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Songs of the Grateful Dead

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Album Review

Octogenarian singer/mandolin player Jesse McReynolds is quick to point out in his liner notes that Songs of the Grateful Dead does not mark the first time this venerable bluegrass musician has ventured into the rock realm, having played on the Doors' Soft Parade and, with his brother in their duo Jim & Jesse, cut a Chuck Berry tribute album, Berry Pickin' in the Country. This tribute is not nearly as much of a stretch as that one, however. As Deadheads know, Dead leader Jerry Garcia was a big bluegrass fan, and his songs for the group often reflected that taste. Also, he sometimes played bluegrass in his side projects, and McReynolds has enlisted some of Garcia's sidemen in this effort, the "friends" of the artist credit specifically referring to David Nelson of the New Riders of the Purple Sage and Stu Allen of the Jerry Garcia Band, with Garcia friend Sandy Rothman picking a banjo on "Deep Elem Blues" and penning his own liner notes in which he attests to his and Garcia's affection for Jim & Jesse. With all this mutual admiration, then, it's not surprising that the album comes off so well. McReynolds has not restricted himself to what might seem like the obvious choices from such country-oriented Dead albums as Workingman's Dead and American Beauty, also including some of the later songs by Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter, such as "Black Muddy River" and "Standing on the Moon." Just as Garcia's melodies reveal bluegrass and country influences, so Hunter's aphoristic lyrics, full of Western imagery, work just fine with McReynolds' rural inflections. And the players are not averse to going for some Dead-style space jamming on such selections as "Bird Song" and "Franklin's Tower." It all comes to an appropriate close with a new McReynolds/Hunter composition, the lightly philosophical "Day by Day." "If Jerry was here, he'd be playing on this album," writes Rothman, and that's hard to doubt; even without his actual presence, his spirit is evoked.

Customer Reviews

Amazing and Beautiful.... strong sweet voice and flawless country bluegrass styling

I am blown away by this recording... Jesse's voice sounds AMAZING to think he is past 80....! The songs are most of my top Grateful Dead songs... To hear them from Jesse is to hear the lyrics a bit more carefully... the songs have a great American character to them.... a great country bluegrass twang WITHOUT sounding like any corporate Nashville product... It is absolutely beautiful.... I can't stop playing it... I don't have an ipod adapter in my car so I burned it and it is amazing.... stella blue pulls your spiritual heart strings, franklins tower is full forward fun and beauty, ripple comes back to its pool to be rippled again... I'm telling you this is great... thanks so much for those that put this together! Thank You

This is a no-brainer

This album is a real pleasure to listen to. I bought it about a week ago and haven't been able to stop listening to it. "Stella Blue", "The Wheel", and "Fire On The Mountain" are some of the better tracks (with "Fire.." being a very interesting take on what you might not ever had considered to potentially be a bluegrass song). However, the highlight of this album is definitely the "Franklin's Tower". Everything about it is just perfect - the vocals, harmonies, instruments. I'd imagine that Jerry Garcia would have been just tickled pink by this album.
(And no, I did not also buy Katy Perry's "California Girls". Not sure how both have been bought by other listeners)

A real jem

These aren't just shallow instrumental versions of Grateful Dead songs, this is the real deal from established bluegrass musicians. The vocals are great and you can tell the guitarist really understands Jerry's Playin' style. They even take it out a couple of times with some inspired jamming. I often buy these bluegrass cover albums and give them one listen, only to be lost in my ipod and never played again. This is not the case with this body of work, this one has soul and is worth being played over and over.


Born: July 9, 1929 in Coeburn, VA

Genre: Country

Years Active: '60s, '90s, '00s

With his older brother Jim McReynolds, mandolin and fiddle player Jesse McReynolds was part of the longstanding bluegrass duo Jim & Jesse, who formed just after World War II and performed until Jim McReynolds' death on December 31, 2002. After fashioning a posthumous Jim & Jesse release, ‘Tis Sweet to Be Remembered (released April 15, 2003, by Pinecastle Records), Jesse McReynolds launched a solo career at the age of 73. Actually, he had released his first solo album, Me and My Fiddle, in 1968. But...
Full Bio

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