When We All Come Home – The Dragonflys
I think The Dead should have trimmed a guitarist instead of a keyboardist. Wellthat’s all by the bye as we meander through 2005 — the year the remnants of the Grateful Dead took a leisurely year off while pondering various projects like Ratdog and Hydra. Rob Barraco has led the dream of many musicians. Now, he’s inventing several of his own. When We All Come Home is the debut effort from the former Phil Lesh & Friends and Dead keyboardist. Trimmed from the lineup in early 2004, he was left to pursue his own projects and this new work with The Dragonflys is the fine result. Robert Hunter is also aboard, scoring the entire album with lyrics that match quite well with the high tones of Barraco’s vocals. Gone are the old and wise miner phrasings of Garcia and Hunter; instead, replaced with a more hopeful glance at the events of the day. On that note, if you’re going to steal, steal from yourself.
When We All Come Home opens with “Argentina” and a solo Todd Reynolds on violin before the song kicks in and Barraco leads the band through a melodic romp that segues seamlessly into the instrumental “Disparate Men On The Run” (no, that’s not a typo). Immediately, I came to the conclusion that Barraco, who wrote all of the music, definitely could have swung the lumbering Dead more towards the land of coherency after a few seasons of blissful jam chaos. Oh well such is the fate of the music industry: Breakup? Breakdown? Breakthrough? Fine, we get solo Peter Gabriel, the Stingster, the Tom Tom Club, Mike & Leo and — straight from The Shed in New York City — The Dragonflys with producer Rob Friedman on every type of acoustic and electric guitar imaginable, and backing vocals; former Phil & Friend Barry Sless on electric and pedal steel guitar; Mike Visceglia on bass; and, speaking of, former Gabriel thrasher Jerry Marotta on drums, with Reynolds contributing very cool and eccentric violin passages and a cast of supporting players that help add color to the tapestry.
In a rush? Need an iPod fix? Want some unadulterated improv? Want me to program the vibe for you? Fine, ye impatient one, hit the aforementioned “Argentina > Disparate,” bounce into the tumbling wordsmith romance of “Limbo Rag,” before skipping over to the wicked “Ride Ride Ride” (co-written by Phil Lesh with some very Lesh-y and weird musical time signatures that shimmer within the hands of the seasoned vet. Then, hold on as we glide into hyperspace with the transcendent “Cats & Dragonflies," an instrumental slice of Kimock vs. the Land of the Steinway that tripped the muse fantastic enough to give me carpal tonal syndrome as I hit “Track09” about twenty times.
Flippancy aside, the album took me two turns before all of the genres and hooks sank into my mind. At first, I was a little thrown off by Barraco’s handling of the Hunter lyrics. Eventually, the words sunk into the subconscious while his melodies rose to the surface overshadowing any doubt. Country, folk, jazz, protest rock, pop, sound effects, ambience and Thelonious Monk-tomfoolery bounce from his digits. The warmth of the tunes and the expert sincerity of Barraco and Friedman’s arrangements led me to a remembrance of things past: the keyboardist may have been sitting on a melody or ten while poking through the Book of the Dead, night after night after night