The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack – the Grateful Dead
Rhino Records 273
One hopes that there'll come a day when the representatives for the Grateful Dead and the Jerry Garcia Estate will sit down and discuss a release schedule that doesn't make fans contemplate on a regular basis whether to throw down some cash for another live document or pay the phone bill.
Okay, it may not be that drastic, but with so much coming out from the two camps, there has to be a number of folks making pit stops at ATM machines or receiving interest charges on their credit card accounts. And with the wide release of The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack, you have another good reason to volunteer as the designated driver this weekend and use your beer money towards its purchase.
First off, with five compact discs clocking it at six hours and a regular price around $35, you're getting a good deal, especially when you break it down per disc — $7 each for non-math types.
While the bargain helps, the bigger prize remains the music. Similar to the Grateful Dead Movie, it takes performances from the band’s five-night run, October 16th through 20th, 1974 at the Winterland Arena. Purists may balk at its compilation approach rather than presenting one full night with bonus tracks. Not knowing the condition of those tapes, that may be impossible. The closest you have to that is disc five, which chronicles the return of Mickey Hart and the resurrection of the Rhythm Devils.
I do have to hand it to producers Jeffrey Norman and David Lemieux for making one helluva mix CD. Songs from various dates are pieced together to form a wholly fulfilling listening experience. And in the end, that approach wins out.
Evidence of this can be found by listening to the astounding first disc. You can understand the inherent snobbery of some Deadheads who talk fondly of this time in the band's history and who, subsequently, dismiss later years. The opener, "U.S. Blues," becomes a warm up for a slate of tunes including "China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider," "Eyes of the World > China Doll" that display the group in full control of its powers. There's a clarity and purpose to each note and change in direction that advances each song on to a new expansive path. Simultaneously, it's apparent that the band members are enjoying the meshing of musical styles, discovering fresh avenues for improvisation as the country and bluegrass influences gently collide with jazz, rock and blues elements.
Whether it's "Stella Blue," "Casey Jones," "Playing in the Band," "Weather Report Suite," "Uncle John's Band," "Sugar Magnolia" and more, messengers Garcia, Weir, Lesh, Kreutzmann, Hart and Godchaux deliver. It's worth noting the often overlooked playing of Kreutzmann who, as the solo drummer for much of this soundtrack (as well as the entire non-Mickey era), presents a clinic of technical shades and rhythmic propulsion. Surprisingly, the two versions of "The Other One," while solid, lack the knockout punch heard in the future. That's a very small price to pay for this edition of the Grateful Dead that chose to confidently display a sense of swing in favor of the muscular form that arose in arenas and stadiums during the '80s through its final incarnation at Soldiers' Field in 1995.
Listening to The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack makes me yearn for the long road trips of the past, traveling from show to show, where such pontificating on the merits of these several hundred words can be discussed as discs one through five blare through the car’s speakers.