Been All Around This World – Jerry Garcia and David Grisman
Acoustic Disc 57
The musical relationship between Jerry Garcia and David Grisman first began in the early 1970s bluegrass scene. After an all-too-brief period performing together in Old & In The Way, the two parted ways to pursue other musical interests. Most of Garcia's time was committed to the traveling psychedelic circus of the Grateful Dead, while Grisman pioneered a unique blend of acoustic jazz and newgrass that he labeled Dawg music. As luck would have it, nearly twenty years later, the two musicians crossed paths and began a series of over 40 informal recording sessions.
With the David Grisman Quintet as the backup band, Garcia and Grisman embarked on a musical journey that spanned the depths of bluegrass, folk, rhythm and blues, country, and reggae. Moreover, these sessions served as Garcia's much needed respite from the pressures of constant touring with the Grateful Dead, and his joy was readily apparent in his prolific output. Grisman has mined these sessions to craft several excellent releases, and now Been All Around This World appears as both a collection of rarities and the seemingly final release of this musical partnership.
When they were at their best, Garcia and Grisman relished songs that evoked a lazy summer day. Traveling through the title track in a meandering shuffle, Grisman's clean tones perfectly accent Garcia's impassioned delivery of the lyrics. The laid-back vibe continues with a gentle turn on "Take Me." Despite the fragility in his aging voice, Garcia resonantly croons this wistful ballad, and Grisman adds beautiful tremolo accompaniment. A similar feeling is evoked on the slinking blues of "I Ain't Never." Both musicians seem to be having a blast on this lean and lanky number, harmonizing vocals with aplomb and trading licks with ease. Also of note is a slinking version of Jimmie Rodgers' "Blue Yodel No. 9." Taken from what was Garcia's final recording session, the track features nice interplay between Garcia, Grisman, and guest Sally Van Meter on dobro.
That's about where the similarities end. The remainder of the album is culled from a broad range of styles and songs that have very little connection to one another. One can't get more divergent than the traditional Irish sea shanty "Handsome Cabin Boy" compared to the bizarre driving blues of James Brown's "I'll Go Crazy." Garcia clearly relishes the lyrics as a vibrant storyteller on Bob Dylan's elegiac "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest," but by contrast, his vocals are casually tossed off in a swing-filled version of Merle Travis's "Nine Pound Hammer." The sweet angelic powers of Garcia and Grisman are realized on a pristine rendering of "Sitting Here in Limbo," while Travis's "Dark as a Dungeon" provides a little grit, complete with creaking vocals that teeter on the edge of death.
Although Been All Around This World features many excellent performances, the album suffers from a lack of a cohesive through-line. The songs are a mish-mash of genres from different years, and the only constant thread is the presence of the same group of musicians. While the individual tracks are each interesting in their own way, they say next to nothing when played together, making this album little more than a novelty collection of outtakes. David Grisman has dipped into his well of recording sessions with Garcia to create several quality albums, but if Been All Around This World represents the best of what is left, this well is about to run dry.