that one song will get its own vinyl release in November as part of Record Store Day. But this show contains a lot of great music. The first set opens with “Me And My Uncle,” which has some sound troubles, certain instruments dropping out of the mix at moment. But things seem to be mostly straightened out in time for “Brown-Eyed Women,” and everything is starting to click. “Beat It On Down The Line” follows (seven beats to start it), and the energy is high, the tune pumping along. “Deal” then seems to get off to a slow start, but then develops some of the energy the song is known for. Bob keeps things moving with “Mexicali Blues,” a version that seems to rock more than usual. It has a more intense feeling of urgency. Jerry then delivers a pretty version of “It Must Have Been The Roses,” and Bob follows it with a fun rendition of “The Race Is On,” featuring some nice work by Keith on keys. “Scarlet Begonias” might have just a bit of a sloppy start, but it isn’t long before this version begins to seriously cook and become a highlight of the first set. That’s followed by a good “El Paso.” Then Jerry mellows things out with a sweet “Row Jimmy,” his guitar sounding at moments like a gorgeous whale song. We then get the band’s third and final performance of “Money Money.” The disc concludes with a beautiful “Ship Of Fools.”

The next disc opens with an excellent and moving version of “Weather Report Suite,” with the hopeful promise “We’ll see summer come again.” The “Let It Grow” section is powerful, with some excellent work on guitar. Certainly this is another highlight of the first set. It builds and pulses and moves, and feels like it should be the end of the set. But the band eases into another seriously good “China Doll,” with moments of beauty, and that is the end of the first set. There is a slight pause before Bob announces the break, so maybe there was some consideration of playing another, perhaps more upbeat number to end the set. Well, no matter, as the second set kicks off with that epic “Playing In The Band.” At nearly forty-seven minutes, this is the longest version of the song the band ever played, and it is absolutely fantastic. It comes on strong out of the gate, and the jam at first carries on that kind of vibe, with the whole band moving forward, racing out toward the outer edges, where the real exploration can begin. Jerry offers some surprising and wonderful stuff on guitar, and it’s soon after that that the band enters that glorious space where they seem to thrive, gaining ideas from the cosmos and transmitting them to us. Frightening at times, coming at us with a supernatural force that the band can hardly contain. Perhaps it is with some relief that they latch onto a groove to pull us through, which continues below those heavy blasts. No, we’re not out of the unfamiliar territory yet, not by a long shot. It seems that Phil is determined to bust through, to create a hole and drive us all through, to open up into a completely different realm, from which we may never return. But if we’re to go there, perhaps it will be on the wild wave of an intense groove, to help minimize the damage. You just have to hear this track, you have to take the journey. And don’t worry – there are quiet places within, like resting spots, places you can use to catch your breath before plunging back into the whirling forces. And then Donna’s scream leads us back to Earth. The band follows that with a rockin’ “U.S. Blues,” which concludes the disc.

The final disc of the box set opens with an energetic “Big River,” moving like a train. Jerry then delivers a beautiful, touching rendition of “Stella Blue,” one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs, and another of the show’s highlights. “Around And Around” follows and it begins quietly, like it’s crouching, reading to jump out to surprise you. And indeed, the song doesn’t stay quiet for long, though it does retain something of a relaxed feel, at least for a bit. Then Bob starts ripping into it vocally, and the song is taken to a different level. That’s followed by “Eyes Of The World,” yet another highlight, with that delicious groove and a nice long jam at the end (not as long as “Playing In The Band,” of course). “Eyes” leads directly to a really good version of “Wharf Rat.” I love how quiet it gets, giving it a lot of room to then explode. Wonderful! And the transition into “Sugar Magnolia” is done well. “Sugar Magnolia” is fun, with a lot of energy, and it closes the second set. They wish the crowd a good night, but then play the encore of “Johnny B. Goode” to send the audience out happy. This time when they say “Good night,” they mean it.

Pacific Northwest ’73 – ’74: The Complete Recordings was released on September 7, 2018. It is an individually numbered, limited edition of 15,000. The Portland 1974 show was also released separately as a 6-LP set.

