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Published: 2001/05/21
by Rob Johnson

"Shining Star" – Jerry Garcia Band

Jerry Garcia Band

Grateful Dead Records 4079

review by Rob Johnson

The Jerry Garcia Band was an unusual entity. A side project in the truest sense of the word, there was never any question that the JGB was secondary to the Dead in Jerry's musical life. Even so, many of Garcia's most devoted fans hold the band in very high esteem, and it is proof of Garcia's creativity and appeal that he was involved in two bands that were very popular, yet so different in so many ways.

There is a good reason that Jerry is remembered as a guitarist first and a
singer second, but this album features material that really needs a strong
voice. Van Morrison's He Ain’t Give You None and Smokey Robinson's
Second That Emotion are two examples of songs that really need
to be belted out, and while Jerry's delivery is heartfelt, these versions still
suffer for want of a gripping vocal presence..

I was almost starting to give up hope when a strong, passionate version of
Jimmy Cliff's Struggling Man perked me up. The old Irving Berlin song
Russian Lullaby follows, and is a perfect example of the sort of
old-timey tune that the Dead imitated with tunes like Ramble On Rose
or Dupree’s Diamond Blues. I was curious to see what Jerry would make
of Everybody Needs Somebody To Love, but was baffled to hear the
music for Scarlet Begonias. When the band
starting singing the words to Everybody Needs Somebody over the
Begonias music, I was downright confused. The slow tempo of
Scarlet Begonias totally robs the song of any energy or urgency, and
I wound up thinking I would rather have heard either song in its fullness
rather than this ill-conceived hybrid.

The second disc starts with the Stones' Let's Spend The Night
Together, and the slow tempos and lack of energy that plague much of
this album are quite present here. Jerry is just too laid back to really
connect with the primal urgency of the Stones' anthem to hormones. I have
never been one to give Jerry or Bob Dylan a hard time because they weren't
Pavarotti, because when they sing their songs, they do so with so
much passion and conviction that technical merit becomes irrelevant.
However, having Jerry Garcia sing Let’s Spend The Night Together
makes about as much sense as Dylan singing the theme from "Shaft".

Mississippi Moon is a nice touch of bluegrass, but the Chuck Berry's
Let It Rock was so lethargic that it was almost false advertising.
One real highlight is the funky jam on Ain't No Bread In The
Breadbox, which features Melvin Seals on keyboards to great effect.
However, the real treat of the album is the one-two punch at the very end. A
powerful, spiritual version of The Maker stopped me dead in my tracks
and commanded my attention in a way that the album hadn't done yet. The
final track, Peter Rowan's Midnight Moonlight, was by far the most
uptempo tune I had heard, and featured Jerry's signature bluegrass picking.

Overall, Garcia completists, will probaby be most inclined to gravitate
towards this album. There are some good moments, but the
plodding tempos and lack of fire on many tunes really left me cold.
Jerry Garcia gifted the world with an amazing amount of incredible music,
and this album does not advance his musical legacy, in my opinion.

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