Jerry Jams, Jerry Cares: A Charitable Tribute to Jerry Garcia – various artists
The benefit concert is not a new concept Farm Aid, Live 8, and now, countless local and national shows to help raise funds for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Since September 11, 2001, the Jersey Jams Fund has been raising scholarship monies and mentoring New Jersey children. A part of the Jersey Jams Fund’s efforts is Jerry Jams, Jerry Cares: A Charitable Tribute to Jerry Garcia, which benefits the Jersey Jams Fund.
By the same token, the tribute CD is another common concept, and with the 10th anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s passing, what would have been his 65th birthday, and the 40th anniversary of the Grateful Dead all taking place this year, Jerry Jams, Jerry Cares is sure to be only one of many tributes to the late legend. Perhaps this is why the three-disc compilation is so incredibly long.
The three-plus hours of Dead and Garcia’s own music is broken down onto three discs: Band Jams, Good Acoustics, and Allstar Epics. Songs live and studio recordings are covered by artists such as national artists such as Dark Star Orchestra (there’s a surprise Dark Star Orchestra covering Grateful Dead tunes!), and regional New Jersey acts. More than three hours of Dead music is a little overwhelming to think about and to listen to, but the breakdown of the discs really helps one to tough it out.
Highlights from Band Jams include the David Grisman Quintet’s version of “Dark Star,” which is more than 10 minutes of lyricless mandolin picking, and Jones’ “Ramble on Rose” has a funky, almost Caribbean-like vibe. Moving on to the Good Acoustics, C Lanzbom’s instrumental “Friend of the Devil” has all of the spunk of the original, but it feels a bit empty without the lyrics. Railroad Earth’s live rendition of “Catfish John” evokes Garcia’s spirit so much that one can almost hear him singing along. And finally, perhaps to frame the entire collection, the third disc, Allstar Epics, closes with “Dark Star” played by John Ginty with Kathy Phillips. Their version is piano heavy with lyrics, and isn’t as long. It would have boded well for those who selected the tracks on Jerry Jams, Jerry Cares to omit the Grisman version, as well as some other tracks which drone on — take, for example, the 12-plus “Morning Dew” performed by the Zen Tricksters.
The most well-known Grateful Dead songs have been omitted “Touch of Gray,” “Truckin’,” “Casey Jones,” and “Sugar Magnolia” are all absent. Perhaps this is because a fourth disc wasn’t financially possible.
Fans of the Dead will relish in new versions of their old favorites. Community activists will shell out the cash for the CD that gives something back. And, fans of the lesser-known acts showcased will enjoy hearing the local acts juxtaposed with national ones. The real problem is going to be finding the time and attention span to get through everything. My suggestion would be to take it one disc at a time.