Grateful Dead: “Pacific Northwest ’73 – ’74: The Complete Recordings” (2018) CD Review Part 1

The new Grateful Dead box set, Pacific Northwest ’73 – ’74: The Complete Recordings,  contains six complete shows on nineteen discs. When it arrived, based on the size of the shipping box, I would have thought the UPS guy was delivering an appliance for the kitchen, were it not for the strange figure printed on the side of the box, greeting me. The box set itself is much bigger than is necessary, and includes a little wooden box that contains a receipt of sorts, reminding me that it’s a limited edition set. I guess I’m supposed to fill the wooden box with pot, but, whatever, it’s completely unnecessary. Enough about that. The important thing is the music, and this set contains six complete shows from the band’s peak years – three from 1973 (which in my opinion is the best year for live Dead recordings) and three from 1974. There is also a book with notes on these shows and what was happening within the band at that time.


The first show is from June 22, 1973 at the P.N.E. Coliseum in Vancouver, British Columbia, and it takes four discs to give us the full show. The first set kicks off with “Bertha,” always a great way to get the fun started. Jerry’s vocals are a little low in the mix at first, but after a couple of minutes that is fixed. But then the guitar drops out for a bit. Hmm, not good. Still, the energy is there and by the end, things are sorted. The energy stays high for “Beat It On Down The Line” (with ten beats to start it). And Keith is rocking the keys. Jerry delivers a good “Deal,” and the fun, fast pace continues with “Mexicali Blues.” They then mellow things out just a bit with a sweet rendition of “Box Of Rain.” Listening to this version takes me back to the feeling I had in my early teens when I was first getting into the Grateful Dead. There was always something about this song, you know? And American Beauty was one of the first Dead albums I bought. I was getting my first glimpse at beautiful and exciting possibilities. “Box Of Rain” is followed by “Bird Song,” which is when things start getting interesting, and a bit jazzy, with the night’s first exploration. What a great vibe, and it’s interesting how the main line is worked into the jam. And the vocals sound great. This is a phenomenal “Bird Song,” certainly one of the first set highlights. Bob follows it with “The Race Is On,” a totally fun and kind of goofy tune. Then we get a nice “Sugaree,” followed by an incredibly pretty rendition of “Looks Like Rain,” at times delicate, at times powerful. The band then lets the crowd know it’s going to be a long show, something I don’t recall them specifically saying at other concerts. Jerry then leads the band into a gorgeous version of “Row Jimmy.” The first disc concludes with a sweet-sounding “Jack Straw.” Really, everything here has that sweet, magical vibe, and everything seems to be flowing from a central place. The band is connected to it, and to each other.

The second disc opens with “China Cat Sunflower,” and you can almost feel the notes cascading down your back as you dance. Plus, it has such a wonderfully cheerful vibe, sounding like it might lead to “Uncle John’s Band.” But of course it leads into “I Know You Rider.” “Big River” has a lot of pep, and “Tennessee Jed” has that great groove, but it is “Playing In The Band,” the set closer, that takes us into that other realm, that place that the Grateful Dead are so adept at traveling to, in part, I think now, because they created it. At times, this feels like some magical underwater place, populated by brightly colored human-like figures that communicate by telepathy. A nod, a smile, and yes! This is what it’s all about, in case anyone is wondering. And that’s right – sixteen songs in the first set. Like, two hours. Holy moly! The second set then begins with a really nice version of “Here Comes Sunshine,” with plenty of jamming, taking us to some beautiful places, and moving us with a good groove too. Bob then serves up some rock ‘n’ roll with Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land.” Jerry follows that with a good, somewhat relaxed rendition of “Brown-Eyed Women.” The second disc then ends with a rousing “El Paso,” featuring some fantastic moments, particularly on guitar.

The third disc begins with a moving rendition of “Black Peter.” At times, Jerry’s voice is nearly at a whisper, making us feel like we’re at Peter’s bedside, so then when the song rises in volume, we are completely emotionally invested. That’s followed by a good version of “Greatest Story Ever Told,” with a nice rockin’ jam, and fire in Donna’s vocals. After a decent “Big Railroad Blues,” the real highs of the second set begin with “He’s Gone.” The “Smile, smile, smile” stanza oddly comes before the “Hot as a pistol” stanza, but this version is sweet and sad and beautiful. The meaning of this song changed over the years, and this tour marks the first major change, from an angry attack on the man who ripped the band off to a song in memory of Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, who died in March of 1973. And the gentle vocals at the end nearly had me in tears. Then, bam, the band launches into a raucous rendition of “Truckin’,” to bring everyone back up and to let everyone know the band will carry on, that there is a long road ahead, and that, while it may be strange, it’s also going to be a whole lot of fun. The jam is absolutely fantastic, with Phil leading the way. Holy moly! The band goes off into some interesting territory, space the band maps out as it goes, and soon there are little hints of “The Other One,” as the band shifts into it during the jam, easing into it, which is interesting in itself. This is one song that almost always manages to surprise us, the band tackling it countless different ways. Here we get into strange, even frightening territory. And right when it seems they’ve drifted off entirely and everything is over, the song comes pounding back in, in dramatic fashion, for the second verse. It then transitions smoothly to “Wharf Rat,” another highlight. The “I’ll get up and fly away” part is particularly moving. As the band begins “Sugar Magnolia,” the third disc ends.

