Worcester, MA 4/4/73 – New Riders of the Purple Sage
Kufala Recordings 0032
Yet another archival release: the New Riders, the most countrified Bay Area
boys of their time, enter the game with a full show from 1973 in a cardboard
wallet, fairly handsome, although it's hard to remove the discs without
getting fingerprints all over them. Sound quality is not quite up to
Dick’s Picks standards, with the recording being a flat, mono board
mix, but one's ears can adjust after a song or two.
As with Dick's series, there are two questions: should old fans get this,
and should the uninitiated get it? Answer to the first question: probably
yes, although the New Riders mostly just roll out a series of concise and
familiar tunes, stretching out only on "Dirty Business" and the closing Bo
Diddley-beat raveup "Willie and the Hand Jive" (to their credit, more
frenzied than the typical Dead "Not Fade Away" of the time). The major
bonus is that, since this date followed a tour opening for the Dead, the
Godchauxes elected to tag along, so this two-CD set is a welcome opportunity
to hear Keith's honky-tonk piano stylings outside the Dead. Donna bashers
will be relieved to note that she pipes up on only two songs; Donna fans
will note that one of them is a fine take on her cover of "You Ain't Woman
Enough," in its first official release.
For the uninitiated, this set shows the New Riders for what they were: the
Dead's early '70s little-brother band, offering a pleasant though rarely
spectacular variation on the GD first-set sound. They're not a band for
people sensitive to weak vocals, as John Dawson comes off like a cross
between Roger McGuinn and the young, strained Garcia, but the singing suits
the innocent hippie love songs that dominate this set, interspersed with
tales of drug smugglers, train robberies and the like. The band's stash of
covers ("Down in the Boondocks," "Hello Mary Lou," and the aforementioned
"Willie") kicks the energy up a notch on the second disc. No "Panama Red"
yet, but the Riders offer a thorough sampling of their first three albums
and some previews of the fourth.
Those looking for a first purchase might try Columbia's bonus-enhanced
reissue of the New Riders' debut, or that budget-priced best-of with the
"infamous cover" (as the NRPS website puts it), but fans of concert
recordings and the Godchauxes should seek this out.