Legion of Mary
There were many Jerry Garcias. There was the late 60s Garcia, fat-toned, unpolished but full of barely harnessed energy. There was the assured mid-70s Garcia, and the angular, erratic, MIDI-experimenting Garcia of the 80s and 90s. The Internet Archive (and its less official siblings) has all of these Garcias represented in abundance. For those of us with archivist tendencies, it is not easy to turn away from the archive.
For a while, I have resisted the Grateful Dead download bug. However, recently some heavily-hyped Legion Of Mary seeds appeared, so I went for 5/22/75 at the Keystone in Berkeley.
This source came from Bob Menke, a taping legend who has reappeared in the online community. His recording makes it seem as if youre standing in front of Jerrys amp. The downside is a bit of imbalance regarding the other frontline members of the band, particularly the organ and vocals of Merl Saunders. However, this issue seems so unlikely to trouble most Deadheads that I hesitate to mention it.
In all my years of Dead collecting, I have paid little attention to Garcias solo bands. If one does not wish to drown in a pile of CDs, one must set limits. Beyond that, the solo Garcia Ive heard has been a bit heavy on laid-back funk, without the confrontation that lends the Dead an edge.
In the case of this show, though, lack of confrontation may be a benefit. The right combination of work and rest may also have helped, since this show comes from the era when the Dead were half a year into their hiatus but still at work on Blues For Allah, their finest studio effort in this columnists view. Ive searched Dead shows recently for perfectly-formed Garcia solos. This 5/22/75 show has many of them.
Over the simple drive of John Kahn and Ron Tutt and the churchy ambiance of Saunderss organ, Garcia sings through his instrument in the voice he developed over 10 years of Dead work. The voicelike bends, the chromatic licks, the occasional surprise landing on the sixth or ninth not a lot of surprises if youve heard a fair number of Garcia performances, but few improvisers develop a voice, and Garcia had one.
The recording loses some interest when Garcia stops soloing. I was glad to make the acquaintance of the Dylan lament Going, Going, Gone, but a few other unfamiliar songs are only functional. Saunders and saxophonist Martin Fierro have less exciting voices.
Still, this recording deserves a prized place in the archive. The next issue is whether to yield to the temptation to check out the other Menke recordings.