The fourth disc contains the very end of “Wharf Rat,” then gets going with a high-energy, fast-paced “Sugar Magnolia.” There is a rather lengthy pause before “Sunshine Daydream.” The second set then concludes with a fun “Casey Jones.” The encore is “Johnny B. Goode.”


Two songs were better in 1973 than any other year – “Eyes Of The World” and “They Love Each Other” – and this Portland show has both of them. The first set opens with Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land.” It takes a few seconds for Bob’s vocal microphone to work, but no matter. Jerry follows “Promised Land” with a good version of “Loser,” and then Bob lightens thing with “Mexicali Blues.” For me, the set starts to really move with “They Love Each Other.” This is when that song had a really good groove and energy, and there is excitement in Jerry’s vocal delivery. Jerry seems to forget the lyrics at one point, but again that is no matter. Another thing I like about this song in 1973 is that the band includes that little bridge which they dropped later on. The band lets the crowd know they’re going to put them in a mellow mood, and then goes into “Looks Like Rain.” This is Oregon, after all, and the band follows “Looks Like Rain” with a nice rendition of “Box Of Rain.” Jerry follows that with a playful, totally fun version of “Big Railroad Blues.” Just listen to the way he sings likes like “Went down to the depot, never got there on time.” And I dig Keith’s rock and roll piano. The band follows that with “Jack Straw,” with some forgotten lyrics, but a nice version all the same. That’s followed by a version of “Sugaree” that feels relaxed until the very end, and then by “The Race Is On.” Right from the beginning of “Row Jimmy,” Jerry’s voice is smooth and wonderful, his delivery full of passion and experience, and Donna’s harmonizing is gorgeous. This is an excellent rendition, one of the highlights of the first set. It’s followed by “Beat It On Down The Line” (seven beats to start it this time), and then “China Cat Sunflower.” It’s a really good rendition, and the jam has a bright, positive energy, and the transition to “I Know You Rider” is pretty smooth.

The sixth disc begins with the end of the first set, Chuck Berry’s “Around And Around,” a good dose of energetic, pure rock and roll to tide folks over until the second set. The second set kicks off with a good rendition of “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.” I always love the “Across the lazy river” part, and that section is particularly nice here. Donna then sings lead on “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” a fun country tune that was only briefly in rotation for the Dead. Donna is really in her element, and gets a chance to shine. Bob keeps things in the country realm with “El Paso,” and then Jerry leads the band into a delicate, gorgeous rendition of “Stella Blue.” “It seems like all this life was just a dream.” “Greatest Story Ever Told” follows. This was never one of my favorites, but they really pour a lot of energy into this version, and it leads straight into “Bertha,” which is always fun. And then “Big River,” with some cool stuff on piano, wraps up this disc.

The seventh disc is where a lot of the magic of this show is. It starts off with “Dark Star,” so there you go. A nice long version that begins in a rather mellow place, but no place in the normal world. We are untethered, floating in a warm, oddly familiar space just outside the atmosphere. And just as we’re getting comfortable with our surroundings, Phil begins changing things – the rhythm, the tone, the weight of it. But we’re ready now, and eager for whatever ride the song takes us on, and this new groove is working well. The guitars pick it up, add their own spin to it, and then the thing is moving under its own momentum. Somewhere in the middle, Bill is left to himself, delivering a nice, jazzy drum solo, and it isn’t until after that that Jerry sings the song’s first verse. And right after that, the band ventures off into stranger territory, bidding ordinary reality farewell. And after a while “Eyes Of The World” emerges. This song always lifts me up, always makes me happy, always makes me feel connected to something important and good. Besides, it’s fun to dance to. And this song is even more special in 1973, for it has that added section to the jam at the end, that cool bridge. The jam in this version is excellent, a joy to listen to, to dance to, one of the best “Eyes” jams I’ve ever heard. It then eases into a gorgeous, haunting “China Doll.” Incredible. There is a respectful and needed pause before the band launches into “Sugar Magnolia” to end the set. The encore is “One More Saturday Night.”


