Friday, June 27, 2014

40 Year Itch : Too Cool to Bluff

   By the time they recorded their seventh album , From the Mars Hotel, released June 27, 1974, The Grateful Dead had become a well-oiled and even better rehearsed band capable of intricate arrangements. For me, the highlight is the concert staple "Scarlet Begonias". Everyone is in the percolating groove, Jerry sings with confidence, guitar lines are sweeping in and out and Donna Godchaux's wailing is kept short and buried in the mix. ( As opposed to the live performance at "the retirement concert" at San Francisco's Winterland that October.)

  Casual fans will recognize the single "U.S. Blues" even though it never charted. True deadheads can spend hours talking about "Unbroken Chain", written and sung by bass player Phil Lesh ( who had also written another of my favorites, "Box of Rain"). Three minutes in, the tune goes all free jazz on your ass and at times it sounds like you're hearing two songs at the same time. No wonder the Dead neglected to play it live much.

The album is named after a Mission District dive where Jack Kerouac once spent a few nights. Hold the cover upside down in the mirror and you'll be able to make out the words "Ugly Rumors" which became the name of  former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's band.

Also, this month Jerry Garcia released his second solo album, Complements,  a curious affair full of uninspired covers. However, the album was reissued in 2005 with some real treats including the funky "I'll Forget You".

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