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Album Review

Run for the Roses is the last of the studio albums to have come from the Jerry Garcia Band, even though the combo would continue to tour for another 13 years. Sadly, it is also Garcia's most lightweight effort as a bandleader. The disc certainly features a few distinct and redeemable moments; however, taken as whole there are far too many marginal performances for it to be deemed as thoroughly captivating as any of his previous solo work — especially the wholly inspired Cats Under the Stars (1978). Along with John Kahn (bass/fretless bass/synthesizer/piano/clavinet/guitar/slide guitar/electric guitar/co-producer), Garcia chose some interesting cover tunes — such as the impotently executed "I Saw Her Standing There" and the underachieving "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" — the latter of which would become increasingly effective as a live vehicle for the Garcia Band as well as the Grateful Dead during the ensuing years (an ultimate acoustic rendition can be found on the highly recommended and infamous Pizza Tapes from 2000). There are several highlights from the Garcia/Robert Hunter canon, whose brilliance ultimately makes Run for the Roses a justifiable release. Chief among them is the title track, which bops along at an agile pace and formally introduces the effusive organ fills and licks that typify Melvin Seals' style of aggressive interaction with Garcia. Hunter is up to his old lyrical insinuations and poetic ambiguity on "Run for the Roses." Couplets such as "If you got the do-re I got the mi/And I got a notion we're all at sea" are as poignant and poetic as they are Dadaist, reflecting the inherent beauty of Hunter's lyrical prowess. "Valerie" is another standout track; it's a slightly tweaked song dealing with the extremes of an unrequited love. Garcia's vocal is one of his best on this release and perfectly fits the hang-dog mood and persona that Hunter so aptly depicts in the narrative. Both tracks quickly became enthusiasts' favorites and remained in the core rotation of the Garcia Band's performance songbook. On an aesthetic level, Run for the Roses is also notable for the disconcerting artwork by Bay Area visual artist Victor Moscoso. While die-hard enthusiasts may feel as if the disc has more to offer than mentioned above, when contrasted with the material's perpetual on-stage evolution this album falls short of the high standards set by Garcia's earlier studio efforts.

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