The first set of the Seattle show begins with some technical difficulties. You know that means it’s going to be a good show. They kick off with “Casey Jones,” and, yes, there are certainly sound problems. But what a fun choice for an opener, one that gets me dancing. It leads directly into “Greatest Story Ever Told.” Wow, Bob was really keen on this song at that point. They played it at all three shows. That’s followed by a fairly relaxed rendition of “Brown-Eyed Women” and a nice version of “Jack Straw.” We then get “Box Of Rain,” another song they played at all three shows. There are a lot of repeated songs, but the band sounds so good that to a certain extent the song choices are almost irrelevant. There is a kind of mellow vibe to the set, and even “Deal” has something of an easygoing feel. “Mexicali Blues” is fun, as always, and is followed by an announcement of more technical difficulties. Donna then sings “You Ain’t Woman Enough.” There are moments in this version where she sounds adorable. But for me, one of the highlights of the set is “Row Jimmy.” Perhaps it’s because in a relatively mellow set, here is a song designed to be mellow. Anyway, it’s a sweet, beautiful rendition. It’s followed by “The Race Is On,” and then “China Can Sunflower.” It’s during the “China Cat” jam that the band starts to really groove. The transition to “I Know You Rider” is again smooth, and this is a really good version of “Rider.” “Beat It On Down The Line,” which has six beats to start (or six and a half), has plenty of energy. The disc then ends with an intriguing “Loser.”

The next disc opens with “Playing In The Band,” which is fiery and rocking from the start. But it’s the jam, of course, where the more interesting stuff happens. It’s like the band knows this and flies through the opening portion in order to get more quickly to the magic. And perhaps as a result, the jam has a lot of movement, a lot of motion, momentum. The jam flows and occasionally bursts with light, and that’s how the first set ends. The second set then gets off to a great start with the always-appreciated “Bertha,” featuring some nice stuff from Jerry on guitar. Without a pause, Bob leads the band into “Promised Land,” with Keith seriously rocking the keys. We then get another groovy rendition of “They Love Each Other” to keep us dancing. This version has such a delightfully cheerful vibe, and for me is one of the disc’s highlights, with its somewhat silly finish. “El Paso” begins kind of gently, but soon builds to become fairly powerful. Jerry then mellows things a bit with an excellent version of “Black Peter,” his voice sounding so sweet, so good. Wow, there are moments in this version when each note Jerry plays rings with clarity and emotion. This is another of the disc’s highlights, and is followed by a hopping version of “Big River,” and then a wonderful rendition of “Here Comes Sunshine,” with a fine jam of its own. The disc concludes with “Me And My Uncle.”

The tenth disc contains the rest of the second set, beginning with a heartfelt, gentle reading of “He’s Gone.” I love the vocal jam near the end, and the way Keith adds accents on the piano. It’s a beautiful, fun and sweet section. “He’s Gone” leads directly into a version of “Truckin’” that feels like it pulls us all together. You know? The jam has an uplifting and uniting vibe and energy, and it keeps us moving, driving forward, but rarely rushing. A cool drum solo then leads into “The Other One.” Oh man, it is often Phil’s bass which thrills us at the beginning of this song, and that is certainly the case here. But there is a lot going on here, and it’s really interesting how that main thrust is there all along without completely taking focus or control. This song, as I’ve mentioned, always manages to surprise. Things are getting wild now, and then before the band even delivers the first verse, they ease into “Me And Bobby McGee.” Then, as they finish that song, they go right back into “The Other One,” and it has a jazzy vibe now, featuring some nice work by Bill on drums. This version goes in lots of intriguing places, and eventually Bobby gives us the first verse. It is after that first verse that things begin to get weird, as well as somewhat darker, more dangerous, even harsh. We never get the song’s second verse, and instead “Sugar Magnolia” emerges from the chaos to conclude the set on a high note. The encore is “Johnny B. Goode.”

(Note: I will review the rest of this box set – the three shows from 1974 – in a separate post, just so this doesn’t get too long, you understand.)

the shipping box