Dream of Trudy – Elijah
Jerry Garcia’s ghost haunts Elijah. Partly composed of Garcia’s longtime
companions, including Jerry Garcia Band anchor Melvin Seals and Legion of
Mary player Martin Fierro, the septet know how the legendary guitarist
sounded on and off the stage. So it’s not surprising that Elijah’s first
performance was at a Jerry Garcia memorial.
Dream of Trudy is a hippie album in the truest sense. Packing in a
smorgasbord of Bay Area players, many of whom have played in Seals’
post-Garcia JGB, Elijah is a spirited mix of the Grateful Dead guitarist’s
friends and apprentices. Since most of the group’s lineup began playing with
Garcia, or absorbing his music, during the 1970s it’s no wonder that
era energies Elijah’s sound. Starting in the 1970s, Garcia’s affinity for
gospel and jazz began to drive his self-titled side project and color his
hippie-rock cocktail hour Wake of the Flood-era Dead composition.
Elijah stirs all these elements into Dream of Trudy quite
successfully. But the element of Garcia’s essence that Elijah understand
best is his pacing. Incorporating six instrumentalists, plus vocalist Jenna
Fretto, into a dozen songs, most of which border on the five-minute mark,
the group could sound manic and cluttered. Instead, Elijah choreograph a
slow, steady waltz. Each note from guitarists Craig Wright and Daniel Fretto
is allowed to echo before fading back into the album’s musical core, while
Fierro’s saxophone solos recall the jazz-fusion that Branford Marsalis added
to the Jerry Garcia Band during his guest spots.
Elijah also mixes the Dead’s darkly spirited guitar jams with JGB’s organic
gospel. It’s the type of album that has no qualms exploiting its Garcia
lineage, creating a living tribute to the fallen axe-man. But even when the
group ventures into decisively Dead waters, they use JGB’s church-sound as a
structural handle. Not surprisingly, Melvin Seals is the emotional center of
Dreams of Trudy. In many ways, Seals is the pastor of improvisational
music. Combining his secular organ and affinity for gospel with the Grateful
Dead psychedelia, Seals has helped keep the Jerry Garcia Band alive for
eight years. An anchor in the JGB and leader of his own Melting Pot, Seals
has also helped make gospel a jamband catchphrase. So it makes perfect sense
that his organ and piano contributions give Dreams of Trudy an
up-lifting underbelly. Tracks like "Sparkletooth" and "Spook the Horse" both
emphasize his keyboards, without focusing on them. Playing sideman to Garcia
for many years, Seals always sounded best in an auxiliary role. Used to
spice up Wright’s solos, Seals is a valuable addition to Elijah and the
group, Intern, is one of the finest post-Garcia projects he’s taken part in.
Elijah’s founder and front man, Craig Wright, also plays like Jerry Garcia’s
kin. Though he never performed regularly with Garcia, Wright has "Dark Stars"‘s
high-pitched lingering chords down to a science. Like Steve Kimock, he adds
a bit of fusion to the mix, but still relies of Garcia’s licks to pump up
Dream of Trudy’s tracks — most of which he penned. A teacher by
trade, Wright has clearly studied Garcia’s performances, incorporating a
variety of west coast textures into his compositions. His writing is long
and flowing, a mix of fiction and psychedelia.
Dream of Trudy flows like a Dead album. Opening with a few shorter,
yet sonically solid numbers, it takes the septet a few songs to really dip
into instrumental improvisation. At first, the album opening "An Offering"
seems gentle and rustic, but then lifts off into more jazzy space.
"Everyone’s a Sweetheart" acts as the album’s emotional masterpiece — a
nice minute jam akin to "Eyes of the World" that lets Wright’s long solos
shine. "Presto" plays like a long-lost JGB cut, led by Seals’ crunching
organ lines. Nodding to Bob Weir, "An Offering" and "Spook the Horse" both
hint at some of his acoustic cowboy numbers, while the well-titled "Cowboy
Song" evokes the twangy storytelling of The Beatles’ "Rocky Raccoon." It’s
the type of fun, less experimental, music that allowed Garcia to have
freedom outside the Dead’s serious church-like atmosphere and which will
never be labeled as smug or self-indulgent.
The Jerry Garcia Band was always a jovial group. Recorded live, Dreams of
Trudy has spontaneity that colored the live, intimate performances
Garcia played with his solo projects. "High Road" has catchy, sing-along
lyrics that Deadheads will no doubt embrace during a drunken club show. It’s
fun, spirited music, if not overly original. Following Garcia’s blue print,
Elijah continues to build on his musical foundations. Like a JGB nostalgia
act, Wright uses gospel to ground his jams, but also brings in enough
Grateful Dead guitar lines to keep Elijah from becoming stale.
Elijah are consciously indebted to the Dead and given the band’s memorial
origins, one wouldn’t want them to borrow too heavily from outside Garcia’s
royal family. But for this septet, memorial is not always about mourning.