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Jerry Garcia x Hillbillies

There are few bands that elicit the response that the Grateful Dead do. Maybe the Sex Pistols can get a rise outta folks, but there aren’t too many others that match the emotional attachment that the Dead were able to summon from fans. But just as strongly as fans felt positive vibes from the Bay Area band, there’re just as many folks who deride them as nothing more than ejaculatory music. There’s a bit of validity to that point of view, but with Jerry Garcia’s wide appreciation for all musics, it should be excused. He may have just thought they were a jazz band – or a bluegrass band for that matter.

Regardless, Garcia’s tie to Americana pre-dates his association with the Dead. During the early ‘60s, he was involved with a variety of disparate acts, at times playing the banjo or other acoustic instruments. If you look out over the interwebs, you can even find some of those bootlegs floating around. But what that points out – as well as the numerous covers the Dead got into from blues players – is that country music and the blues were an all consuming love of Garcia’s. The last few years of his life were even given over to a series of musical workouts with another bearded dude, David Grisman.

And while the Garcia/Grisman recordings have received a pretty decent deference from Dead fans and detractors, Jerry went in on some other earthy fretwork prior to those Acoustic Disc releases from the ‘90s. Having assembled various ensembles to take up time between tours with the Dead, Jerry eventually settled up with some country related players and recorded a live date towards the end of ’87 with a band that included bassist John Kahn, Sandy Rothman on dobro and mandolin in addition to a few other folks. The resulting set was released as Almost Acoustic and finds the ensemble re-figuring a number of American standards.

It’s been a pretty well documented fact that smack eventually makes you suck at everything. And while Jerry’s playing may have been affected elsewhere during this period of time, for the most part here, he’s just short of inspired. The Elizabeth Cotton cover of “Oh, Babe, It Ain't No Lie” is almost ramshackle enough to sink the whole disc, but not quite. It’s really the only lull in the proceedings. The reason for Jerry’s strong performance, though, could be credited to the fact that he loved the music here. Everything from Jimmy Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel #9” to Mississippi John Hurt’s “Casey Jones” are stuffs imbibed by the guitarist over years as an obsessive musician. It all paid off. Included, as a closer, is a lone Robert Hunter tune – “Ripple”. It can be assumed that that was only tossed in to sate the hippies that populated the audience. Even this rendition of the track, though, is countrified to a good extent.

So, the next time some dude with a brush-up mohawk is remotely condescending to you or someone in your cohort about an affinity for Jerry, check ‘em with this. It’s and ender.