December 2010

Jerry Garcia x David Grisman: All Over the Map

If Jerry Garcia had never met and played with David Grisman, Jerry’s hilljack streak would still be pretty well known from his efforts in Old and in the Way as well as New Riders of the Purple Sage. It’s good that Garcia and Grisman got together, though. As a result, there’re literally tens of hours of music the two recorded for folks to peruse and probably learn a thing or two about auld tyme American music.

Been All Around This World isn’t a history lesson – nor are the other recorded works by this duo. There are, however, a spate of covers on this offering. That’s not bad or good. It just is. And while a few are going to familiar to anyone with an affinity for the Dead or Grisman’s solo career, there’s a different magic at work here.

Released just about a decade after Garcia’s death, the album is obviously culled from a variety of dates and really seems like a collection of outtakes as much as anything else. There’re dropped rhythms, flubbed notes and shaky singing. And while that’s not untoward in a live hilljack ham setting, getting an earful of that on a proper album is a bit of a bummer.

New Riders of the Purple: A Bay Area Country-Rock

It’d be really difficult to simply figure New Riders of the Purple Sage as a vehicle for Jerry Garcia and company to make a few extra bucks. By the time the band’s first album came out in 1971 any Dead affiliate probably wasn’t too hard up for cash. The ensemble just functioned as a(n infrequent) outlet for Garcia and however else to country up their tripped out rock stuffs. Granted Working Man’s Dead and American Beauty trod up roughly the same territory as New Riders, but it’d be hard to sell a few thousand hippies on listen to nothing but country stuff for something like four hours an evening.

Whatever that scenario would be, New Riders’ first album was issued during a time when the Byrds and CSN (and sometimes Y) wielded a good deal of power even if Parsons and the Burrito Brothers deserved it without snagging it. So, the fact that this Dead associated act took off isn’t a surprise. What is kind of a shock, though, is that the band’s first album, a self titled effort, still sounds pretty decent forty years on. Of course, the aforementioned Dead records still make more sense if we’re talking about repeat listens, but New Riders of the Purple Sage has some hidden hits.

With the band so closely tied to a rock group, New Riders must have surprised some folks with efforts like “Glendale Train.” Of course, the ensemble was meant to indulge in bucolic musics, but this track doesn’t even sport a drummer. Featured prominently, though, is Garcia’s pedal steel as it jukes and jives behind the simple acoustic guitar line and all those vocal harmonies. John Dawson, New Riders’ lead singer, even comes off as a Jerry sound-alike for a bit with his nasally hippie drawl.